Like the term's sleeper and breakout, bust can mean different things in Fantasy sports. For example, Trevor Story had an ADP 12.7 last season. He finished as the 56th overall player while still providing 24 home runs and 20 steals. Story wasn't a complete bust but he was definitely an underachiever based on expectations. Cody Bellinger was going in that same range with an ADP of 16.9 last season. He struggled to stay healthy coming off shoulder surgery and completely bottomed out, batting just .165 with 10 home runs. Bellinger very clearly was a bust last season but hurt your team exponentially more than Story. The point here is that not all busts in Fantasy baseball are created equally.
I've compiled a list below of players I believe are either overvalued at their current cost or have true bottom-out potential. Maybe there's a few who fit into both categories. I will point out that I was close to adding both Jacob deGrom and Shane Bieber onto this list. It has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with injury risk. If you're addicted and already drafting (like I am), I suggest passing over those two names until we learn more. Ultimately, I decided not to add them because we just need more information. If both guys are throwing normally in spring without any issues, they'll shoot back up near the first round and rightfully so. We just don't know right now, and the risk keeps them off my board for the time being.
Let's get into the rest.
You have to love a player who bets on himself and comes through. That was Marcus Semien last season. He was unreal, batting .265 with 45 home runs, 15 steals and 217 runs plus RBI. Semien finished as the seventh overall player in Roto and averaged 3.7 Fantasy points per game, tied for seventh best among all hitters. I'm happy he was able to turn that into a massive payday with the Rangers. With that being said, I am not happy with the landing spot. While we don't have enough data yet, Globe Life Field has played more neutral since opening in 2020, even leaning towards a pitcher's park. In 2021 it ranked 22nd in home run park factors.
On top of that Semien leaves the hitter-friendly AL East for the spacious AL West, which features his new ballpark, Seattle and Oakland, which all lean pitcher friendly. According to Statcast, Semien would have hit just 32 of his 45 home runs in Globe Life Field last season. Of course, Semien won't play all of his games in Arlington but it seemed like a notable stat regardless. On top of everything, he's entering a much worse lineup, which will undoubtedly lower his counting stats. I know what you might be thinking. "Well, he did it once before in the AL West." That's true. Semien finished as the 20th overall player back in 2019 while a member of the Oakland A's. However, his ADP was just 88.6 the following season. So far his ADP is up at 27.3 this offseason! It doesn't really make sense to me that Corey Seager is getting the Rangers treatment (70 ADP) while Semien isn't. I don't think he bottoms out, but I do think he's overvalued at his current cost.
Shield your eyes, Justin Mason. Cedric Mullins was truly one of the great stories last season. He ended with an ADP of 390.6 heading into 2021 and finished as the only 30-30 player in baseball. It was a truly remarkable season and one that, for the most part, came out of nowhere. Let's start with the obvious. While Statcast metrics aren't everything, they add context to batted ball data, and the more information we have, the better. Mullins hit .291 while slugging .518 last season. According to Statcast, however, Mullins deserved a .272 batting average and a .448 slugging percentage. His HR/FB ratio jumped to a career-high 15.5% despite a 92.4 averaged exit velocity on fly balls and line drives, which ranked 102nd among qualified hitters.
I think even the biggest Mullins optimist will agree that power regression should be expected. Steamer projections currently have Mullins for 24 home runs, plus he never hit more than 14 in any minor league season. Mullins also regressed a bit in the second half, batting .261 with an .822 OPS and a 17% infield fly ball rate. That infield fly ball rate more than doubled from the first half to the second half. Those are automatic outs, and, while I'm not sure how sticky that stat is year-over-year, he consistently hit a lot of those in the minors. So how should we approach Mullins in 2022? I think he hits closer to .260 with less than 20 home runs but more than 20 steals. He should contribute runs as a leadoff hitter but will struggle with RBI as a result. Like Semien, I don't think that Mullins bottoms out, but I do think we are reacting too much to his breakout in 2021.
Well, this is awkward. Last season I was a big proponent of drafting Matt Olson at his cost. I even used Olson as a reason why Pete Alonso was a bust at his 2021 ADP. It appears we have ourselves a classic switcheroo. Olson had a ridiculous season, batting .271 with 39 home runs and 212 runs plus RBI. He finished 17th overall in Roto while averaging 3.6 Fantasy points per game, tied for 10th among all hitters. The problem now is that Olson's ADP is 33.7 with Alonso down at 56.3. As great as Olson was overall, he started to regress in the second half while Alonso did the opposite. Take a look at each of their second halves:
- Olson- .257 batting average, 16 home runs, .878 OPS, 14.9% walk rate, 17.2% strikeout rate
- Alonso- .275 batting average, 20 home runs, .921 OPS, 9.9% walk rate, 18.5% strikeout rate
Olson scored more runs and drove in more runs, but as of now we'd expect the A's and Mets lineups to be going in opposite directions. The A's are looking to sell while the Mets added Starling Marte, Mark Canha, and Eduardo Escobar. Getting back to Olson. Again, I love the player but I have to question the improvements he made as well. He posted a career-best 16.8% strikeout rate with a .962 OPS against lefties. Both represent outliers in his career. Is there a chance he just improved in his age-27 season? Absolutely. There's also a chance these are true outliers. Time will tell. Last but not least Olson has been subject to many trade rumors. In theory a move to the Yankees or Braves should help Olson, but I'm always wary of players in new locations. There's often an adjustment period. I really like the player, but don't love the cost so far.
While you might be tempted to blame this next one on my Yankee fandom, I was as excited as anybody to see Chris Sale return last season. Baseball is just better when we have this lanky lefty on the mound. Overall, Sale was solid in his return from Tommy John surgery. It was only nine starts, but he posted a 3.16 ERA and 1.34 WHIP with 52 strikeouts over 42.2 innings pitched. Honestly, it went about as well as Rex Sox fans and Fantasy managers alike could have hoped. There were a few things under the hood, however, that caught my eye.
While it was a strong return, Sale was still far from his ace self. Maybe he climbs closer to ace form in 2022 with a normal offseason or maybe not. First was his swinging strike rate. While it was solid at 12.8%, it's not close to where it was before the surgery. Sale was up over 14% in that category each of 2017-2019. Next up we have the fastball. Again, the velocity was strong at 93.6 MPH. In fact, that was higher than the last time we saw him in 2019. If you remember, however, that velocity was part of the reason we were so worried about him that season. Sale was at 94.4 MPH or higher in each of 2017 and 2018. Next, we have the changeup. That pitch has long been the third piece to the puzzle for Sale. It was awful in these nine starts, posting a .444 batting average against and a .667 slugging percentage. Again, can that pitch regain its form? Sure, but that's yet another bet we have to make. Lastly, he's turning 33 years old in March, and we've long been concerned about his build/mechanics. He's just a bit too risky where he's going in the fourth round right now.
Let's get to my last hitter on the list, and that is Tyler O'Neill. Like the rest of the hitters I've included, O'Neill is coming off a career-year where he hit .286 with 34 home runs and 15 steals. As a general draft rule, you won't go broke fading players coming off a career year. It isn't always the case because it often comes down to draft cost. Currently, O'Neill's ADP is 55.7, which is too high compared to other hitters going around him. We've long known O'Neill as a physical freak who just hasn't been able to piece it together. He managed to stay healthy and reminded us of that talent, finishing 97th percentile in barrel rate and 98th percentile in sprint speed. We have quite a few power-speed threats, but both of those numbers are truly elite.
Why are we fading him? Strikeouts and health. O'Neill struck out in 31.3% of his plate appearances last season, sixth highest among qualified hitters. Was it deserved? His 16.2% swinging strike rate was also tied for sixth highest among qualified hitters. I suppose it was. Like any hitter who strikes out this much, O'Neill will be prone to slumps but also volatility in the batting average. Even though he impacts the ball extremely hard, that strikeout rate casts a wide range when projecting batting average. Lastly, I'll mention health. O'Neill played 138 games in 2021, his highest over the past three full seasons. I've said this before with guys like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, but guys this muscular are inherently more prone to injury. What ever happened to the Babe Ruth diet? Beer and hot dogs, baby. O'Neill is fun to watch, but I believe he's being overvalued following a breakout season.
Would you look at that? Luis Castillo has an ADP of 65.7 after years of being drafted inside the top 40. He's a steal in 2022! Nope. In fact, the ADP is not low enough. Yes, Castillo got off to a horrid start. His ERA was 7.22 heading into June. Then a light turned on and Castillo was great over the final four months of the season. Even with that, he finished with a 3.98 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP. This WHIP, in particular, is awful. He's routinely struggled in this department, posting a 1.22 WHIP or higher in three of the past four seasons. Look at where he's finished overall among starting pitchers the last four seasons:
- 2021- SP62
- 2020- SP25
- 2019- SP14
- 2018- SP50
By this measure, Castillo is just as likely to finish inside the top 25 as he is to finish outside the top 50 starting pitchers. The strikeouts and swinging strike rate also took a huge step back. After two seasons up over 10 K/9, he dipped to 9.2 last season. The swinging strike rate was in lockstep. He was up over 15% in each of 2019 and 2020 just to see that number plummet to 13% in 2021. Lastly, he doesn't perform well in the cold, which could explain his early season struggles. Unfortunately, it's going to remain cold in April and May as long as he's a member of the Reds. His agent confirmed as much to me on Twitter (see below). Would it surprise me if Castillo finishes as a top 20 starting pitcher? No, but the floor is lower than I'd like it to be for my SP2.
3/31/2018: 59 degrees— rafanieves.eth (@mlb_agent) April 1, 2021
3/28/2019: 70 degrees
7/25/2020: 90 degrees
Today: 37 degrees
Aroldis Chapman has been a fixture in Fantasy Baseball for a long time, routinely offering 30+ saves with ridiculous strikeouts and solid ratios. Something happened in 2021 where his ERA shot up to 3.36 and his WHIP was a career-high 1.31. The most obvious reason is a lack of control that saw Chapman post 6.1 BB/9, the second highest of his career. Why might this have happened? Well, MLB started cracking down on sticky substances starting in June. It just so happens Chapman struggled mightily over those final four months.
- First two months- 0.45 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 1.84 SIERA, 39.7% K-BB
- Final four months- 4.95 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 3.94 SIERA, 17.6% K-BB
Among pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched, Chapman had the third biggest drop in K-BB rate from the first two months to the final four months of the season. Now, we don't know if the sticky stuff is the exact reason this might have happened, but would it shock you? It's clear at this point that his teammate Gerrit Cole was using it along with many other pitchers in baseball. The good news for Chapman is that the velocity and swinging strike rate remained strong. It's worth noting that he spent some time on the injured list with an elbow impingement, so there's a chance that's what was hampering him. Either way, the closer position is volatile enough in Fantasy. I'm not looking to make Chapman my first one drafted.
There are a lot of similarities between the aforementioned Castillo and Blake Snell. Hence why I'm looking to fade both at their current costs. Snell is being drafted outside the top 100 picks for the first time since 2018 when he surprised everybody by winning the American League Cy Young. Many will point to a seven-start stretch for Snell where he changed his pitch mix and looked like the best pitcher in baseball. To that I would ask, what number is bigger? Seven or 53? While Snell looked amazing in August last season, I'm not going to let that cloud my judgment. What about the previous 53 starts from the start of 2019 to July of 2021?
- Seven starts from 8/3-9/7: 1.85 ERA, 2.9 BB/9
- 53 starts from 3/28/19-7/28/21: 4.48 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 4.2 BB/9
Snell was dropped in a bunch of leagues last season before those who drafted him were even able to reap the benefits. I don't blame Fantasy managers for doing it, either. Snell was that bad. I mentioned he changed his pitch mix during that seven-start stretch. He ditched the changeup, leaning heavily on the fastball and slider. It was a recipe that worked. Will he stick with it? Only time will tell. He's also had many injuries to his pitching arm and has below average control. I understand that you're getting him at a discount, but he's still being drafted ahead of pitchers I consider safer options. I would avoid Snell as a SP2 but maybe jump in as a SP3 if I have trustworthy options ahead of him.