If you've listened to Fantasy Baseball Today at all this season, you've often heard analysis with the caveat "but it's a small sample size". The truth is that a 60-game season is not a real baseball season. It's 37% of our usual 162-game season. And I'm not doing this to complain. I love that we had baseball in 2020 and I was happy to get anything. What this now creates, however, is value that we're not used to in Fantasy Baseball.
I texted a buddy of mine recently and told him "2021 is the year to play Fantasy Baseball". My reasoning is that we are going to have so many discounts in drafts next season based on a 60-game sample. No matter what year you look at, you'll find elite hitters or pitchers who go through a prolonged slump, sometimes ones that even last two months. It's what they do in the other four months of the season that shapes their Fantasy value the following year. Unfortunately, we didn't get that opportunity for many players in 2020.
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Imagine we had to draft this past season based on the worst 60-game stretches from players in 2019. Let me remind you:
2019 60-Game Samples
Players who struggled: first 60 games
Players who struggled: last 60 games
Jose Ramirez, .617 OPS
Rhys Hoskins, .642 OPS
Ozzie Albies, .722 OPS
Manny Machado, .687 OPS
J.T. Realmuto, .767 OPS
Marcell Ozuna, .729 OPS
Yu Darvish, 5.02 ERA
Jose Berrios, 5.21 ERA
Aaron Nola, 4.18 ERA
Luis Castillo 5.08 ERA
Walker Buehler, 4.02 ERA
Charlie Morton, 3.98 ERA
As we all know, Luis Castillo had a 2.36 ERA in his first 20 starts before his struggles, and Jose Ramirez went on to post a .968 OPS the rest of the season. My point is that yes, players struggled in 2020 but the early ADP has created some incredible buying opportunities for 2021. It's not all rainbows and sunshine for everybody, though. There are players I'm going to avoid next season because they showed real warning signs in 2020. It's better to get out on these guys before you're stuck with a full season's worth of games. Below you'll find six players who I believe would have turned their seasons around if it were the full 162 games, plus three more that I'm actually worried about.
TB Tampa Bay • #17 • Age: 26
How can you not give Austin Meadows a pass for the 2020 season? First off, he missed the first couple weeks with COVID and then once he returned, he got shut down with an oblique strain in September. Meadows struggled for 36 games with those circumstances. Even in his breakout 2019 season, he wasn't immune to bad months. In June 2019, Meadows posted a .573 OPS, and in August 2019, he put up a .766 OPS. I won't be discounting a 25-year old who just hit 33 home runs with 12 steals in 138 games in 2019. I still trust in the talent.
NYY N.Y. Yankees • #25 • Age: 25
It's not like Gleyber Torres is being buried in these early drafts, but you're getting about a 30-40 pick discount from where he was being drafted before this season. Like Meadows, Torres dealt with an injury, which limited him to just 42 games. There were times this season where Torres also tried playing through the hamstring/quad strains. He'll be just 24 years old when the 2021 season starts. I have a hard time believing that a kid who posted an .849 OPS over his first two big-league seasons suddenly just lost his talent, Space Jam style.
Javier Baez 2B
DET Detroit • Age: 29
Yes, Javier Baez's plate discipline has been atrocious for years. He's often among the league leaders in swinging strike rate and near the bottom in walks. However, even Baez's biggest detractors wouldn't have predicted a .599 OPS in 2020. There's some bad in the profile, for sure. Baez's 31.9% strikeout rate was the highest of his career while his 3% walk rate was the lowest. He also hit more popups than ever before. That's going to contribute to a career-worst .262 BABIP. If the early ADP remains, however, you're getting Baez outside the top-80 picks. Say what you want about his plate discipline, but he's too talented to drop that far.
Jose Altuve 2B
HOU Houston • #27 • Age: 31
Say what you want about the Houston Astros but do not let it deter you from profiting off them in 2021 drafts. Based on this early ADP, we're seeing significant discounts on Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve. Let's stick with Altuve. His 2020 was quite dreadful as he hit just .219 with a .629 OPS, and I'll admit that if his season ended there, I'd be a little worried about 2021. Altuve then went on to dominate the postseason, going 18-for-48 (.375 BA) with five home runs in 13 games. Of course, it's an even smaller sample size, but he did that on the biggest stage against the toughest competition. If Altuve remains outside the top-100 picks in ADP, just draft him and thank me later.
SD San Diego • #59 • Age: 26
Chris Paddack is not perfect. Everybody knows by now that he needs to continue developing a third pitch to accompany his fastball-changeup combination. On the surface, Paddack is left with a 4.73 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP in 2020. His xFIP, however, was 3.77 and he actually improved his ground ball rate from 40% in 2019 to 47% this past season. Outside of the third pitch, Paddack needs to go the Shane Bieber route and not live in the zone so much. Paddack has a 45% zone rate in his career thus far. League average in 2020 was 41%. In Bieber's rookie season, his zone rate was 48% and has since dropped to 40% and 34% the past two seasons. This could go a long way to helping Paddack get back on track in 2021.
OAK Oakland • #47 • Age: 28
Frankie Montas is another interesting case. Through his first four starts, Montas posted a 1.57 ERA with a 1.00 WHIP. He was then scratched from his next start with a back injury. His next six starts after being diagnosed with said injury resulted in a 10.88 ERA and a 2.13 WHIP. I believe he was pitching through injury throughout this time, which no doubt affected his production. In his final start against the Mariners, Montas reminded of his upside, striking out 13 over six innings of two-run ball. Is he the pitcher who posted a 2.63 ERA in 2019? No. Is he the pitcher who posted a 5.60 ERA in 2020? The answer is also no. I do think that Montas can get back to a mid-high 3's ERA with over a strikeout per inning, however.
Keston Hiura 1B
MIL Milwaukee • #18 • Age: 25
I would be foolish to write off a 24-year old former top prospect, but I do have my concerns when it comes to Keston Hiura. For somebody who was known for his hit tool in the minors, Hiura has struggled mightily with strikeouts. He just led the National League with 85 in just 59 games! His 20.4% swinging strike rate was second among all qualified hitters behind only Luis Robert. I still think Hiura is extremely talented and offers an intriguing power-speed combination but I'm looking to sit out 2021 when it comes to drafting him. I need to see improvements at the plate before I invest a top-70 pick in him again. If I'm wrong, so be it. I would surely welcome another elite second baseman.
Kris Bryant 3B
SF San Francisco • #23 • Age: 30
What do we do with Kris Bryant? I had him as a bust entering the 2020 season because he's dealt with so many injuries at such a young age plus his quality of contact has steadily declined. He dealt with wrist, finger and oblique injuries, which limited him to just 34 games in this shortened season. In those 34 games, Bryant managed just to hit just .206 with a .644 OPS. His 27% strikeout rate was a career high while his 8% walk rate was a career low. Bryant will be 29 years old when the 2021 season starts, so I won't completely rule out the possibility of him bouncing back, but this has been coming for some time.
WAS Washington • #46 • Age: 32
Did you know that Patrick Corbin just led all qualified starting pitchers with a 1.57 WHIP? That'll happen when you allow 24 hits over your final two starts. I think it's a little early for Patrick Corbin to become late-career Jon Lester, but how can you not be worried? His fastball velocity dropped to a career-low 90.2 mph and his swinging strike rate went from 14% in 2019 to 10.6% in 2020. Corbin allowed 11.6 hits per nine innings pitched. If his fastball or sinker are not as useful anymore, you're looking at just his slider as his only out pitch. I'm very worried about Corbin heading into 2021 and don't really want anything to do with him.