Yesterday the RotoFanatic team discussed our “Dark Horse” picks for the Cy Young award, but now it’s time for an icy bucket of cold water.

In 60-games a cold streak can kill you, or at least your chances of winning. So it’s important to spend your draft capital and FAAB wisely. The RotoFanatic team decided to shine a light of a few players that we were “out” on due to either ADP, skill decline, or other factors.

So let’s get right into it. Here are the 2020 Player Bust picks from the RotoFanatic staff:

Whit Merrifield, 2B/OF, Kansas City Royals

Matt Williams‘ (@MattWi77iams) pick

 

When you look at Merrifield’s year-end statistics, they look pretty solid. Good batting avg, over 100 runs, & decent power/speed. Yet over 735 PAs, that pace is a bit of a disappointment, especially considering that fantasy players were paying for 40 SB & received just half of that.

Merrifield has collected over 700 PA in the last two seasons, & at least 587 AB over the last three. This seems like a plus. But if those ABs were to ever decline, like in 60-games, his counting stats would greatly suffer. At least at their current percentage.

Whit Merrifield SB (Last 3 Seasons):

2017: 34 of 42

2018: 45 of 55

2019: 20 of 30

Aside from the fact that his SB production severely declined, Whit was caught 10 times in each of the last 2 years. That was fine for 2018 (82%), but not 2019 (66%). Merrifield’s Sprint Speed declined from 29.0 ft/sec to 28.6. Still 86th percentile, but after being top-5% for years, it’s not a trend you want.

Less SB attempts + Slower Sprint Speed = No Elite SB totals

 “I made the conscious decision to sort of take it easy on my body” – Whit Merrifield

Speed is a skill that ages poorly & Merrifield admits to intentionally changing his approach to steal fewer bags. Like I mentioned earlier, he plays almost every single game. The wear & tear for a 31-year-old is something to think about here. Forget about a 40 SB pace. Be happy to get a 20 SB pace.

Merrifield led MLB in hits & triples while setting career bests in SLG & OPS. It’s evident that success hinges on his talents as a compiler. Those counting stats are his lifeblood.

Whit Merrifield sports one of the lowest EV & Hard Hit% in MLB (bottom 15% in both)

 

He has seen a drop his production across the board against everything but fastballs.

2018 vs Breaking: .227 xBA

2018 vs Offspeed: .309 xBA

2019 vs Breaking: .209 xBA

2019 vs Offspeed: .268 xBA

He has a healthy 81.7% Contact Rate which allows him to limit strikeouts. However, a career-worst 85.8% Zone Contact & three year low Whiff Rate (20.1%) is a bit of a red flag.

If this is not just an anomaly, & the start of a trend, we could see some definite regression in batting avg. Merrifield’s 2019 BABIP was .350, which is not far off from his typical .340 mark, but still, another sign that his batting avg may take a hit.

In addition to being a 31-year-old compiler, we have seen evidence to suggest a decline is: speed, power, and batting average…

No thank you.

Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies

Jeff Zimmerman‘s (@jeffwzimmerman) pick

 

I think the Rockies may continue to try to move Arenado and if he does, his fantasy production will sink. While some fantasy players will not believe his drop will be severe and keep his ADP in the top-20. He belongs down in the 50 to 70 range because of the drop off from not playing in Coors. While he’ll not regress all the way down to his career (link) road stats (career .995 OPS at home and .799 on the road), it’ll be close. It’s not that he won’t be good, but he’ll then be in the talent range of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Jose Abreu.

I keep hearing that Matt Holliday didn’t struggle when leaving, but he’s a sample size of one. Previously, I examined all the good hitters (.800 OPS, 22 players) who left Coors and came to the conclusion:

Better hitters have historically taken more of a hit when no longer in Colorado with the away stats being predictive of their future performance. The whole “good player” narrative needs to die and owners need to come to grips with the overall results.

Fantasy owners are going to have to readjust how they value him, but it’ll take a season or two. And all my hot takes are based off him getting traded. I wonder if some teams will hesitate to take on additional salary with how 2020 has gone and the looming labor fight after the 2021 season.

 

 

DJ LeMahieu, 1B/2B/3B, New York Yankees

Chris Clegg’s (@RotoClegg) pick

DJ LeMahieu had a career season in 2019 for Yankees that landed him fourth in the AL MVP voting. After spending seven years calling Coors Field his home with the Rockies, LeMahieu put up numbers in 2019 better than any season with the Rockies. He hit 26 home runs last season, which was 11 more than his previous career-high of 15. LeMahiue’s batting average in 2019 should come as no surprise considering that has been his cup of tea throughout his career, is a .302 career hitter.

The interesting thing is all of LeMahieu’s underlying statistics back up his 2018 performance. His Statcast data is off the charts and shows how hard he hit the ball, backing the power breakout. LeMahieu is also one of the best hitters in baseball at making contact on pitches in the zone. You may ask; if the data looks promising, why is he your bust pick? Here is why:

First, there are very few hitters who have a breakout at age 31 and follow it up again the next season. LeMahiue also hits the ball on the ground at a high rate. Last season was one of the lower percentages of his career at 50.1%, which is still high. LeMahieu also hits the ball to the opposite field more than he pulls it. This played to his advantage in 2019 because the right field in Yankee Stadium is a huge power alley for home runs. Regardless, I still expect LeMahieu to regress in the power department.

He had one of the worst average home run distances in baseball at 386 feet. Some of those opposite-field home runs might not find there way out of the park in 2020. I would expect him to hit closer to 15 home runs over a full season.

LeMahieu should be a good source of batting average and runs scored since he should hit leadoff in a great Yankee’s lineup. But, I believe the hype is going out of control for a guy who is about to turn 32 years old. I don’t fully buy into the power breakout, which added so much value to him in 2019.

 

Gleyber Torres, 2B/SS, New York Yankees

Cory Ott’s (@Cory5Ott) pick

 

Choosing one of the Yankees’ most highly touted international prospects of all time to be a bust for the abbreviated 2020 season can definitely be described as “going against the grain”, but there are numerous things to take into consideration that may help to validate such a claim. How does one choose a second baseman who accrued a batting average of .278, thirty-eight home runs, ninety runs batted in, 152 hits, and ninety-six runs as a bust candidate?

The bread lies in his concerning batted ball profile and the outrageous ADP he has been drafted at. In a modified season where power is going to be more widespread, volatile, and will come in surging doses from unexpected players around the league, drafting a power-only second baseman who doesn’t walk nearly enough at an NFBC ADP of twenty-six may not be the most ideal strategy for roster construction this season.

Second base is understandably a shallow position around the entire league this season, but jumping in head first this early in the draft on a power-hitting second baseman who is not going to provide speed nor a shiny batting average may not be the wisest investment for fantasy managers.

Second base eligible players such as Ozzie Albies, Keston Hiura, Ketel Marte, and Max Muncy are being drafted at least ten slots after Torres, as there is a clear heap of other second base options that will provide a similar power value as Torres while also possessing the ability to provide even more speed and a better batting average to boot.

 

 

Grab a corner infielder, outfielder, or pitcher in the first round of your draft and wait for that next swing back to grab one of the aforementioned second basemen that won’t completely break the ADP bank as Torres will. The margin for him to yield a positive return on investment at an ADP of twenty-six in a shortened season is exceptionally thin.

There are a few concerns with Gleyber’s batted ball profile that may steer some fantasy managers away from drafting him at such a high price, and rightfully so. Just to identify where he ranks among his league mates, Torres is currently in the 49th percentile for Average Exit Velocity, 33rd percentile for Hard Hit%, 25th percentile for Whiff%, and 50th percentile for xBA.

The fact that Torres is in the bottom 33 percent of the league for Hard Hit% (35.8 percent) is concerning, as this directly translates to a power-hitting second baseman that actually fails to hit the ball over 95 MPH nearly 65 percent of the time that he makes contact. Though Torres has proven to increase his Barrel rate to 10.1 percent in 2019, this still only ranks him 51st among all qualified hitters in the league.

He also hits the ball on the ground way too often for a power hitter (37.2 percent GB%), while also lacking refined plate discipline skills as he still chases too many pitches out the zone (35.1 percent O-Swing%) while maintaining a fairly high SwStr% of 13.2 percent. At an NFBC ADP of twenty-six, fantasy managers should be cautious about the value that they think Torres will return in this slot, as there are many other options at second base that could supersede the return value that Gleyber will provide.

Whenever there are down-trending batted ball indices in a player’s profile, take caution and maybe invest in a more secure player at a similar ADP that will undoubtedly provide a higher return value for where the investment is being made in the draft room. These were a few reasons why Gleyber Torres may be a prime bust candidate for the 2020 season.

 

 

 

Rafael Devers, 3B, Boston Red Sox

Brad Johnson’s (@BaseballATeam) pick

 

When I’m asked to supply a bust, I typically look for an early-round non-pitcher. For me, that pick is easily Rafael Devers. First, there’s the left-handedness of the AL East which I’ve discussed on a couple of occasions already (East Scheduling Winners/Losers Link). Even in his breakout 2019 campaign, Devers posted an ordinary .269/.301/.442 line against fellow lefties. Granted, he was better in the past, and I’m not inclined to believe he’s terrible opposite southpaws. It’s still not a good thing.

There are also reasons to suspect regression – the bad kind. Despite a great leap forward in output, Devers only demonstrated marginal improvements in his batted ball types. He trimmed his swinging strike and strikeout rates without improving his plate discipline, a combination which does not always stick. He’s still an overly aggressive hitter who could easily come out of Summer Training swinging at (and connecting with) too much garbage.

Fenway Park is sneaky tough on left-handed power. If the ball is magically less juicy like several players noted during Spring Training, that could hurt his home run output. Notably, other AL East venues are extremely friendly to left-handed power. We also have to remember; he’s only one year removed from a .240 batting average. A second-round ADP is banking on both power and average. Neither attribute should be considered fully proven for Devers.

Lastly, I would like speed from my early-round picks. While Devers did swipe a not-terrible eight bags last year, his 27.1 Ft/s sprint speed was 290th “best” in the league. Of course, the counter-argument to all this is pretty simple. He hits the ball damned hard as evidenced by his Statcast percentile rankings. Clearly, I’m not arguing Devers is a bad player. I would just prefer to draft his profile several rounds later – like Manny Machado at 57 ADP.

 

Rafael Devers was also Michael Govier’s (@mjgovier) pick

Devers cashed in big-time last season to the tune of .311/.361/.555 slash line. He even dropped his whiff rate from 24.7% to 17%.  These sound like positive gains for an already heralded prospect. So why does he reside in the bust sector? Unfortunately, I don’t see him replicating his 2019.

Cranking 32 bombs, producing 115 RBI, or scoring 129 runs will not happen for Devers in 2020. Not because it’s a shortened season, but rather due to the unlikelihood of Devers repeating his monster stat line. In 2018 his infield pop-out rate was 15.7%. It dropped to 9.9% last year. Slight regression in that jump is quite possible. With Mookie Betts heading west, Alex Cora being busted and the Red Sox under new management, 702 PA or the pro-rated version of that is not something that I would bank on.

His wRC+ was 132 last season. That was good for 30th in MLB. Jeff McNeil was at 143 and you can grab him in the 6th round or later of standard drafts. Don’t bank on his steals flourishing either. He was caught half the time he stole those 8 bases last year. Devers is a solid player but he’s not a top 30 fantasy asset for me in 2020.

 

Zack Wheeler, SP, Philadelphia Phillies

Joe Barbuto’s (@RotoJ03) pick

 

(There has since been news that Zack Wheeler may opt-out, or at minimum miss time due to family health concerns)

I get it.  Wheeler’s Statcast numbers, especially his Fastball Velo, Hard Hit % against, and Exit Velo allowed are pretty damn impressive. A guy with as good of stuff as Wheeler can certainly turn it on and can certainly have great stretches amongst a normal season.  However, in an abbreviated season, I can see Wheeler struggling mightily.

Most of this mindset comes from the fact that, over the past few seasons, Zack has struggled to get into a groove to start the year and has really had very bad early months in the season.  These issues aren’t a one-time or two-time occurrence but have developed into a trend that leads me to believe a 60-Game Season could be an absolute nightmare for him in Philly.

In his past 3 Aprils, he has had an ERA close to 5.  In his past 3 months of May, he has seen mixed results.  But, those mixed results include an ERA of more than 6 in 2018 and more than 4.5 in 2019.

He has a clear track record of slow starts and with so much uncertainty this season, that’s bad news.

I want no part of Wheeler well within the Top-30 ADP of Starting Pitchers in 2020 and will be staying far, far away in fear of yet another notorious slow start of his having the potential to derail my 2020 campaign

 

 

 

Mitch Garver, C, Minnesota Twins

Dave Swan’s (@davithius) pick

 

Mitch Garver may have been that piece from last year to win your fantasy league. His out of nowhere stat explosion is incredibly hard to pass over in a draft, especially at the catcher position. Finishing with 31 HRs, was only behind Gary Sanchez last year. That’s a ton of power for a catcher that went undrafted in many leagues last year.

Homerun regression is the major flaw that stands out. Garver’s 2019 max exit velocity(109.7 mph) put behind names like Martin Maldonado and Pedro Severino. What stands out immensely is how unbalanced his profile is against pitch groups(fastballs, breaking, offspeed). Nearly all his HR production came against the fastball, 25 out of 31 HRs. His xBA against breaking balls and offspeed pitches was .186 and .190, respectively. It would appear obvious, throw fewer fastballs to him and watch him struggle.

In all fairness, Mitch has fairly decent plate skills. My biggest concern is with an ADP of 130; you are passing on better players. I see a massive step back in power coming for Garver, and in 60 games, he will hit more like six HRs with a .250 batting average. You have been warned!

 

 

 

Mike Soroka, SP, Atlanta Braves

Dave Funnel’s (@sportz_nutt51) pick

 

This recommendation has nothing to do with Soroka’s talent. He had a phenomenal 2019 season and was poised to continue his progress upwards with a great 2020. He was merely selected because Alex Anthopolous said that the Braves will be cautious with their starters and could limit them to just two to four innings and even use some in relief as well.

We could see other teams doing the same, but right now, the Braves have been the first to suggest this implementation. Therefore, I caution all fantasy players to look for how teams plan on using their staff. A starter (obviously) needs a minimum of five innings for a win. If he is only pitching two or three, he can’t get that win and won’t be able to pile up the corresponding productive numbers. Right now, Soroka is going with an ADP of 106. He will most certainly bust out given his high draft spot and not returning productive numbers that go along with a high draft pick. It’s unfortunate because he is quite the special pitcher when he does pitch.

 

 

Manny Machado, 3B, San Diego Padres

Justin Johnson‘s (@JJ_JetFlyin) pick

 

Since 2017, Machado has gradually started hitting worse. Reference his rolling 60 game averages for his
OPS below.

 

 

Manny Machado is not hitting in Camden Yards anymore, and he has been a completely different player since moving from Baltimore. He did not perform well in his new home ballpark in San Diego last season, hitting .219 with a .230 BABIP across 78 games. He isn’t that bad of a hitter, but Petco Park is not an easy place to hit, and it is worrisome how much better he will get. Now he adds in tougher hitter parks from the AL West as well.

Machado will have plenty of opportunities for runs and RBI with Fernando Tatis Jr. and Tommy Pham likely to hit in front of him. That is why a lot of people still believe in him. However, if he continues his cold streak, including hitting .209 across his last 52 games, Machado won’t be worth near his value.

@MattWi77iams added notes:

It should be noted that Manny Machado had more issues than Petco last season, For example his performance vs RHP:

Machado vs RHP Career:

.275 AVG

.203 ISO

.343 wOBA

 

2019:

.239 AVG

.161 ISO

.305 wOBA

But more importantly, it is very important to note that while being a beacon of health for most of his career (over 580 ABs 6 our of last 7 years), there was an interesting health concern last season. Machado was hit by a pitch on August 8th and never seemed to bounce back.

Before 8/8: .272/.340/.494

After 8/8: .213/.319/.375

Food for thought.

 

Pete Alonso, 1B, New York Mets

Mike Carter aka Mr. Doctor’s (@mdrc0508) pick

 

This is more an indictment of where Alonso is taken in drafts rather than a lack of belief in his skill. Alonso hit 53 home runs last year with a .260 batting average. Alonso is getting drafted in second rounds with an ADP of 29 in NFBC. The power is real, but I would never recommend taking a one-category player this high, especially in a shortened season.

In a 60 game season, I do not see Alonso returning a value. His K rate will remain 25-26%, and his tendency to pull everything further depresses any uptick in batting average. He might get 15-17 home runs with a middling batting average in the .250s. While any fake team can use those home runs, you will likely be dissatisfied with this production with a second-round price tag. I will wait and be happy to take guys like Matt Olson or Jose Abreu later in drafts. I think Alonso is a bust this year.

 

 

 

Gerrit Cole, SP, New York Yankees

Rob Cocuzzo’s (@RobCocuzzo)  pick

 

The Yankees finally got their ace in the off-season. It came at the steep price of $324 million dollars, but Gerritt Cole was the much-needed piece to solidify this team as a real World Series threat. With Luis Severino undergoing Tommy John surgery, the Yankees will need Cole to repeat his 2019 performance in his first year in pinstripes.

Unfortunately for Cole and the Yankees, he will most likely be unable to live up to his expectations. Here is why:

Cole comes into the season off of a fly ball rate of 39.4% in 2019. That was the second-highest mark of his career and his hard-hit rate of 33.9% was the highest of his career. Pair fly balls with hard contact in Yankee Stadium and what do you get? A lot of home runs.

While this could be, in part, due to his high volume of strikeouts, Cole does need to keep the ball on the ground if he wants to find success in the bandbox in the Bronx.

Additionally, in 2019 the former first overall pick had an ERA of 3.95 in April and 4.13 in May. With the shortened 2020 season, Cole can hardly afford a slow start. He is projected to take the hill about 12 times in 2020; through 12 starts last year, Cole’s ERA sat above 4.00.

To make matters worse for Cole and the Yankees, the realignment of the divisions barely ever gives the Bombers a break. The AL East already contains some of the best talents in the game, but adding an additional 20 games to the schedule against the high octane offenses of the NL East is a nightmare for starting pitchers.

Expect Cole to rack up Ks, but to be plagued by the long ball this season.