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Hindsight: Breakouts and Disappointments

In my last article, I discussed some trades I made this year where things didn’t go exactly as planned. But I caution you to not abandon your analysis and valuation simply because a player (or players) seems to be performing better or worse than what you expected. At some point you have to accept that the player is having a lucky or unlucky season, but if you’re sticking to the metrics that have carried you from year to year, you shouldn’t feel bad if a trade/player burns you. And you definitely shouldn’t get too cocky if the metrics don’t support the luck you experience. Yes, there are reasons to adjust your projections as the season goes along, but don’t overreact. With that said, here are some players who have

Suspicious Breakouts

Elvis Andrus had a career year, no doubt. No one saw this coming. Although for years he’d provided decent value through his stolen bases, we’d been teased with one 40 SB year and then a lot of mid-20s, plus an unimpressive average and no power. Then Andrus hit 20 HR in 2017, and his average stayed high for the second consecutive season. But if you truly expect another 20/20 season, then you’re going to be overpaying and will be disappointed.

A person who suddenly doubles his HR/FB, along with a ground ball tilt, isn’t likely to repeat. He may stay in the double digits, but I’ll take the under on 14 HR. As for the batting average, he had his third highest BABIP, and though he can remain above the MLB average, a dip in BABIP and the loss of some home runs will put him under .290. Also, his speed scores weren’t amazing last year, and his stolen base success rate was his worst in the last three seasons, so even his consistent speed is slightly at risk. It’s more likely he has a 10/20 season than a 25/25 year.

Josh Reddick had one breakout season in power, and he’s turned that into baiting fantasy owners for the last five years. It’s mostly been a health thing, which should be enough to temper expectations, but the fact remains that his metrics don’t indicate he’ll return to his 2012 (or even 2015) results.

Reddick sports a nice contact rate, and his plate discipline is good. But those factors don’t translate to great fantasy stats, because most players needs power or speed to make a difference. It’s true that high batting average is becoming rarer, but it’s not enough, especially with his low AB totals (meaning less influence on your team total). Reddick’s hard hit rate is barely above league average, so despite the decent LD%, his BABIP was lucky in 2017 and should fall back to earth, meaning he’ll be at or below .285 next year. His power is below league average the last two years (7-8% HR/FB), and he’s hitting fewer fly balls. And lest we forget, his 477 AB in 2017 was his third best total.

You really can’t bank on more than 350 AB when projecting his playing time. Don’t get sucked in by the hype here, and pass on the guy who has a second home on the disabled list.

Zack Cozart has also had health problems in the last few seasons. He’s been under 450 AB two of the last three seasons, and the quad issues this year could certainly flair up again next year. However, he just had a career year, so fantasy owners with short memory spans are going to buy high on him. It’ll be a mistake.

A career high BABIP led to the career high average. His average dropped 50 points in the second half when the BABIP corrected, and it would have been lower if not for the home run surge. He found a way to loft more balls in the second half, but his hard hit rate was barely above league average, so I don’t see him sustaining this pace for a full season. As he moves further into his thirties, you can’t bank on a repeat, especially with his fragile body.

Jonathan Gray seems to have had a decent season, albeit a short one due to injury. An ERA under 4.00 isn’t awful, especially compared to his 2016 results. And hey, he improved his walk rate — one of the things I’m most critical about — so it’s not all bad. That said, there are red flags here that mean you shouldn’t expect better results in 2018.

For starters, his K/9 is too high given how little swing and miss he generates (down over 3% from 2016). His slider lost effectiveness via Pitch Info pitch value, though it’s still very good. His fastball is still below average, though it did improve from 2016. And his curveball got worse via Pitch Info, though FanGraphs’ pitch value showed it going up slightly. Add in the fact that he doesn’t fool lefties, and that he still pitches half his games in Coors, and I can’t buy into the breakout.

Suspicious Disappointments

Starling Marte‘s disappointment really started in 2016, when his power production dropped drastically. We were hoping he could get back to double-digit homers, but his total kept going down instead. His batting average dipped from near elite to just okay. Oh, and he was dealing with a PED suspension. The disappointment is thick, but people are split on what to expect next year. Did PEDs aid his power and overall game? Or did he simply have an unlucky season? I’m willing to give him a mulligan, and I’ll buy on him next season, especially because he’ll come at a discount.

Although he ran less often in 2017, his speed scores are still elite, and his August and September stolen bases show he can quickly get back to 30+ for a full season. Also, his speed lets his BABIP stay high, so his .324 from last year was actually a career low. He should easily get his batting average above .280 next season. And though he’s not the most patient batter, he did improve across the board in plate discipline, with better contact, SwStr%, O-Swing%, and K%. As for power, he at least reversed the slide in HR/FB, getting up to 10%, which is league average. A full season could see 15 HR. It’s a great time to trade for Marte if you can buy low.

Manny Machado could surprise some people for making the disappointments list, but it’s true. We had extremely high expectations of him, so even though he hit over 30 home runs, the drop in average was startling. That hurt his OBP, which in turn hurt his runs scored. He also saw a dip in HR/FB for the third straight year, and his LD% was rather low. However, you shouldn’t think twice about taking him in the top-15, and I wouldn’t blame you for taking him in the top-10.

Let’s tackle that poor average first. It was mostly due to an insanely low BABIP in the first half. During that time, he started pressing, and his contact dropped and his K% jumped. But things normalized in the second half, and he had an average that we expected, .296. For his power, his HR/FB was down a little from 2016, but it was steady in each half at 15%, and I’d rather have that consistent power instead of an unexplained surge or dip. His hard hit rate was a career best, so it stands to reason that the low LD% won’t stick, and he could easily get a few more points back in his HR/FB. At third the sexier names of Arenado and Bryant will go first, but Machado is a great consolation pick in the latter half of the first round.

Mookie Betts is like Machado, in that he had a pretty valuable year but still didn’t live up to our projections. His HR/FB dipped a little, and his average was 30 points lower than what we’d come to expect from his previous two years. He was a first round pick in 2017, and he’ll be again in 2018, but perhaps he’ll fall out of the top-5 due to the “slump” this last year. Even if his ADP was closer to 10, he’d end up being a great value pick.

For starters, he greatly improved his walk rate, and so his BB/K jumped from 0.61 to 0.97. He swung out of the zone far less often, and his contact and SwStr% are near elite. Also his hard hits were up from 2016, which makes his low BABIP an unlucky fluke. With a return to the MLB average, he would have been above .280 in average. He’ll keep providing 20 SB, and I put him above 25 HR in 2018. Disappointment from this first rounder shouldn’t carry over into next year.

Matt Andriese is a mixed bag, but it’s safe to say those who look closely at metrics expected much more from him. His underlying stats keep indicating he should take a big step forward any season now. But of course, we’ve seen pitchers whose metrics scream for a breakout, and they never live up to it (see: Nolasco, Ricky). I’ll admit that a high HR/FB is mostly his own fault, and his BB/9 rose from his strong 2016 season. His hard hit rate was up as well. These are things he’ll have to address, but the underlying stats still indicate a lot of hope.

His K/9 could easily go up given his improved swinging strike rate for the season (11%), and in the second half he was even better (13%). He’s throwing more pitches in the zone, despite a dip in F-Strike%. If he starts off with more strikes in 2018, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 9.0 K/9, and these factors should also help his BB/9 (which did improve in the second half). Andriese also had some bad luck in BABIP from July onward, and with some normalization and another year of maturity, it’s possible he’ll be much better in 2018. For now, I at least have more hope than I ever did in Nolasco.

 

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Kevin Jebens
Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.

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