Are 2019’s Busts This Season’s Rebounds? by Mike Podhorzer March 24, 2020 Yesterday, I discussed six 2019 fantasy breakouts and concluded with a verdict as to whether I believed each was for real or would be a 2020 bust. Today, let’s flip to the 2019 busts. A reminder of the rules: I excluded pitchers from this analysis, since we could more easily discern between those who were the victims of poor fortune (Chris Sale, Blake Snell) and those whose skills declined, supporting the busting (Mike Foltynewicz, Jon Lester). I also excluded hitters who recorded significantly fewer plate appearances in 2019 versus 2018. Last, in order to avoid overly punishing a hitter for being awful, as opposed to simply bad, I changed any hitter’s end of season (EOS) $$ value to $0 if it was negative. Finally, like I did for the breakouts, I have changed the definition of a REBOUND. Rather than requiring the hitter to bounce back this year to earn at least 80% of what he did in 2018, the hitter now must earn within $7 of his 2018 earnings. This is completely arbitrary, of course, and I have to account for the possibility of 2018 having been a career year that will never be matched. But there’s no right answer as to how to perform this analysis. So, if I believe the hitter will earn within $7 of his 2018 earnings, I’ll deem him “REBOUND”. If I think he’s likely to fall short of that earnings level, I’ll deem him “STILL A BUST”. Note that I am completely ignoring ADP, as that’s very league dependent. There are a whole lot more busts than this, of course, but we’re going to discuss six of the biggest. 2019 Busts Player 2019 EOS $$* 2018 EOS $$* Diff Within $7 Rebound Khris Davis $0.00 $27.90 ($27.90) $20.90 Jose Ramirez $13.00 $38.90 ($25.90) $31.90 Matt Carpenter $0.00 $21.40 ($21.40) $14.40 Manny Machado $10.90 $30.80 ($19.90) $23.80 Andrew Benintendi $4.60 $24.50 ($19.90) $17.50 J.D. Martinez $24.20 $44.00 ($19.80) $37.00 Khris Davis Since I changed any negative value to a 0, Davis is officially 2019’s biggest bust! Luckily, explaining why he busted is quite simple. First, his fly ball rate slipped below 40% for the first time since 2014, his first full season. Excluding his cup of coffee in 2013, this was the lowest FB% he has posted in his career. All else being equal, fewer fly balls equals fewer home runs. For a guy whose fantasy and real baseball value come primarily from home runs, a decline in fly ball rate without an improvement anywhere else, like BABIP, is going to take a bite out of his value. Second, his HR/FB rate fell below 20%, also for the first time since his 2014 season. In fact, for four straight seasons, he had posted a mark between 24.1% and 26.9%, which is amazingly consistent. Intrestingly, he has outperformed his xHR/FB rate every season going back to 2015. In 2019, he outperformed once again (his xHR/FB rate dipped to just 17.1%, confirming the decline in home run power), but by the small degree yet. He actually pulled his flies at the highest mark since 2014, but his barrel rate plummeted to its lowest on my spreadsheet. That was the cause of his drop in HR/FB rate. Will he rebound? Not only would he have to regain the lost power, but he would have to get back to outperforming his xHR/FB rate again by at least 2%. It’s a lot to ask, especially for a hitter heading into his age 32 season. With no potential to contribute positive value in batting average and a skill set completely reliant on home runs, this is an easy call for me compared to his 2018 earnings. Verdict: STILL A BUST Jose Ramirez Man, what a bizarre two seasons for Ramirez. In the first half of 2018, he was rolling, posting a .426 wOBA. Then he struggled (for him, at least) to a .339 wOBA in the second half. Fast forward to 2019 and whatever plagued him in 2018’s second half continued through 2019. In the 2019 first half, he posted a putrid .282 wOBA. Then the light turned back on, and he surged to a .441 wOBA in the second half. Who the heck is the real Jose Ramirez?! Because his 2019 first half was far worse than his 2018 second half, his 2019 earnings ended up losing his owners substantial money. Does the second half give us optimism that he’s back to elite Ramirez and will be able to sustain such performance all season? In 2019, Ramirez’s strikeout rate increased to a career high rate. It’s still fabulous, but a little less so, and fewer balls in play reduces all his counting stats, all else being equal. His BABIP was once again weak, but that was no change from 2018. xBABIP still has no idea why he once again has posted a poor BABIP, as he has sat with a mark around .300 for four straight seasons now. Ramirez’s HR/FB rate dropped to his lowest mark in three seasons, but still double his 2016 mark. My xHR/FB rate equation does validate the drop, as he lost both barrels and fly ball distance. This is a tough one because I think he has batting average upside and his HR/FB rate should remain in the low-to-mid-teens. But it was the 34 steals that earned him nearly $40 in 2018. We’re only asking for about $32 in earnings this year, and remember that he recorded 156 fewer plate appearances in 2019 versus 2018. That could make a big difference for a guy who contributes in multiple counting categories. I think a jump in batting average could help offset a loss in steals, but then you also must contend with the difficult-to-match 215 runs scored + runs batted in. I think it will be close, but ultimately he just misses the nearly $32 in earnings. Verdict: STILL A BUST Matt Carpenter In 2015, Carpenter transformed himself from solid gap hitter with excellent plate discipline into a fly ball power hitter. He gave up contact for the increased power output and the tradeoff worked. But the power peaked in 2018 and it all came crashing down in 2019. His strikeout rate increased for a third straight season, his FB% fell to its lowest mark since 2015, and his HR/FB rate dropped to its lowest mark during his power phase (2015-2019). How much of the decline was due to injury (back and foot issues) is unknown, but back injuries could certainly affect performance. Since this is another case of a hitter coming off a career year, I see almost no chance of even coming within $7 of his 2018 earnings. Entering his age 34 season won’t be kind to his chances of a rebound either. Verdict: STILL A BUST Manny Machado It’s still hard for me to believe that Machado is only 27. It feels like he’s been around forever! In his first full season with the Padres, there were a couple of drivers of his disappointing fantasy performance. First, his strikeout jumped to his worst career mark, though his SwStk% didn’t rise nearly as dramatically, suggesting he should rebound somewhat in 2020. His BABIP also fell back toward his career low 2017 level, marking the second lowest of his career. He continues to hit too many popups and not even line drives. So really, it was mostly just the strikeout rate and the BABIP. But it was also a decline in steals, from 14 to five. Machado’s stolen base totals have yo-yo’d throughout his career, so you really never know how swipey he feels in any given season. My xBABIP suggests his BABIP should rebound to back between .290 and .300, but there’s no way you could project a return to double digit steals, and his 2018 strikeout rate was a career low. Clearly I think he’ll earn more in 2020 than 2019, but reaching nearly $24 in value looks like a bad bet. Verdict: STILL A BUST Andrew Benintendi Who doesn’t salivate over 20/20 guys in the heart of the Red Sox lineup? That’s why Benintendi was such an exciting fantasy asset. Sadly, he was a bust in 2019 for a multitude of reasons. First, his strikeout rate skyrocketed from the mid-teens to above 20%, which was supported by a spike in SwStk% into double digit for the first time. Yes, he upped his fly ball rate to a career high, which surprisingly didn’t hurt his BABIP, but it was paired with a decline in HR/FB rate to a level you would expect from someone with limited power. Last and most importantly, was a sharp drop in steals, to about half of what he totaled in both 2017 and 2018. His steals total has gone from 20 to 21 to just 10 from 2017 to 2019. There is good news here — his xHR/FB rate has actually increased every season, which makes it mystifying that his HR/FB rate has tumbled each year since 2017. He keeps increasing his barrel rate, while his fly ball distance hit a career high in 2020. His HP to 1B time has increased marginally, so it’s clear he has lost some speed. Is it enough of a speed lost to explain cutting his steals in half? I’m not sure. While I’m more bullish on his home run output than the projection systems, it really comes down to the steals here. If he steals 20 again, he’s a REBOUND, but you simply can’t project that given the loss of speed. I think he’ll earn more than the projections overall, but still fall just short of earning REBOUND status. Verdict: STILL A BUST J.D. Martinez Isn’t it crazy to find a hitter on a bust list who slammed 36 homers, combined for 203 runs scored + runs batted in, and batted .304?! He did all this despite dealing with back issues all year. Unfortunately, back issues don’t always just go away and at age 32, might always be something Martinez must contend with. The biggest change in his performance came from a fall in HR/FB rate, from 29.5% to 23.4%. His 2017 and 2018 seasons clearly represented a peak, and his 2019 was more in line with his pre-2017 seasons. Do you really want to bet on a 32-year-old with back issues to regain his peak power output? I don’t. While better health could lead to better numbers, it’s a monumental task to reach the heights of 2018. He posted an inflated .375 BABIP that season and combined for 241 runs scored + runs batted in. That’s the best things could possibly get and even reducing that season’s earnings by $7 isn’t enough to feel confident he rebounds to. I don’t think he earns $30, let along the $37 required to avoid being STILL A BUST. Verdict: STILL A BUST *** Yeah, so given the effects of aging and the tendency of players to get worse the following season, it’s really, really hard to get back to within $7 of earnings from what was peak performance for a lot of these hitters. Remember that just because I labeled them STILL A BUST, it doesn’t matter they should be avoided in fantasy auctions and drafts. This article, and the breakout one yesterday, completely ignores ADP and auction cost, because there’s no way I could predict it for your specific league. If your leaguemates all discount these players because they think they will continue to remain well below 2018, then they could actually be good buys.