Last week we did bold predictions. As a commenter on my post pointed out, the majority of the staff’s predictions were of the positive nature. More “player x will reach or exceed y” than “player x will fail to reach y.” My predictions were ten guys who I think could give you starter-level production in 12-team mixed leagues despite not being ranked as a starter by a single expert whose rankings are compiled by FantasyPros.com.
Today I’ll do the opposite and identify at least one hitter from each position who is ranked as a starter by every FantasyPros expert that I think might not end up with starter-level production. To be clear, these predictions do not come with the claim of being bold, although I think some of them are. And I’m also not of the opinion that most of these will come true. But even if these guys don’t turn out to be busts, they are candidates to underperform and are guys I’ll likely be avoiding.
If you’d like to see my personal ranks, both overall and positional, I’ve got them in a Google doc here.
C Devin Mesoraco, CIN
Mesoraco has an ADP of third among catchers and no expert has him lower than 10th. I have him ranked seventh.
The case against Mesoraco stems from the fact that he seemed to eschew making frequent contact last year in exchange for making harder contact. His Contact% fell almost 10 percentage points last year, but his ISO jumped from .124 to .260. That’s not necessarily a bad trade off. But what made Mesoraco’s season so great is that despite making significantly less contact and seeing his strikeout rate jump 6.1 percent, his batting average jumped 35 points.
That obviously doesn’t compute, and there’s a 45 point BABIP spike to thank for that. You could agrue Mesoraco making more hard contact helped with the BABIP, but he didn’t hit many more line drives. The real difference in his batted ball profile was less ground balls and more fly balls. That’s typically not the way you get more hits. All that said, there’s serious downside to Mesoraco’s batting average. It could easily fall back to his career mark of .245 or his .238 mark from 2013.
The other concern is that even though Mesoraco had a lot to do with his power increase, there was still probably some luck involved in it. His HR/FB rate was a shade over 20 percent, and that’s a mark that only the league’s elite power hitters are able to clear consistently. It would be no surprise if Mesoraco ended up closer to 20 home runs than he does to 25. Both Steamer and ZiPS believe that to be the case. And if he doesn’t quite get to 20 and his average goes in the tank, we’ve got a bust on our hands.
1B Freddie Freeman, ATL
Among the guys I have classified as first basemen, only six are ranked as starters by all 47 experts, so this was a tough one. The consesnsus overall ranking of Freeman is 33, and I have him 29, so this is definitely a reach. But it would be silly to mention anyone but Freeman out of that group of six as a potential bust.
Freeman failed to match his excellent 2013 campaign, but he still finished eighth among first basemen last year per Zach Sanders. If there a big cause for concern it’s that he failed to match his 2013 stat line despite the fact that he got almost 80 more plate appearances. Here’s a chart showing the difference in the number of plate appearances between home runs and RBI for Freeman the last two years:
Part of the reason for the decrease was Freeman just hitting for less power and part was an inferior lineup around him. The lineup isn’t going to be any better this year, so what happens if the power doesn’t come back and he only manages to play 150 games instead of every game? With the same per plate appearance production, Freeman would hit 16-17 home runs with 71-72 RBI in 650 PA. The power could very well bounce back, and he’s been very durable so far in his career. But that worst case scenario doesn’t seem overly far-fetched and would once again leave us with a bust.
2B Brian Dozier, MIN
Dozier has an ADP of sixth among second basemen, no expert has him lower than 11th and I have him ninth.
My concerns about Dozier are somewhat similar to those I have with Freeman and Mesoraco. Like Freemen, Dozier was aided by a large spike in plate appearances last year as he also topped 700. On top of the fact that 700 PA is simply a hard mark to reach, there’s talk of Dozier hitting third this year after leading off or hitting in the two hole last year. If that happens, there’s no way he gets to 700. And it makes some sense for him to hit third given that his projected OBP and ISO are .320 and .149 while Joe Mauer is projected for .369 and .114.
Like Mesoraco, I’m worried a bit about Dozier’s batting average. He consistently hits in the .240-.245 range with a BABIP on the low end of the normal .270-.310 range. There’s little reason to expect that to change, but if Dozier were to fall victim to some exceptionally bad batted ball luck that happens from time to time, the batting average could be a death blow. Again, there’s no reason to expect that, but Dozier’s normal production leaves you a little vulnerable to bad luck.
Even if he doesn’t bust, Dozier’s projections don’t look good. After a combined 44 homers and steals last year, our depth chart projections have him with just 31 in 77 fewer plate appearances. That’s obviously less work and less production per plate appearance. The projection also has him with 33 fewer runs. In that respect he conjures up some Matt Carpenter-ish concerns. It’s just hard to see him matching his production and somewhat feasible to imagine him realizing the worst case scenario.
3B Kyle Seager, SEA
Todd Frazier belongs here, but I’ve written negatively about him too many times this offseason. Instead, I’ll consider Seager’s downside despite the fact that I have him fifth among third basemen and the expert consensus is eighth with no one ranking him lower than 11th.
As a starting point, let’s compare our depth chart projection for Seager to his 2013 campaign when he was the 12th most valuable fantasy third baseman:
There are a few minor differences there, but all in all that appears to be about the same level of cumulative production. The main issue of course is the power. Seager hit 25 home runs last year yet the projections are forecasting him to return to the same rate of home runs per plate appearance that he had in 2013. I’m inclined to agree with the projections given that Seager’s HR/FB jumped three percentage points last year despite his average home run and fly ball distance declining by about six feet.
The main difference between now and 2013 isn’t Seager but the quality of other third basemen. It’s a far weaker position now than it was then, so even if Seager reverts back to his 2013 level of production, he shouldn’t really flirt with not finishing in the top 12 at the position. But his margin of error is smaller than you might think.
SS Alexei Ramirez, CWS
Ramirez is really the only option here given that the only other shortstops that were ranked in the top 12 at the position by every expert were Troy Tulowitzki, Ian Desmond, Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes. I suppose I could cite durability concerns and go with Reyes, but that’s not really the point of this. Ramirez has a consensus rank of fifth and I have him at seventh.
While it would be difficult to make the case for Ramirez having much upside at his age, it’s almost as difficult to make the argument for his downside. Ramirez makes a lot of contact and is good on the base paths, so he’s got a nice safety net of batting average and steals that will make it hard for him to finish outside the top 12 at such a shallow position. But if age starts to take hold and he’s unable to get close to 20 steals, he could bust. He also hit 15 home runs last year, but he hit 15 combined in the two years prior.
Would .265 with seven or eight homers and 15 steals be enough to knock him outside top 12 territory? It’s possible. The 12th most valuable fantasy shortstop last year was Elvis Andrus who hit .263 with two home runs and 27 stolen bases. That’s not unlike Ramirez’s downside, so he could bust to that degree. But his lack of upside is probably the better reason to pass on him.
OF Nelson Cruz, SEA
The cutoff for starting outfielders for the purpose of this post was top 60 assuming a 12-team league and five outfielders per team. Cruz has an average rank of 20th among outfielders and no one has him ranked below 46th. I have him 35th, but writing this has me wondering if that’s too high.
Jeff Zimmerman had a post trying to estimate Cruz’s home run total for 2015 prior to Cruz signing with Seattle. Zimmerman ended that post like this:
Going into 2015, I would be conservative on my estimates for Cruz’s home run power. Even if he stays in a home run friendly park, he his number could top out at the Steamer estimates. If he signs with a team with a caverenous outfield, he could see his 2014 home total cut in half.
As Zimmerman noted in that piece, Cruz isn’t at all a pull hitter, so it might be best to consider the normal HR park factor as opposed to the handedness park factor when analyzing his move to Seattle. And in that regard Cruz’s new digs might not be as bad as you think with a HR park factor of 98. There were plenty of places that could have been worse for Cruz, but Seattle still isn’t ideal. Add to the less favorable park the fact that Cruz was overperforming the park he was in to being with, and Cruz could bottom out at 25 home runs, even if it’s not the 20 that Zimmerman feared in the worst case scenario. Of course, that’s assuming he plays a full season.
But it’s obviously not just home runs where he’ll decline. Fewer home runs means fewer runs and RBI as well, and our depth chart projection has him with a combined 50 fewer runs and RBI. Both Steamer and ZiPS are also projecting his batting average to fall 20 points from .270 to .250. That will probably at least keep him in top 40 given no outfielder who hit at least 25 home runs last year finished lower than 38th. But if he only plays 110-125 games like he did in 2010, 2011 and 2013, 20 home runs or fewer could be in play and he’s in danger of not finishing in the top 60.