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Pete Ball’s Top 5 Outfield Busts

An analysis of five potential 2022 outfield fantasy busts.

“Bust.” “Sleeper.” “Breakout.”

We really need a definitive dictionary for fantasy-specific terms, don’t we?

Though this article focuses on the one term of those three that I think is the most easily understood, all three of those terms – bust, sleeper, and breakout – are completely subjective. So, it is important for me to clarify my stance on what a “bust” is before we get cracking on these five names that I’ll be avoiding.

A “bust,” to me, is a player who performed at a lower level than what they were drafted for. If Player X is taken with the 423rd overall pick in a draft, it is really hard for him to be a bust, by this definition, since the price paid to acquire him was already extremely cheap. The expectation was a 423rd pick – don’t be shocked when he performs like it!

Conversely, if Player Y is taken 48th overall but ultimately performs like a post-200 pick, then he was a huge bust. He failed to perform up to expectations based on the price paid to acquire him.

This context is important because while the players below will be identified as busts (and we are talking 5×5 leagues here), it does not necessarily mean that they are going to perform poorly. It just means that they will fail to live up to their draft price. Whit Merrifield may fail to live up to his 30 ADP, but he could still put forward a solid season. A bust, but not a team killer. Important distinction!

With that clarification out of the way, here are my five outfield busts for 2022 drafts, in order of ADP based on NFBC Draft Champions leagues:

 

Whit Merrifield (KC) – ADP 32.0

 

I get it – stolen bases are hard to come by. Merrifield was one of only two players to steal 40 bags last year (the other being Starling Marte) and since the start of the 2019 season, only Marte (82) and Trea Turner (79) have more stolen bases than Merrifield’s 72. It also doesn’t hurt that he has 2B eligibility, which is probably where most managers will slot him in, instead of outfield.

All of that sounds great, until you realize that Merrifield is 33 years old, had just 10 HR in 720 PA last season, and has seen his OBP drop pretty drastically each of the last four seasons: .367 in 2018, .348 in 2019, .325 in 2020, and .317 in 2021.

This just seems like a culmination of issues that could seriously impact Merrifield’s most redeeming quality: stolen bases.

First, he needed a ton of PAs to reach that 40 stolen base mark. His 720 PA trailed only Marcus Semien (724). To be fair, although Merrifield was a late bloomer, he has been a beast at staying on the field since he burst on the scene. He hasn’t missed a regular-season game over the last three years. In today’s era? This dude is an iron man.

I get that.

But, that is also a lot of wear and tear on a player whose game heavily relies on his speed. He isn’t going up to the plate, smashing a ball 450 feet, and slowly trotting around the bases. Merrifield is a grinder, day in and day out, playing multiple positions. To be clear, I am not predicting an injury. I find that kind of “analysis” to not only be in bad taste, but also to be kind of stupid. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder if Merrifield is going to start getting some time off – especially with a lot of youthful bats coming up through the Royals system. If he does and he only plays, say 140 G, then that could seriously limit his value.

If his decline in OBP continues and he isn’t reaching that 700 PA benchmark, then he may become more like a 25 SB – 30 SB guy, and my bet would be on the former.

He really only contributes in two other categories: batting average and runs. Obviously a decline in volume would coincide with a decline in runs. As for his average, last year marked his lowest batting average as a major leaguer (.277) and that was actually overachieving according to his .263 xBA, his worst since his rookie season (2016, .252).

He doesn’t walk, his average exit velocity was in the bottom-12th percentile, and his barrel rate was a paltry 3.5%. He depends entirely on volume and speed and as he gets older (’22 will be his age 33 season), I’m not so sure we can continue to be so confident that those numbers will be there.

Who would I rather have? Well, for this one I actually already answered that question on Twitter!:

 

 

Randy Arozarena (TB) – ADP 57.8

 

It feels like with these first two picks I am just picking on speedy players, but it is important to note right off the bat that Arozarena is not nearly the base stealer that Merrifield has been. It took Arozarena 604 PAs just to steal 20 bases, and he was caught stealing ten times! Merrifield stole 40 bags in 720 PAs and was only caught 4 times. They are not in the same universe in terms of SB expectations, and Arozarena’s lack of SB efficiency is just one of the reasons why I expect him to bust at pick 58.

If Arozarena’s floor is his 2021 season, then he will definitely not be a bust. I would happily take 94 R, 20 HR, 20 SB, and a .274 BA at pick 58.

The problem is that it appears that Arozarena may have played a little above his head in 2021, at least based on his underlying numbers.

His xBA was .222 and his K% was atrocious (28.1%). He posted a .459 SLG% despite a .369 xSLG%, and his 16.7% HR/FB ratio was a few ticks above the league average of 13.6%. This was all with a very high .363 BABIP, perhaps repeatable but noticeably higher than his .306 mark in the shortened 2020 season.

Expected stats aren’t typically sticky on a year-to-year basis, but it doesn’t make me feel great that those numbers were so poor for a player who seemingly came out of nowhere following a ridiculous post-season in 2020.

He hits the ball on the ground a lot (49.2% GB%). If he struck out significantly less, then I wouldn’t mind the high ground ball rate because it would mean he would most likely be a contributor in BA, and the increase in opportunities to get on base would ideally coincide with an increase in SB and R. Unfortunately, he does strikeout a ton (32.6% Whiff%, 74.1 Z-Contact%) which will severely limit his BA ceiling, and the lack of fly balls will limit his power output.

Basically, I want Arozarena to cut down on the strikeouts to maintain a decent OBP that will help him increase his stolen bases. Or, I want him to hit the ball in the air more to contribute more HR. If he does neither, I worry that 2021 is closer to his ceiling than his floor, and I’m not going to bet he repeats it with such a high draft pick just for a chance at 20 stolen bases.

I would prefer Trent Grisham at ADP 127 to Arozarena at ADP 58. Grisham possesses that same 20/20 upside almost 80 picks later, and strikes out less but walks more.

 

Eloy Jiménez (CWS) – ADP 70.7

 

I do like Jiménez and think he will probably have a successful 2022 season. I just don’t think his skillset needs to be drafted so early.

He is approaching his 1,000th career PA and though I acknowledge that these two stats have marginally improved each season, his K% still sits at 25.7% and his BB% at 6%. Both are quite worse than league average, and he hasn’t, at least up until this point in time, made up for it with crazy high exit velocities or high FB rates that boost the HR total.

I worry that, at least for now, Jiménez is more of a .250-.260 hitter than the .296 guy we saw in the shortened 2020. Based on his slightly below-average LD% and his poor strikeout rate, it is tough to envision the average being much higher unless he has some luck in the BABIP department, which is unlikely given his middling speed and really-solid-but-not-spectacular average exit velocity (90.5 MPH in 2021).

He has also attempted zero stolen bases throughout his entire Major League career (961 PA). He is, quite literally, a zero in the SB department. That should not be overlooked. Even just five stolen bases from a power-hitting OF can be helpful. Jiménez is providing zero so far. That hurts.

So, he is nothing to write home about in terms of batting average. He will not steal you a single base, either. What will he do? Well, it is unlikely he gets you a significant amount of runs. Although the White Sox lineup is awesome, Roster Resource has him pegged to bat sixth, right in front of a Gavin Sheets/Andrew Vaughn platoon, Adam Engel, and Leury García. Yikes.

OK. But what about HR and RBI? Surely he will produce there, right?

Yes! I do think he will. But will he be such a standout in those two categories that he should be going this high in drafts? I don’t think so. He certainly has the pedigree, and like I said – I like him! But it feels silly to spend such critical draft capital on a player for two categories when a player like Kyle Schwarber, who is coming off of an incredible season and is a known source of HR and RBI, is going over 60 picks later at ADP 133.5.

 

Ryan Mountcastle (BAL) – ADP 114.4

 

This shouldn’t come as a surprise from me. In my bold predictions piece for 2022, I predicted Mountcastle to finish outside of the top 20 1B. If I am not high on him as a 1B, I am not high on him as an OF, either.

Without just regurgitating all of the same information from that piece onto this one (and if you roster Mountcastle or are considering drafting him, I highly recommend you check that piece out!), here are the highlights:

  • The 31 HR look awesome until you realize he had never been much of a power hitter before and this just happened to coincide with a staggering 20.4% HR/FB%
  • His K% jumped up to 27.5% in 2021 compared to 21.4% in 2020
  • His GB% from 2020 (43.9%) dropped to 35.5% in 2021, while his FB% jumped from 24.5% to 33.9%. Though this is good for HRs, remember that the fences in left field at Camden have been pushed back and that more fly balls are not a good thing for batting average

My fear is that the increased FB% and K% result in a bottoming-out of his batting average and that the pushed back fences and, more importantly, the HR/FB% normalizing, result in significantly less homers. It seems like a perfect storm of regression to several key statistics that could really harm Mountcastle’s value.

I think there are plenty of outfielders going after Mountcastle that will outperform him, but one that comes to mind who could post similar numbers to what you are hoping to get out of Mountcastle is Alex Kirilloff at ADP 183.0 (about 70 picks later). Kirilloff was shut down with a wrist injury in 2021 but was showing some promise before the injury.

Both players were on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 in 2020, but there was little question as to who had more potential – Kirilloff was 27th on the list, Mountcastle was 90th. You should take that with a grain of salt, obviously, but it isn’t like either player has really done that much since then (with all due respect to the production that Mountcastle has posted, because I am admittedly of the opinion that it has been quite fluky to this point) to seriously tip the scales and yet, as mentioned, they’re going 70 picks apart.

Kiriloff has had a long time to recover, he struck out less than Mountcastle (22.5% K%, compared to the aforementioned 27.5% for Mountcastle), had a higher average exit velocity by 2 MPH (91.0 compared to 89.1), and was pretty much better across the board in terms of expected statistics in his limited 2021 than Mountcastle.

Kiriloff still has a lot to prove, but I guess that is my point. In my mind, Mountcastle still has a lot to prove because I am not buying what he did in 2021. So, I don’t view the two that differently, and certainly not 70 picks differently.

 

Chris Taylor (LAD) – ADP 144.0

 

It is not lost on me that, like Merrifield, Taylor’s higher-looking ADP is due in part to his multi-position eligibility. If Merrifield was just OF and not 2B, or if Taylor was just OF and not 2B and SS, then they would be going later. The same can be said for Mountcastle with 1B and OF, though I think that is a lot less drastic of a difference (particularly for 5 OF leagues).

So, it is important to note that this ADP is inflated particularly if you are drafting Taylor as an OF. After all, this article is about outfield busts. Even still, I do believe Merrifield, Mountcastle, and now Taylor are all going too early in drafts – even when considering their position flexibility – and that is why I have them here.

So anyway, let’s talk about Taylor. He has been an incredibly valuable utility piece for a World Series-winning team. He is a good baseball player who, as a Red Sox fan myself, I would love to have in Boston. He plays all over the diamond, can hit for pop, and has good speed. He has also had his fair share of clutch hits. How can you not like him?

With that said, he is also coming off of a monster, breakout-like season on the wrong side of 30 years old during a contract year. I’m not questioning Taylor’s effort or anything like that now that he has been handsomely paid, those are just the facts. Do with them what you will. To be fair to him, his 2017 was an even better season, so this wasn’t completely unheard of.

I just have a hard time paying for a career-utility player’s massive season when, over his most recent 162 G before the 2021 season (encompasses all of 2020 and the latter-months of 2019), he put up just 71 R / 14 HR / 66 RBI / 11 SB / .262 BA.

If Taylor receives full-time playing time in 2022, which one has to assume he mostly will, do I think he will outperform that line? Probably, I suppose. But do I expect him to exceed it by a large margin and warrant a pick in the top 150? No. Certainly not to use in my OF, and probably not at 2B, either.

If looking for an outfielder who could produce similar numbers, I like Austin Hays about 80 picks later (ADP 221.5). Hays strikes out significantly less than Taylor, which should help him hit for a higher average. He won’t swipe as many bags as Taylor, but he isn’t a complete nothing in the speed department, either. The pushed-back fences in Camden do worry me a little for Hays (19 of his 22 HR were to left-field in 2021), but at 26 years old he already has a 22 HR season under his belt. Taylor has never done that.

 

Recap

 

If you are playing in a five-OF, twelve-team league, don’t underestimate how quickly quality outfielders can disappear. Many outfielders (like three of the ones listed in this piece) have multi-position eligibility, presenting the outfield position as deeper than it truly is because not everyone will be using these players in the OF.

Just because Merrifield, Jiménez, Arozarena, Mountcastle, and Taylor are listed as “busts,” doesn’t necessarily mean I think they will have bad seasons, let alone ruin your team. It just means that, given where they are going in drafts, I think they are being over-drafted.

Merrifield or Taylor at 2B instead of OF would certainly make me feel better about them and explains their ADP a little bit, but doesn’t change much about my analysis. I think they are going to underperform their ADPs, regardless of position, but definitely at OF.

Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Shawn Palmer (@PalmerDesigns_ on Twitter)

Pete Ball

Pete Ball is a graduate of Emmanuel College and a die-hard Red Sox fan. Most of his work for Pitcher List can be heard, not read, on the Keep or Kut Podcast. Download and listen to hear his undying love for Tanner Houck.

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