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Sleepers are often the focus of preseason preparation. But avoiding a bust is equally, if not more important, to fantasy success. Here are my players to avoid this season.
C – J.T. Realmuto
J.T. Realmuto is being drafted as the sixth catcher off the board due to his unique contributions in the stolen base and batting average categories. The problem is that both are likely to greatly diminish or completely disappear this season. Realmuto’s batting average in 2016 was propped up by a .357 BABIP, his highest mark at any level of professional baseball, despite a troubling 16% infield fly ball rate. That makes his .259 average of 2015 much closer to the expectation than his .303 average last season.
To make matters worse, Realmuto could be getting the red light on the basepaths this season if he can’t get more efficient in swiping bases. Last season he managed 12 steals on 16 attempts, a 75% success rate, but in 2015 he stole at just a 66% rate. Though it is possible he continues to steal bases, his poor efficiency makes it far from safe to expect double-digit steals.
For most catchers, batting average and stolen bases aren’t expected to be strengths. They are know more for power which is something Realmuto provides very little of. If he loses any production in batting average and stolen bases, he has a very low floor and is more comparable to Yadier Molina, currently the 12th catcher off the board. He is a dramatically overpriced player.
1B – Mike Napoli
Players at first base are being evaluated fairly this spring, making it difficult to find a bust at the position. Though Napoli isn’t being drafted as a starting first baseman in most mixed league formats, he is still relevant as a corner infielder. His performance last season, 34 home runs and 101 RBI, has wiped fantasy owners’ minds clean of his uninspiring 2014 and 2015 performances. However, how he arrived at his 2016 numbers is unlikely to repeat as Napoli posted his highest flyball rate since 2008 and highest HR/FB% since 2012. Given those facts and that his 34 home runs last year were a career high, his power shouldn’t be expected at the same level as last year.
2B – Ian Kinsler
Second base is a position of intrigue heading into 2017, with constant debate surrounding whether Trea Turner deserves to be a first-round pick, if Brian Dozier can come anywhere close to replicating his power output from the second half of last season, and what Jean Segura can do for an encore to his re-breakout after becoming a member of the Mariners this offseason. All that has left Ian Kinsler less scrutinized, missing the danger he presents heading into 2017.
Like Napoli, Kinsler posted his best HR/FB% and flyball rate since 2011, which contrasts strikingly with the trend of his career. His batting average appears very safe, but there is cause for concern in that area as well because Kinsler posted the highest swinging strike rate of his career and exhibited declining plate discipline. Though his overall numbers have yet to show it, Kinsler is heading into his age 34 season adding risk that the bottom could fall out on his value.
3B – Javier Baez
Baez is eligible all over the infield which helps his fantasy value, but it also means he is without an everyday position. As the 13th third baseman currently off the board, Baez is being taken ahead of everyday players such as Maikel Franco, Justin Turner, Ryon Healy, Nick Castellanos, and Mike Moustakas. Every day was the key phrase of that sentence, as barring injury or Kyle Schwarber taking over as the primary catcher, Baez will not be in the lineup on a daily basis. In a daily lineup change league, this is something that can be worked around with diligence, but in a weekly league this is a nightmare scenario and will result in a lot of games of empty stats. No matter the format, he is being drafted too high and won’t secure the volume of plate appearances necessary to justify his price.
SS – Aledmys Diaz
Much like Baez, Diaz has some potential playing time concerns. The Cardinals have a host of infield options, including Kolten Wong, Matt Adams, Jhonny Peralta, and Jedd Gyorko. Diaz seems to have the most stable spot of this group heading into the season, but the Cardinals would seemingly have little trouble moving away from him if he struggles.
Struggles aren’t out of the question for Diaz either. Last year was an impressive breakout campaign that was unexpected, and many of his peripherals back up his stat-line. However, he had just a .725 OPS against left-handed pitchers and his season-long OPS of .879 was propped up by a massive 1.186 OPS in April. Pitchers may have started to figure out Diaz after a hot first month, and if that is the case, he is in danger of losing playing time due to the organization’s infield depth.
OF – George Springer
Fantasy owners have long dreamed of Springer’s 30/30 potential, but unfortunately, that day has yet to come and it is starting to appear that it will never be here. Last season, Springer only attempted 19 steals and was successful less than half the time to record only nine. Springer has also never attempted more than 21 steals in any major-league season, so even if he improves his efficiency, a 20/20 season cannot be projected.
OF – Christian Yelich
In 2016, Yelich showed adequate power for the first time in his major league career, boasting an impressive 23.6% HR/FB rate. As a result, he has a lot of helium heading into 2017 as the 14th outfielder off the board and 58th overall pick in NFBC drafts.
The problem is that as Yelich has grown into his power he has progressively attempted fewer stolen bases. In 2014, Yelich attempted a stolen base every 23.57 plate appearances; that figure moved to 25 in 2015 and doubled to 51 in 2016. After just 13 total stolen base attempts last season, banking on Yelich as a 20/20 asset would be unwise, yet that is what his draft price dictates.
While not returning value in exactly the same way, a more appropriate draft position for Yelich would be in the range of Odubel Herrera and Adam Eaton.There is still value in that, but Yelich’s current draft cost does not reflect that and he should be passed over unless he falls.
SP – Cole Hamels
Hamels had his first full season in the American League in 2016, and the results were not inspiring. He allowed a .251 batting average to right-handed hitters, his highest rate since 2009. Though his velocity and strikeout rate remained consistent, batters have steadily been making more contact against Hamels pitches inside the strike zone. Not surprisingly, this has led to stronger contact, illustrated by hitters 32% hard contact rate off him last season.
Hamels’ also suffered a sudden increase in walk rate in 2016. The 3.45 batters he walked per nine innings last season were a career worst. His 57.6% first strike rate offers evidence that this walk rate was no fluke. This is just another sign that things are going downhill for Hamels. Heading into his age 33 season, this problem is only likely to worsen. And while his 3.32 ERA of 2016 seems like another productive year, there is trouble lurking just beneath those numbers.
SP – Justin Verlander
Verlander had a Cy Young caliber campaign in 2016 (just ask Kate Upton), but that doesn’t mean we should expect the same in 2017. The fantasy community is fully buying back in to his numbers that included a career best 28.1% strikeout rate, 12% swinging strike rate, and 79.9% strand rate. The argument for Verlander is that his 2014 and 2015 seasons were derailed by injury, leaving 2016 as the most accurate representation of his skill. Even after crediting that explanation fully, Verlander is going too high in drafts.
His velocity did take a jump last year, but that’s hard to count on moving forward considering that Verlander is entering his age 34 season. More important than age is Verlander’s workload, as he is well over 2,000 innings for his career. Such longevity combined with elite production is rare, meaning not many player comparisons are available. One comparable pitcher is Felix Hernandez and he exhibits the danger of falling velocity and a suffering overall line as a result. Verlander’s stats from last season wouldn’t indicate it, but a similar fate can’t be ruled out for him.
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