Baseball is one of the hardest sports to forecast; its nature makes it incredibly prone to random variance, which of course, is not something that is easy to deal with. And if, on top of that, you add an extra layer of complexity, reducing the number of games under study (and the size of the sample of info with it)—well, let’s welcome mayhem.
Having said that, we will not ever stop trying to predict what’s going to happen and, in that spirit, I will propose a number of players that, in my opinion, will over/underperform the expectations; in this case, the expectation will be gauged by the NFBC Draft Champions Average Draft Position from March 1, 2021 to March 17, 2021. Please remember, I’m defining the busts or sleepers in terms of the return on investment on their ADP; it doesn’t necessarily mean the bust will perform badly, but it means that you won’t get the value you are expecting. The same applies to the opposite. So, without further ado, let’s start.
Bust: Adalberto Mondesi (Kansas City Royals – ADP 22)
This strikes me as one of the most difficult-to-back picks in the first three rounds. Yes, Mondesi is THE base stealer in the game, whose capacity in that regard is still somehow unexplored due to the fact that he hasn’t played more than 102 games in any of the seasons in his short tenure in the MLB, while still managing to swipe 43 bags during that 102-game 2019 season. In all, projections have him for an average of 52 for 2021.
But, do you know what’s needed to be able to steal bases? Reaching those pesky bases, a thing that seems to be Mondesi’s arch-nemesis: his career batting average is a measly .251, his OBP an anemic .284, his K% is north of 30%, his BB% is south of 5%, and he has limited pop. How can a second-round pick be justified just because he can give you a super boost in SBs while tanking your team in every other category? Not on my watch.
I believe a 5th round pick could be fairer in Mondesi’s case; no good return on investment looks possible at his current ADP, so that’s a bust for me.
Bust: Zac Gallen (Arizona Diamondbacks – ADP 41)
Gallen is one of the most liked pitchers by experts and fans for fantasy purposes this season, and his ADP shows it. Gallen is constantly being pushed up because of his 2020 numbers, particularly his 2.75 ERA and a K%-BB of almost 20%, among other stats. Plus, his curveball has been touted as one of the best in baseball.
I totally get the upside he possesses, but let’s first look at some important stats:
|Name||Season||IP||pCRA||K-BB%||CSW%||O-Swing + Zone%|
Since 2019 (and even combining that season with 2020), Gallen looks like a reliable, rock-like pitcher: his main stats, as I tend to define them, show stable numbers from start to finish, which is great. But for all the talk regarding all of his evolution and refinements, it looks like he is still getting the same results, which by no means are bad (they are pretty good, actually) but lack the necessary upside that a pitcher taken at his premium ADP should provide. He is the 14th pitcher off the board, going before other options with better upsides like Kenta Maeda (ADP 48), Tyler Glasnow (ADP 47), and Corbin Burnes (ADP 53). And, as you can see in the following table, these other pitchers already showed they were capable of better results than Gallen (Glasnow and Burnes numbers for 2019 are not shown due to limited innings sample):
|Name||Season||IP||pCRA||K-BB%||CSW||O-Swing + Zone%|
UPDATE: Gallen is dealing with a sore right forearm, waiting for more info but will probably miss some time to begin the season.
Bust: Randy Arozarena (Tampa Bay Rays – ADP 57)
Which Randy do you like the best? The first 76 plate appearances of not-that-great Randy, or the 84 Babe-Ruthesque plate appearances (including postseason) Randy? Let’s take a look at them both:
|Time period||Player||PA||BIP||K%||BB%||BABIP||BA||xBA||wOBA||xwOBA||EV (MPH)||LA (°)|
|Until 09/28/20||Arozarena, Randy||76||43||28.9||7.9||.306||.281||.253||.422||.369||90.3||9|
|After 09/28/20||Arozarena, Randy||84||58||22.6||7.1||.396||.377||.347||.515||.467||93.8||8|
Yes, I love October Randy, too, but I can’t be sure that’s what I will be getting, and more than likely, I won’t be. We have a big small-sample problem here, which has translated into a big recency bias situation. Even when taking the “best” Randy Arozarena, including his postseason numbers, it’s hard to justify his ADP while players with a proven record are going later, namely Michael Conforto, Nelson Cruz, or even Lourdes Gurriel Jr./strong>.
Yes, we will probably see flashes of break-the-world Randy in 2021, but I don’t think it will be often enough to justify his ADP.
Sleeper: Nathan Eovaldi (Boston Red Sox – ADP 239)
What makes Nathan Eovaldi a great pitching option for me can be summarized in two pictures. First, let’s look at some plate discipline stats (taken from Baseball Savant):
Eovaldi’s plate discipline stats have evolved favorably since 2015. It’s particularly telling how he has decreased the Chase Contact% by almost 15 percentage points since 2015, meaning that batters are having more trouble hitting anything he throws out of the zone. That is very important, as it will lead to more strikeouts. Also, his Zone Contact is at its lowest ever while his Zone Swing% is at its highest, a great combination. Now let’s look at the other important chart:
Eovaldi’s velocity is there; he kept averaging over 97 mph last season, and the Spring Training reports show that he is sitting at 97 mph again and hitting 99-100 mph frequently. For Eovaldi to be successful, this has to keep going, as it is the mixture of high velocity and discipline that makes him a good pitcher.
Of course, health is the number one issue with him. He hasn’t pitched more than 125 innings since 2015 due to injuries but, at a 239 ADP, the injury-risk is baked in.
Sleeper: Elieser Hernández (Miami Marlins – ADP 245)
There is a lot to love about the Miami Marlins pitching rotation: Sixto Sanchez, Pablo Lopez, and Sandy Alcantara look like very solid starters. However, I believe Elieser Hernandez should be more highly-regarded in that rotation.
Last season, before his injury, Hernandez was superb, sporting the following numbers:
Everything was falling in place for him: his highest ever K%, SwStr%, TF-Strike%, and CSW% and his lowest ERA, BB%, WHIP, and AVG against of his short career, before having to be shut down for the rest of the season.
Of course, we are dealing with a small sample here—just 25 innings of work is less than ideal. Still, while BB% need a lot more innings to stabilize, there are some analyses (like this one from Max Freeze, here) that back the idea that, at least for K% and some strike-related stats, 25 IP are good enough to have an idea of how things will continue. Although CSW% tends to stabilize after the 10th start, the individual game CSW% shouldn’t be ignored; in that regard, his CSW ranged from an okay 26.8% to an excellent 38.3%.
|6||2020-09-01||39 *Left early||30.8|
On top of all that, this spring training Hernández started where he left last year, having 12 SO and just 1 BB in 8.2 IP. At an ADP of 245, he is a bargain.
Sleeper: Josh Lindblom (Milwaukee Brewers – ADP 326)
I was high on Josh Lindblom‘s chances of being a nice surprise during the sprint season, but he was not able to live up to these expectations. While not a fantasy darling, he was far from a complete disappointment. Lindblom showed what he is capable of when he is at the top of his game. During his limited 45.1 IP in 2020, his 3.57 pCRA, 18.85 K-BB%, 30.80 CSW, and 67.70 O-Swing% + Zone% were good enough for him to be 30th-overall when evaluating by those categories in 2020. That’s a top 30 value from a player that is pretty much an afterthought during this year’s drafts.
Lindblom’s ability to strike out opponents was superb, with a 27.2 K%, but his higher-than-expected 8.4 BB% hurt him, leading to an ugly 5.16 ERA, although his FIP was a more palatable 3.88.
This spring training, he’s been bumpy, but the strikeout upside is pretty much there at 32.6 K%. There are significant worries, as he is still fighting with Freddy Peralta for the fifth spot in the Brewers’ rotation; nevertheless, even if used in a long-relief role, Lindblom will hawk a lot of wins, and his ratios will be excellent while providing plenty of innings, so you will still get a huge return from him.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)