To Affinity and Beyond: Finding Busts with Statcast’s New Toy

Ben Pernick uncovers eight overvalued fantasy assets to avoid.

Last week, or month, or who knows because time means nothing anymore, we examined Statcast’s Affinity tool to find sleepers. And while it seems that the Affinity tool is good at determining underrated players, perhaps it is even more effective at figuring out which players suck. The reasons may seem rather obvious: Mike Trout is unparalleled in what he can do to a baseball. Players like Yelich, Acuna, Yordan, Altuve, and the top stars on this list all find unique styles to produce high value. But there is a lot more common ground in how players can fail. Sure enough, if you enter just about any bottom-of-the-barrel hitter to find his top Affinity comps, you’ll find all the dregs with him.

So naturally, my strategy for finding busts was to start with Jeff Mathis. With the lowest wOBA in the majors in 2019, the 37-year-old unsurprisingly comps with many of the league’s most weak and strikeout-prone hitters (he happens to be both). Then, I just kept widening the inclusion parameters until someone unexpected popped up, and went from there. It’s a very precise science, really.

Among these players are some popular bust choices, as well as some who are being labeled sleepers or even carrying straight-up hype. As a reminder, the caveats are that the players that get unfairly dinged are speedsters, players impacted by 2019 injury, those with hitter-friendly park advantages, and rookies whose value lies mostly in future projection. So I weeded out the ones whose bad comps could be explained by those factors alone (with the possible exception of one rookie speedster). Still, having an early-round or even mid-round bust can decimate your championship chances, so if you won’t heed the algorithm’s warning, at least raise an eyebrow.

Alex Bregman, 3B, Houston Astros (ADP: 13)
Top Comps: Justin Smoak (.81), Matt Joyce (.72), Asdrubal Cabrera (.70), Jose Ramirez (.68)

As if you needed another reason to hate him. You forgot that we still hate the Astros, didn’t you? Even his ADP of 13 is an unlucky number. Of course, when you’re at the top, you can expect most comps to be below you. However, you probably don’t expect the first three comps to be players that aren’t even drafted in a standard 15-teamer. Now of course we know Bregman won’t be that bad, but it’s rather surprising for a player with such stellar plate discipline that only one of his top 5 comps was essentially replaceable (and JoRam’s .68 similarity score is quite low). This is likely due in part to Bregman’s relatively low barrel rate paired with his high flyball rate. Fortunately for Alex, he’ll continue to play in a favorable home park for non-barrelers. But if you assume the young third baseman is going to hit 40 bombs again, he might Breg your heart.

Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs (ADP: 45)
Top Comps: Mark Canha (.84), Paul Dejong (.83), Carson Kelly (.82) Jesus Aguilar (.82)

In my Ben Pernick’s 10 Bold Predictions for 2020, I wrote that Bryant would be outhit by Nomar Mazara, but it seems less outrageous when you see Bryant’s comps. It’s not like four of these five comps were terrible in 2020, as each actually outperformed expectations. Still, Bryant is going before pick #80 in most drafts, where his top 5 comps aren’t considered until top 200 (aside from Grandal at (.81), and we all know catcher is a whole different playing field). This past season seemed to confirm Bryant fans’ assertions that once healthy, he’d be fine again, and the surface numbers did make him look like a legitimate power and average threat. But his exit velocity, K rate and barrel rate simply don’t support it happening again, and he’s far from a proven commodity for his age with his track record of inconsistency. Don’t let Kris Kross you.

Bo Bichette, SS, Toronto Blue Jays (ADP: 66)
Top Comps: Bryan Reynolds (.86), Tyler Naquin (.82), Ian Desmond (.82), Nick Senzel (.82)

What did I say again about Affinity being unfair to rookies? And speedsters? Perhaps these comps aren’t even that bad, as Bichette is expected to make a lot of his contributions on the base paths, and at least his top comp had a pretty great season with the bat. Still, for someone who is regularly falling in the top 100, it’s a little disconcerting that his comps aren’t close to as elite as the surface numbers he put up in his brief spell in 2019. Although the fact that he was a doubles machine bodes well for future power, he still doesn’t hit as many barrels as most of the other top 100 hitters. Also, given his relative lack of minor league power, that may continue in the majors. While he’s a fun, young player to follow, I think the current asking price for him in fantasy is too steep (especially with Semien at 82). However, I’d still prefer his high floor over that of Luis Robert. Of the players on this list, relative to his ADP, I rank him towards least concern, but just don’t forget just how deep shortstop is before going bounty hunting for Boba Chett.

Yoan Moncada, 3B, Chicago White Sox (ADP: 68)
Top Comps: Steve Wilkerson (.84), Jon Villar (.82), Grayson Greiner (.80), Steven Duggar (.80)

The bats here seem less like a live bat and more like a Moncadaver. Yoan was also the first unexpected name to match in my patented Mathis Test, matching him with a .75. Especially considering most agree that Moncada’s 2019 season was fluky good, the fact that he still draws terrible comps makes it quite a bit harder to believe in a repeat. Moncada got by with a ridiculous BABIP of .406, masking his high strikeout rate of 28%, and his above-average speed is still not enough to justify that. I mean, aside from Villar (who DOES contribute largely in the SB dept), these other comps were not even taken in the top 500. Still, Moncada will be popular because he did take big steps forward offensively and defensively and he’s still 25. So, if he can keep his K rate in the mid-20s and keep improving, he could still become a fantasy superstar. But if you believe in the validity of this indicator even a teeny weeny bit, you should put a big red flag on Moncada for 2020. And if you already red flagged him, fly that flag on a bigger red flag.

Tim Anderson, SS, Chicago White Sox (ADP: 107)
Top Comps: Amed Rosario (.84), Dawel Lugo (.81), Gerardo Parra (.79), Harold Castro (.79)

It is a little odd that two White Sox hitters freakishly outperformed their expected BABIPs, with Anderson’s at .399. As we know with Anderson, speed is a very important part of the equation. However, even with that considered, yikes are those comps bad. Rosario is a poor-man’s version of Anderson, but at least he’s a regular. The other four are unlikely to be considered even in the deepest AL-only leagues. Like Moncada, the speed helps make up for non-elite contact. And unlike Moncada, he does have the SBs to give his value a higher floor. Still, especially in a shorter season, a BABIP-dependent player could be a risky investment. We know how ugly his cold streaks can get, and it could crash down on you like a giant tree, changing his name to Tim Berr. Oof yeah the comedy show closures have hit me especially hard.

Yuli Gurriel, 1B, Houston Astros (ADP: 129)
Top Comps: Josh Reddick (.88), Luis Arraez (.81), Wilmer Flores (.79), Sean Murphy (.75)

Well hey, at least his top comp is a teammate! For those looking for reasons to doubt Yuli’s unexpected power breakout, this list right here makes a compelling argument. It suggests he’s the same high-contact, low power guy he’s always been, as the other players on this list (with the possible exception of Murphy) are hard-pressed to muster even double digit homers (and he lacks the lovability and beergut of his #5 comp Willians Astudillo (.74). Indeed, Minute Maid is very friendly to non-barrel fly balls, but the fact he’s played there for several years with only one big power year definitely cries fluke. Oh, and he’ll be 36 next year. I think the odds of him popping 30+ tates is lower than the odds that he loses his starting role altogether. If you take him with a top 140 pick, Yuli be sorry.

Bryan Reynolds, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates (ADP: 179)
Top Comps: Nick Senzel (.89), Bo Bichette (.86), Sam Travis (.83), Jonathan Schoop (.80)

Reynolds came out of nowhere to be a fantasy godsend, hitting .314 with 16 HR and 3 SB in 546 PA, but perhaps we should take the money and run. A strong batting average was so much harder to find than power off the waiver wire, so I understand the fantasy sleeper hype for the 25-year old. But I did a double-take when I saw his ADP at 179, above Willie Calhoun, a player widely projected to hit for both average AND power. The good news is Reynolds’s top two comps are rather strong, although Bichette and Senzel have more future projection, and Bichette also more speed. But after that, all the other comps are bad. Beyond Sam Travis, Schoop and Pinder, are a long list of borderline regulars at best. Marwin, P. Severino, Rengifo, Pollock (not bad), Naquin, Caratini, Rengifo… these are not encouraging. Like many on this list, Reynolds has a low barrel rate and a high 2019 BABIP of .387, though his xBA of .296 and xSLG of .476 were solid. Unlike many of them, he lacks impact power or impact speed, so you need him to hit .300. I think that’s a bad bet for a guy with a K rate above 20%. If you need average that badly, just wait another 50 picks and take Luis Arraez, whose average hitting skills seem far more believable. Don’t get foiled by Reynolds, that’s a wrap.

Michael Chavis, 2B/3B, Boston Red Sox (ADP: 235)
Top Comps:  Tyler Flowers (.89), Derek Fisher (.81) Jung-Ho Kang (.81) Welington Castillo (.79) 

Yeah, it’s not so great when two of your comp are part-time catchers. And yet the two comps in between them are somehow worse. Chavis was a prospect known for a loud power bat, and he lived up to that with 18 homers in 382 PA. However, his .254 BA belied a 33% K% and .347 BABIP, with an xBA of just .222 and an xSLG of .413. Add in the fact that he’s shaky defensively, and it’s no surprise that the Red Sox invested in multiple contingency plans in Peraza and Munoz for the infield. There of course is still the chance he pulls a 2019 Moncada light and cuts the Ks enough to help the power shine. The Sox essentially already threw in the towel on 2020 so he’ll likely get at-bats, but it could be closer to Chris Davis than any non-masochist wants to see. Hope for growth but don’t overpay for it, or you’ll just be a sucker M.C.

Featured Image by Alyssa Buckter – alyssabuckter.com

Ben Pernick

Fantasy baseball nerd, music therapist, and comedy singer/songwriter and stand-up/sketch comedian. I am also an insufferable enthusiast of puns and dad jokes. I grew up as a Red Sox fan in New York, but now I declare allegiance only to my fantasy teams.

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