Late in the fantasy baseball draft season, it’s easy for me to become paralyzed by analysis. I start to have an existential moment. Why am I making all these lists? Who cares about xwOBA? Do I care if his ADP doesn’t completely reflect his injury risk?
I reserve time to step back before Opening Day and look at the game as a fan again. Sure, when I analyze, I’m still having fun. But there are still things that I want out of my fantasy baseball experience that can’t necessarily be projected with metrics.
So I sit down and read the well-known “Bust” articles. You know the ones? The regular lists of “Players to Avoid” at their current ADP.
I start to ask questions. What are we hoping for when we draft a player? Is there something about a player that excites us? What if I just like a guy? And if I draft a couple of players on this list, does that necessarily mean that I can’t win my fantasy baseball league? Probably not.
Sometimes, people want to “own” the guy who could do something extraordinary.
Not everyone plays the game for money or to get bragging rights for winning. Sometimes it simply enriches the experience of watching baseball. When you draft a player, it’s like owning a baseball card that notifies you when to cheer for someone in real-time.
For fun, let’s look at three common themes in the “Bust” article: the unbelievable comeback story, the aging athlete, and the change of scenery.
The Comeback Story
Often, a player must prove their consistency before we leave them out of the “Bust” column.
Robbie Ray is a popular pitcher on these lists in 2022. I watched the Toronto Blue Jays for the entire 2021 season. I’m not from Toronto. I’ve never been a Toronto fan. I was merely watching because their team reflected the current pandemic crisis.
They had no home. They played in three ballparks last year, and their story was an inspiring one. I’ll admit it: When they missed the postseason by one game, my heart broke.
Robbie Ray had been struggling for years before 2021.
His FIP agreed with all of it. The control continued to elude him. He went from a BB/9 of 5.09 in 2018 to 7.84 in 2020.
The result? In 2021, his ADP was nearly 338. He went undrafted in many leagues.
Now he’s being drafted in the 4th Round.
As I watched Toronto last year, Robbie Ray was a great comeback story. And if I’m a Seattle fan this year, I’m excited to have him in the rotation. I probably even want him on my fantasy baseball team.
I’m not here to convince you why we should fearlessly draft him by analyzing his weird spin rates, or his newfound control. I’m here to convince you that he’s still worth buying as a fan.
Let me tell you what I saw by watching baseball as a fan instead of looking at numbers.
One stat that many “Bust” articles use to flog Robbie Ray is his Strand %. His LOB% was 90.1%.
For some reason, Robbie Ray reminded me of Jon Lester in 2016. It seemed like every other start, Lester got into trouble and calmly overcame the situation. We call this poise or grace under pressure.
I looked up Lester’s LOB% from 2016. It was 84.9%, the highest of his career. He had an ERA of 2.44. His second-highest LOB% was in 2018 when he had a 3.32 ERA. His third highest was in 2011 when his ERA was 3.47.
The last time Robbie Ray had a great year was 2017. His LOB% was 84.5%.
There is a stat called “Clutch” that you can find on Fangraphs. People avoid it because it’s not predictive. For fun, I checked Ray’s clutch score last year. It was .71. For reference, a 1.0 clutch score is great.
Robbie Ray seemed to get even better under pressure. The television mics picked up his telltale battle gasp after every pitch. He was all seriousness and stamina.
The question, as a fan, is if I draft him in the 4th Round and he turns into the 2018 version of Robbie Ray, can I still win my league? He had a 12.01 K/9 in 2018 and an ERA of 3.93. That sounds a lot like Dylan Cease in 2021.
I think you’ll be okay. Have fun.
“People don’t start playing ball at your age. They retire.”
Baseball fans know this quote from the film The Natural.
The second “bust” theme is age. Salvador Perez may not be as old as Roy Hobbs, but it’s different for catchers. Being a catcher is tough on the body.
Salvador Perez is on many lists that say “Do not draft at his current ADP.” Of course, there are statistics to support looming regression from his 2021 season, but there is an undercurrent in the analysis, and it points to the aging catcher. Perez’s birthday is on May 10th. He’ll be 32.
Consider another catcher: Buster Posey. At age 32, Posey hit 5 homers and played in 105 games. The specter of time hung over him. By 2021, many in my home league viewed him as too old to draft.
But he had a great year in 2021, and he was 34.
There is no doubt in my mind that if Posey were playing this year, he would be on every BUST list for BOTH his age and the unbelievable comeback.
As a San Francisco fan, you might want to put him on your team. Why? Well, that’s easy to answer!
We only ask for one small thing as a baseball fan: glory.
What would be glorious about drafting Salvador Perez? Do you know there are only two catchers to ever hit 40 homers in a season twice in their careers? One was Johnny Bench. He did it in 1970 and 1972. He was in his early 20s.
The other catcher was Mike Piazza, who did it in his late 20s and early 30s.
So some people will point to Perez and say, “It’s rare. Don’t draft him in the third round. He will regress.”
But the baseball fan could (and perhaps should) point to Perez and say, “I want to see him do it. I hope he does it. Put him on my team so I have another way to track a possible history-making year.”
And if he only gives you 30 homers instead of 48, he’ll still help your team. You won’t lose just because you drafted Salvador Perez early. It’ll take more than that.
Wherever You Go, There you Are
I’d like to do one more. Is that okay? I’ll make it brief. This one is for Texas Rangers fans.
One other repeating theme in “Bust” articles is that a player will regress significantly because he moved to a new team. He’s in a new division, he’s surrounded by a weaker defense, or he is leaving a more rarefied air (see Trevor Story).
Marcus Semien is on a few “Bust” lists. There are several reasons, but I must bring up Globe Life Park, especially since everyone is pointing at the big Corey Seager and Marcus Semien acquisitions. Everyone likes to remind Texas fans right now that their new park plays big, especially to right-handed hitters.
But if we were evaluating ballparks like we evaluate players, we’d point out that Globe Life Park has only been around since 2020. Have you looked at the right-handed hitters in the Texas lineup during that time period?
Here’s a list of right-handed hitters in the Texas lineup on September 1st, 2020 with the number of Barrels and their Flyball %. (Let’s assume that it helps to square up the ball and hit it in the air if we’re going to judge whether or not it will fly out easily in a ballpark.)
Here’s a list of right-handed hitters from September 1st, 2021
Here are Marcus Semien’s numbers from 2019 (when he was in Oakland and hit 33 homers) and from 2021 (when he was in Toronto and hit 45 homers).
No offense, but the Texas Rangers have not had a right-handed power-hitter of Semien’s caliber in the first two years in Globe Life Park. The closest is Adolis García, who hit 19 of his 31 HR at home last year. I know there are visiting teams too, but the home team is the larger sample. If I’m a Texas fan, I’m rooting for Marcus Semien and I’m getting him on my team, even if I have to reach.
Photos by Brandon Sloter, Scott Winters, & Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire; Semien photo interpreted by Michael Packard | Adapted by Drew Wheeler (@drewisokay on Twitter)