Are 2019’s Busts This Season’s Rebounds? A Review

Two weeks ago, I reviewed my pre-season article discussing six 2019 breakouts and my verdict for their 2020 performance and earnings. Today, let’s now flip to 2019’s busts. In late March, I discussed six 2019 busts and determined whether they would rebound enough in 2020 to earn within $7 of their 2018 dollar value. If I did think they would earn within $7 of their pre-bust season value, I labeled the player “REBOUND”, and if not, “STILL A BUST”. Though a 60 game season is hardly the sample size needed to evaluate my methodology on calling these 2019 busts, it’s all we have. So let’s see how the players and I did.

2019 Busts
Player 2018 EOS $$ 2019 EOS $$ Diff Within $7 Rebound 2020 EOS $$ Call Correct?
Khris Davis $27.90 $0.00 ($27.90) $20.90 ($14.90) STILL A BUST X
Jose Ramirez $38.90 $13.00 ($25.90) $31.90 $39.00 STILL A BUST
Matt Carpenter $21.40 $0.00 ($21.40) $14.40 ($7.50) STILL A BUST X
Manny Machado $30.80 $10.90 ($19.90) $23.80 $35.90 STILL A BUST
Andrew Benintendi $24.50 $4.60 ($19.90) $17.50 Negative something? STILL A BUST X
J.D. Martinez $44.00 $24.20 ($19.80) $37.00 ($1.00) STILL A BUST X

Ha, I ended up labeling everyone “STILL A BUST”, but as you’ll read, that didn’t necessarily mean I was bearish on the player. Simply, their 2018 earnings seemed to be a high watermark in my eyes and difficult to replicate, or even come within $7 of. So for the exercise, they were technically “STILL A BUST”, but given their likely 2020 draft day cost, weren’t. Since I can’t predict draft day cost, I couldn’t factor that in.

Heading into 2019, Khris Davis was as consistent a slugger as it gets. He had been coming off three straight 42+ homer seasons and incredibly batted .247 for four straight seasons. You knew what you were getting when buying Davis, or so you thought. Out of nowhere, things fell apart for him in 2019, as his FB% fell to its lowest mark since his 2013 debut, and that combined with a dip in HR/FB rate below 20% for the first time since 2014. That resulted in more than a halving of his home run total, which with fewer of those hits, also ended his string of .247 averages. The thinking was that Davis’ hip injury early in the season and hand injury over the summer may have been the culprit. Perhaps it was, but he failed to show any semblance of life over a small 99 PA sample in 2020. His power further cratered and now at age 33 with no defensive value, you have to question his future.

José Ramírez is exactly the type of player I was alluding to above when I labeled him STILL A BUST, but was actually bullish on a rebound. In fact, I owned him in two of my four leagues. My concern rested solely on the difficulty of projecting a player to earn more than $30, especially coming off a $13 season. Ramirez’s disappointing 2019 was fueled by a number of factors — a career worst strikeout rate, decline in HR/FB rate, and injury that cost him 150+ PAs versus 2018. This year, he came back with a vengeance, as his HR/FB rate not only rebounded, but jumped to a new high, while his FB% rocketed above 50% for the first time. All this occurred while his strikeout rate spiked again to another career high. It appears he’s doing everything he could to ensure his power level remains stable, but the skill set is now looking a bit riskier than it has. A rebound in BABIP also helped greatly after a two-season trough. However, the sustainability of that rebound looks sketchy, as he did it despite his lowest LD% since 2015 and the highest FB% of his career…both moves that should result in a lower BABIP, not a higher one.

At age 32, it seemed pretty clear that 2018 would likely represent Matt Carpenter’s fantasy peak. His HR/FB rate surged to a career high, but it came at the expense of his strikeout rate. In 2019, he fell back toward his career numbers, but his strikeout rate rose again. With little speed or chance for a positive batting average contribution, it seemed impossible he would finish as a REBOUND in 2020, earning with $7 of his 2018 season. Sure enough, his strikeout rose for a fourth straight season, while his HR/FB rate his its lowest since 2014. This looks like the end of Carpenter as a fantasy asset.

Welp, definitely did not see Manny Machado’s best offensive performance coming! It was quite the banner short season, as his walk rate, strikeout rate, LD%, IFFB%, ISO, and HR/FB rate all notched career bests. I think we forget that Machado is still just 28 years old, as it feels like he’s been around forever since he debuted at the tender age of 19. He has been so consistent, we probably all gave up on hopes of another gear higher, but it finally happened, albeit in a shortened season. Aside from his HR/FB rate driving his fantasy value, his steals total actually has a real impact. For someone with below average speed, it’s surprising that he continues to attempt steals. He actually attempted more steals this season than he did over a full 2019, putting him on pace for only his third double digit steal season. He’s not a particular strong basestealer, so at some point, that steals total is probably going to dip into the low single digits, and cost him a couple of bucks of earnings.

For some reason, Andrew Benintendi did not appear on our Auction Calculator’s output. Perhaps he broke it with an infinitely negative number. Benintendi wasn’t bad in 2019, as he still contributed some homers and double digit steals. But it was a disappointment, especially since his steals total was cut in half, and his power failed to blossom once again. This season was clearly a lost one as injury limited him to just 52 plate appearances. He’s still just 26 though, clearly possesses both power and speed, and should come at a bargain basement price in 2021. I don’t even need to project him or look at his ADP or future average auction value to feel pretty confident that there’s likely to be serious profit potential here.

After two straight bonkers power seasons, J.D. Martinez was still excellent, but a little more human in 2019. His HR/FB rate decline amid back issues, and I argued that at his age, that’s not something I want to bet on being resolved, and fueling a rebound. I was right, as Martinez’s HR/FB rate slipped even further, more than being cut in half in 2020, with his first sub-.200 ISO since 2013, before he became the hitter we know today. Of course, we can’t be sure if it’s continual back issues sapping his power or the lack of video because of the pandemic, or perhaps a combination of both. It’s very hard to guess what the future holds here as we know he’s 33 and has battled those back issues. So sure, he should be better in 2021, but 2017-2018 better? Highly, highly doubtful. Does it even reach back up to 2019 levels? Does he even get back to a 20% HR/FB rate at all? No one knows, so his attractiveness on draft day depends entirely on how optimistic your leaguemates are. I would guess the risk/reward ends up fairly solid to be worth buying, but clearly you’ll need a substantial discount to jump in.





Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

newest oldest most voted
montreal
Member
montreal

Good points Mike. I think generally speaking, the older guys are less likely to rebound. Of course there are exceptions. But I would likely bet on a Benintendi or Robles rebound than a Kris Davis or the like. Very interesting point on stolen bases too. A lot of big hitters that also run actually stop running after a few years. I would not count on Machado (as you mentioned) for steals this year. Same with Mike Trout, despite his success rate.