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Affinity Gauntlet: Surprising Statcast Similarity Busts

Ben Pernick predicts 7 bust hitters using a handy Statcast tool.

Statcast’s Player Similarity Tool is one of the lesser-used but more fun tools on Statcast player pages. It’s quite useful for sizing up a player based on comparable batted ball outcomes with other major league hitters. They have it for pitchers too, mind you, but I find it less informative. But it’s most useful when determining which players have top comps that seem far better or far worse than one would expect given the original player’s surface stats.

Last week, I went over my list of biggest sleepers here. But today, I look at the biggest busts. Because who doesn’t like looking at big busts? I mean statues of heads, of course! Such detail.

I generally prefer finding sleepers to busts, since it’s always more fun to build up than to tear someone down. And when you criticize a player, their team’s fanboys often like to tear you down. But in my limited time doing this exercise (literally just 2020), it has been more accurate at identifying potential busts. In 2020, six of my eight picks were indeed massive busts in 2020’s small sample, where sleepers were right less than half the time.

It turns out that this year there aren’t any busts as obvious as ones I identified prior to 2020, which included Alex Bregman and Kris Bryant coming off their peak years). It doesn’t mean I hate these players, I’m just reporting on what the algorithm spits out and my reaction to it.

I’m trying to heavily consider Player Similarity’s lack of accounting for player speed, playing time situation, and age into account, which I didn’t consider heavily enough in 2020 as my two non-busts were speedsters Bo Bichette and Tim Anderson. That’s I’ve decided not to list Trea Turner even though his top comps are Donovan Solano, Alex Verdugo, and Aledmys Díaz. But if you consider him an easy 30-homer threat, maybe keep that in the back of your mind.

It also doesn’t account for potential injuries affecting performance, so it doesn’t tell much when the surface numbers for an injured player are as bad as the comps. But this could be an indicator of hidden injuries or declines that were masked by BABIP or lucky home runs.  It also doesn’t account for park factors, so my last rule is: NO ROCKIES. Anyway, onto the list!

 

Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox  (ADP: 47)

 

Top Comps: Andrew Vaughn (.86), Carlos Correa (.84), Austin Hays (.83), Max Kepler (.82), Luis Urías (.81)

 

For a surefire elite shortstop, his comps are rather Xanderwhelming. You might wonder why I didn’t write about any bat-first sluggers picked higher, and that’s because until here, every top slugger had comps with top sluggers, which gives this tool good face validity. However, there are several first-round shortstops who also bad comps (such as Trea Turner and Bo Bichette), but most of them are super fast (which improves batted ball outcomes) and have stolen bases as a key component of their fantasy value, both of which make comps less relevant. Xander is only moderately fast and gets a handful of stolen bases, so he doesn’t really have that going for him. So why the pessimism?

Bogaerts has managed to post decent power numbers despite mediocre barrel rates, which is likely a combination of volume (high playing time plus high contact rate) and perhaps taking advantage of Fenway’s hitter-friendly confines. For one, it’s surprising that Vaughn is the top comp given his disappointing season, and Correa, the most optimistic of the comps by far, seems more apropos. A Correa who got 600 PA a year is fine indeed, but the Kepler and Urías comps are scary, as well as Bote and Lowrie at .80 afterward.

However, Bogey may be one of those guys who just always outperforms his Statcast metrics, as he had low-quality comps and outperformed xBA, xSLG, and Steamer projection prior to last year and still hit .300+ with 23 in 2021. But keep in mind that he’s only hit more than 23 homers once in the past 7 years, so the 33 homer season was likely the aberration) and thus his value is rather batting-average dependent. Still, he has generally provided great ROI just for being able to stay on the field, so I’m not too worried he’ll be a disappointment in 2022, though perhaps too expensive given other talent at the position and that point of the draft.

 

Brandon Lowe, 2B/OF, Tampa Bay Rays, (ADP: 69)

 

Top Comps: Gary Sanchez (.90), Jorge Soler, Kyle Lewis (.82), Eric Haase (.81), Austin Riley (.80)

Many experts are arguing Brandon Lowe is underrated given he hit 39 homers last year. But a top comp of Gary Sanchez at an unusually high correlation of .90 is, well, terrifying. Of course, Sanchez wouldn’t be as dreadful without Lowe’s even moderately above-average speed, but this list is full of players who have been studs for short spells but are extremely streaky. Of course, back in May, many managers contemplated cutting Lowe, who was a relative dead weight before his mammoth second half. So that Soler comp seems rather fitting.

Essentially, while Lowe could repeat, and could develop further as he’s still young, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him plummet to hit .225 with 25 Homers and end up having some at-bats stolen from a platoon. The saving grace is that at least his final comps of the series of Riley and Mountcastle suggests that he’s still not far from some good-hitting players, and odds are he’s still fine. But I do see this as an orange-red flag that we shouldn’t bank on him for a .250+ AVG and 35 homers when it could be a similar one-year breakout like Soler’s 2019 season.

 

Dylan Carlson, OF, St. Louis Cardinals (ADP: 172)

 

Top Comps: Jake Bauers (.88), Christian Walker (.87), Yoshi Tsutsugo (.86) Billy McKinney, Cavan Biggio (.84)

I said I wasn’t going to sound the alarm when bad comps are given to speedsters. But then I reminded myself that technically, Carlson really isn’t one! Plus, how can you not panic when your top comp is Jake Bauers? Of course, Carlson is still developing offensively and is still quite young, and I’ve been led astray before by bad comps from rookies who find a new level. Still, it seems given his ADP of #172 that many are assuming growth that is not guaranteed.

If he did hit like these highly correlated comps, he could be among the worst outfield regulars in the league. He is still just 23, so it’s far too early to give up on him, as you could argue it’s quite impressive he even held his own. But prospect growth is not linear, and for what it’s worth, projections seem ho-hum, with the most pessimistic (and arguably most accurate) THE BAT X calling for a .252 AVG with 17 HR and 5 SB. Yawn.

If I’m looking for a young upside bat, I’d throw the dart on someone with better batted-ball foundation until I see more or his ADP falls considerably. Remember that a few years ago, Bauers was also touted as having potential power, speed, and average too. He’s a good bet to rack up 600+ PA, but with a pitcher park, I’d rather have Benintendi, Soler, Ozuna or Pollock who are all going later.

 

Matt Chapman, 3B, Oakland Athletics  (ADP: 178)

 

Top Comps: Aristides Aquino (.81), Jake Lamb (.79), Justin Upton (.78), Gary Sanchez (.77), Eugenio Suárez (.76)

It seems everyone in fantasy leagues loves Chapman, and I love that they forget that even though he’s a real baseball stud, he’s mostly been a fantasy dud. These comps suggest the batting average downside is very real, as he comps with regulars who hit below the Mendoza line and backups/role players. With virtually no speed to boot, one could argue that there’s really not much separating him in fantasy from Miguel Sanó, and maybe that’s an insult to Sanó.

Of course, maybe his hip injury played a role in his poor performance, and while I’m not confident that hips always recover 100%, it could impact his comps. But I don’t think it’s likely with his K rate trending in the wrong direction and no indicators of a trade or swing change thus far. Suarez is the most positive comp, and who knows, maybe he can rebound like Matt Olson did after his poor 2020. But I don’t think the ceiling is high enough to make up for the low floor at his ADP unless your league has a category for defense.

 

Ian Happ, OF, Chicago Cubs (ADP: 196)

 

Top Comps: Jackie Bradley Jr. (.84), Rio Ruiz, Mike Tauchman (.80), Marwin González, Adam Eaton (.79)

I think Happ may have been mishearing Beatles songs, since his top comp last season, Jackie Bradley Jr., was singing “When .164”. It’s also probably not good to have another top comp as someone who was so bad they signed in Korea before the lockout news. Or one who straight-up retired. I was honestly shocked when I saw these, as I think of Happ as a guy with great batted ball quality, especially after his prior 2020 small sample breakout. But these comps turned it into a break-in and I don’t know if the goods are gone.

I should add that Happ has lots of helium from experts and rosy projections, with Steamer calling for a .240 AVG with 31 HR and 9 SB, though the more venerated THE BAT X echoes my concerns somewhat projecting him for a .238 with just 22 HR and 7 SB over 522 PA. At an ADP below 200, that’s pretty bad, especially since Tyrone Taylor is projected by them to match that production if he gets 500 PA (projected for 366) and is currently has an ADP of 521.

Happ will likely get playing time in this offensive wasteland, especially now with the NL DH, and at least offers a modicum of speed that gets harder to find with power in the middle rounds. But especially given his career lack of consistency, I need a convincing explanation for his poor 2021 batted ball data before touching him in leagues given his relatively high draft cost, and I probably wouldn’t consider rolling the dice on him until 75-100 picks later. The hype is like quicksand, but I won’t get sucked Ian.

 

Adam Duvall, OF, Atlanta Braves, (ADP: 223)

 

Top Comps: Seth Brown (.75), Eugenio Suárez (.74), Miguel Sanó, Kyle Higashioka, Eric Haase (.73)

I personally am a fan of Duvall and his somewhat unusual career path, as it’s not common that a player sets a career-high in homers in their age-33 season with 113 RBI. But his comps make me want to curl up and hide under a duvet. Should we be surprised? I am somewhat, considering his 2021 .228 average and surprisingly pedestrian .491 SLG% were validated by his xBA and xSLG, and 2022 projections all have him hitting between 33 and 41 taters and no worse than a .227 average. But I’m shocked they didn’t predict 100+ RBI again.

Of course, given his lack of plate discipline, he also has some comps with high bust-risk comps like Eric Haase, though I trust Duvall’s track record that he should at least continue to play enough to get 450 PA. However, low OBP sluggers like Duvall are notoriously streaky, and the Braves won’t be so patient if he struggles given his awful defense.

He certainly benefits substantially from the NL DH, especially with Pache and other youngsters waiting in the wings for the outfield, so I’d hardly be surprised if his draft cost surges closer to pick 200. But keep in mind that Soler is also a poor fielder and looks more promising. Slow power-only guys with a lack of plate discipline don’t often have long careers, and he’s entering his age 34 season. So unless you really screwed up drafting power, I’d avoid the risk unless you’re feeling particularly Duvaliant.

 

Wil Myers, OF, San Diego Padres (ADP: 284)

 

Top Comps: Randy Arozarena (.86), Marwin González (.82), Michael Taylor, Hoy Park, Willi Castro

It’s looking like I Wil not Myers. The top comp of Arozarena may seem like a bullish sign, but keep in mind that Arozarena mostly used his speed to compensate for an otherwise disappointing offensive season from an xBA and xSLG standpoint. While Myers does still have decent wheels, ranking 166th in the MLB, he’s unlikely to get the green light with a 50% SB success rate over the past three years.

Perhaps age and injuries have caught up to him, but people haven’t caught up to the fact he got pretty darn lucky last year. While he rocked an impressive .285 xBA and .590 in the 2020 small sample, in 2021 his decent season line of .256/.344/.434 with 17 HR and 5 SB was belied by a ghastly .218 xBA and .370 xSLG. Seeing the following comps of another poor-hitting speedster Michael Taylor and several 2021 duds intensifies the worrying to the level of when I left my Jewish mother a voicemail that I’m about to go skydiving and to a shooting range and that I’ll turn my phone back on to contact her tomorrow.

He’s likely to be a preseason riser since his likelihood of a full season of at-bats and health has increased with the news of the NL DH. He’s going late enough that it won’t hurt you terribly to take a shot, but given the fact he seems to offer overrated fantasy upside even with a full season of health, I’ll be looking elsewhere. Heck, maybe I’ll even wait and take Wilmyers Flores.

 

Photo by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Shawn Palmer (@PalmerDesigns_ on twitter)

Ben Pernick

I've been writing for Pitcher List since the beginning, and have been a fantasy baseball addict now for 20 years. I grew up as a Red Sox fan in New York, but now I declare allegiance only to my fantasy teams.

  • Mario Mendoza says:

    Very interesting. I was targeting Happ for one of my top bench spots, but now I see him as deeper depth, and I certainly won’t get in a bidding war over him

    • Ben Pernick says:

      Thanks, glad you found it interesting! There definitely are Happ fans out there but I think there are better options falling later like Ozuna and Pollock

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