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Feb 28

2014 Fantasy Baseball Busts

On the heels of our overall sleeper piece, and with notice of the fact that our position primers contain a few brief names to beware of at each position, here is our list of 2014 fantasy baseball busts. Bust is an ambiguous term, as we’re not necessarily using it to define a player who completely falls apart in 2014 but a player who is at risk of under performing relative to their draft day cost.

You’ll see players who we rank fairly high below, but their selection comes with a degree of risk. In some cases, identifying the bust risk and going ahead with the selection makes sense. Its a risk/reward proposition. Our busts help you identify, and therefore mitigate, the risk. On with the show…

Please note that the list is organized in order of position, not in any type of a bust-meter ranking.

2014 Fantasy Baseball Busts

Koji Uehara had one of the more dominant seasons for a closer in recent memory. Will that carry to 2014? (Photo: Mark J. Terrill/AP)

Koji Uehara had one of the more dominant seasons for a closer in recent memory. Will that carry to 2014? (Photo: Mark J. Terrill/AP)

Brian McCann, C, New York Yankees (ADP157, C7)

I think that the move to Yankee stadium, and his role in the New York lineup are both significant positives for McCann and his 2014 projections. I just don’t think that they are as significant as the general fantasy community assumes them to be and as a result, I think McCann will be over valued on draft day. In short, you’re paying for runs/RBI/HR totals that McCann hasn’t produced in a number of seasons. The veteran catcher, entering his 10th season, has endured three straight years of decline in runs and RBI (along with games played which contributes to his counting stat decline but also is a reality to acknowledge when drafting an aging catcher) and his 2013 OPS was 100 points below his career high.

If you can get McCann in the 5th C off the board range, the risk is mitigated but if you’re reaching for him you may not get enough games, or enough of a ‘short-porch boost’ to warrant the price. In fact, that same short porch has been known to increase power numbers for left handed hitters but affect their interest in using the whole field. Though it represented just 16 of his 91 hits last season, McCann hit for a .340 average the other way last year – if he loses his interest in hitting to that side of the field, it could bring his .256 average down a few points.

Chris Davis, 1B/OF, Baltimore Orioles (ADP5, 1B2)

As a draftable commodity, I actually liked Chris Davis more before he hit 53 home runs and the logic behind it is fairly simple – that is a challenging number to repeat yet your fellow drafters didn’t miss Davis’ overall production last season and many will be willing to pay for 2013’s numbers with the assumption that they will carry over. Bust is a loose term, as we said in the outset, and by including Davis here I’m not saying he’s going to be completely useless to fantasy owners this season – even if he lost 25% of his overall production (which is highly unlikely year-to-year) he’d still have (roughly) 80 runs, 100 RBI and 40 home runs. That’s a top-tier 1B season with a significant regression. That said, in most drafts he won’t escape the top handful of picks and certainly not the first round, and a regression may not give you first round numbers. It is going to be tough to turn a profit if you’re drafting expecting another 50 home runs and 130 RBI.

Consider this: Davis struck out and hit fly balls out of the park at exactly the same rate last year: 29.6%. The K rate: pretty typical; the HR/FB numbers: a career high, and a number that is difficult to sustain. When looking at the cumulative numbers you miss part of the picture, too. Davis’ 2nd half featured a .245 batting average as part of an overall late season fade. Again, the numbers over his final 65 games will play just fine but they didn’t match up to his first half numbers at all – the already high K rate increased (from 28.0% to 31.8) and his HR/AB number was also significantly less impressive (one every 9.3 in the first half compared to 15.1 in the second). The latter number still produces 39 home runs over the course of his 584 at bat full season and is nothing to sneeze at, but it is a more realistic projection while owners are paying for more on draft day.

Davis’ monster 2013 was tough for him to sustain over the course of the season and will be equally difficult to keep going as he moves into 2014.

Ian Kinsler, 2B, Detroit Tigers (ADP61, 2B4)

This deal was a plus for everyone involved (including Jurickson Profar) but not for Kinsler, who finds himself in a less favorable situation in Detroit. Kinsler is a 32 year old middle infielder with a lot of mileage on him at a high impact position. He has run less, and has lost a significant amount of his peak slugging percentage in recent years and now finds himself in a stadium that is slightly more difficult offensively. For his part, Kinsler has stated that he intends to run more but the Tigers attempted just 32 steals last season – Kinsler tried 26 himself, but was caught 11 times – as a team and hitting (a few spots?) ahead of Miguel Cabrera you wouldn’t expect him to have free range to steal. His 13 home runs are simply average among second baseman and Kinsler has hit under .260 in three of the last five seasons. He’s still being drafted as an elite 2B, but didn’t measure up to that label last season and finds himself in a more challenging context for 2014 – steer clear.

Brandon Phillips, 2B, Cincinnati Reds (ADP135, 2B8)
The jury is still out on Brandon Phillips' 2014 fantasy stock, but 2013 was a big year. (Photo Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports)

(Photo: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports)

Speaking of declining second baseman over 32, welcome Brandon Phillips. You like where he’s going to bat: cleanup for the Reds with an interesting group of table setters and the RBI/HR numbers will probably play just fine but he hasn’t had more than 18 bombs since 2009 (hitting exactly 18 in each year since) and the 103 RBI represent a career high. At this stage of his career, that shouldn’t be viewed as a player on the rise. He has endured two straight years of decline in runs, extra base hits, and each of the triple slash categories and without the bonus RBI (20 more than any season since again, ’09) his numbers are fairly pedestrian for the position. There is something to be said for consistency, but I’d rather take my chances on an upside 2B (Gyorko, Lawrie, Profar) if I miss on the top tier than I would on a veteran trending down.

Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds (ADP66, OF25)

I am excited about Billy Hamilton as a fantasy asset, and as a player to watch on the field. That said, I’m not the only one and that drives up his draft stock, arguably over the risk/reward threshold. Hamilton’s season could go one of two ways – he’ll perform well enough to keep the job, hit leadoff for the Reds, hit a bit, score some runs, and run a ton. His 140+ game outlook is glowing – while his average won’t hang around the level it did in his 13 game debut last season (he’s a career .280 minor league hitter), you’re not drafting him for that category anyhow. Still, it should be noted that his on base percentage shouldn’t be expected to be anywhere near 2013’s and he could hold you down in this category and RBI. In an ideal world he plays, steals, and scores enough to offset that but that may not be the case.

Alternatively, Hamilton could take the job for a brief spell, struggle and find himself replaced. There is no guarantee that he’ll stick around as a full time player for the course of the season – again, he has just 13 games of Major League experience and much of that was as a pinch runner. Meanwhile, we’re picking Hamilton in the 6th round on average and a bust in that range can sink you. That Cincinnati didn’t add a body, despite flirtations, to back him up in CF should be viewed as a positive sign about their commitment to him but a prolonged slump to start the season – or at any point, really – could cost Hamilton his job for 2014 and that’s a risk you have to weigh this early in your draft.

[I contributed to a discussion of overvalued hitters and pitchers on FantasyPros which includes Hamilton twice]

Michael Cuddyer, OF, Colorado Rockies (ADP83, OF31)

The price just feels awfully high for Cuddyer, that’s all this comes down to. Playing in Colorado helps to explain his big season, he had a .997 OPS there compared to a (still strong) .852 mark on the road. Of course, he’ll continue to play in Colorado this season and that continues to be a boost to his fantasy value but he played 101 games for the Rockies in 2012 as well and hit just .260 compared to a league leading .331 mark last season so it isn’t as if the cool mountain air just suddenly turned him into a fantasy monster.

You’ve got to expect regression here – Cuddyer has had some nice seasons in his career in terms of his counting stats, but has never hit over .300 in a season let alone last year’s hit for every three at bats mark, and he can’t be expected to do it again – nor will he maintain his.382 BABIP, another career high. Cuddyer hit for almost the exact same line drive percentage (typically a strong predictor of BABIP/average) as he did in 2012 but his BABIP was nearly 100 points higher. That number – the third highest in the bigs last season – is bound for regression and with it his overall average and some of his run production as well.

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Patrick Corbin, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks (ADP232, SP62)

Corbin is being drafted late enough that you’re probably ok to take the risk here, but owners should temper expectations all the same. Corbin showed progression across the board in his second MLB season and while his strand rate (75.9%) grew significantly year over year and may be due for a rebound, most of the growth was legitimate. That said, it was a tale of two halves for Corbin who faded significantly down the stretch was awful in the second half after starting the year as the league’s winningest pitcher. His 5.19 ERA in the 2nd half was more than double the number he posted in the season’s first salvo and included a late stretch where he went 1-5 in his last seven starts and put up a 7.04 ERA in September.

Drafters looking at the cumulative numbers will see a decent W/L record and a mid 3’s ERA and feel good about it, but the second half suggests that Corbin is a pitcher who can’t be trusted to put together a full fantasy relevant season just yet.

Koji Uehara, RP, Boston Red Sox (ADP84, RP6)

My take on Uehara is simple: last season was oustanding, and that is enough to warrant our consideration as one of the top relief pitchers on your board however, it also sets a standard that is nearly impossible to repeat. Koji will be 39 years old right around opening day, and while elite pitchers can stay strong late into their careers velocity, K/9 rates, etc. should be expected to decline. That makes his amazing 12.2 number last year all the more impressive, but all the more likely to decline toward his career average of 10.4 (still an impressive number).

Uehara gave up just 33 hits in 74.1 innings last year, posting a sparkling 1.09 ERA and a WHIP under .650 for the second straight year. The sheer brilliance of his numbers is enough to stay away from him in my eyes – oxymoronic yes, but the reality is that owners are going to draft him expecting similar results with regression toward the mean almost a certainty. Add in the fact that he has just 35 career saves and we are paying a 40+ save premium for his draft stock, and the fact that given his age, inexperience in the role, and potential for injury he may find himself replaced by Edward Mujica I simply want no part of the Koji-mania this season. Fun fact: Mujica, the presumed second man in line for saves, has more last season than Uehara has in his career.

Jim Johnson, RP, Oakland Athletics (ADP101, RP9)

Unlike Uehara, I don’t see Johnson in any risk of losing control of the 9th inning duties but I do view the move to Oakland as a negative. Coming off back to back 50 save seasons he is one of the truly elite save men out there, but Grant Balfour didn’t come anywhere near that number in 2013 with the A’s. As a ground ball pitcher, rather than an over-powering closer he’ll rely on his defense to help him end games which isn’t always the best recipe for consistency year over year, particularly in a new environment with an infield that struggled in 2013. Further, as a ground ball pitcher his K/9 numbers (no higher than 7.2 in each of the last three seasons and twice in the 5s) mean that his counting stats won’t contribute as much on a weekly basis, and thus a dip to even the 35 save level will be far less palatable.

Looking for more? Our primers take a look at players to be wary of across each of the positions.

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