Sometimes drafting a great team isn’t about the MLB players you draft, it’s about the players you didn’t. No one wants to spend their ever-so-precious fantasy baseball draft capital on a guy who not only didn’t work out, but didn’t come close to what you were hoping for on draft day. For this exercise, we are using the term “bust” to describe a player who isn’t going to meet their draft price. The player may have a fine season, but if you drafted them in the first or second round and they returned a sixth-round value, you have a bust on your hands. Additionally, the average draft positions (ADP) that are used here come from the NFBC, which is a two-catcher format that also uses corner infield (CI) and middle infield (MI) positions. With all of that out of the way, let's get into it!
Robbie Ray is a player who has struggled with his control his entire career, with a few blips where he was able to maintain it for a whole season (see 2017 and 2021). The strikeouts are going to still be there for him in Seattle, and he could benefit from moving to the AL West from the AL East. However, he will have a new pitching coach now and we shouldn’t forget that he benefited last season from pitching in the humidity of Dunedin, Florida and then in Buffalo instead of the hitter-friendly confines of Rogers Centre. It might not be all bad for Ray this season, but it will be tough for him to reproduce his 2021 results. Thus, we should expect regression.
For Mark Melancon, his walks are up and his strikeouts are down. He will also go from a 79-win Padres team to a 52-win Diamondbacks team, which will greatly reduce his ability to get saves. The greater concern here is that if his walks keep going up, then he is at risk of losing the closing job – which will turn his draft cost into dust.
There is no denying that Emmanuel Clase had a sparkling ERA in 2021 and, even if you prefer to look at his xFIP of 2.70, you would certainly be more than happy to get that from a reliever. Where the issues start to creep in is with his strikeout/9 number that was below 10, which isn’t good for a reliever. Plus, Clase is just 24 years old. Young pitchers often struggle with consistency and relievers also rarely have great years back-to-back. This leaves Clase in a place where, if he struggles, he could be in a situation where he doesn’t close out games. There is room for Clase to improve and have another great season, but him going off the board in the 70’s means you are taking on a lot of risk with little room for growth.
Welcome back to the AL East, Kevin Gausman. I’m sure he has missed the days of having ERA’s over 5.00, and K/9’s under 1.0. Yes, he is playing for Toronto now instead of Baltimore and yes, he is older and more experienced – but the best years of his career have happened in the National League. While Rogers Centre isn’t as hitter-friendly as Camden Yards, it is still a hitters' park and Gausman will still play many of his games against the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays – which could prevent him from having a great year.
Since Max Fried isn't much of a strikeout pitcher, his volume (or innings pitched), ERA and WHIP are extremely important. The volume hasn’t been too much of an issue, with 165 innings in each of his last two full seasons, and his WHIP has been below 1.10 for two straight years. Fried's ERA, though, is more suspect. He had a fine mark of 3.09 last year, but his xFIP showed him as being a 3.50 ERA pitcher and 4.00 the year before. If Fried sees his BABIP rise, or his left on-base percentage go down, his ERA is likely to rise as well. That'll leave his owner disappointed after paying a top 75 ADP price.
Young pitchers in the AL East who outperform their xFIP by a full run are often players who will see regression. Alek Manoah has only pitched 140 pro innings over the last four years, and the league had a full offseason to dissect and adjust to him. So, while Manoah was impressive as a rookie in 2021, this year will likely be one that comes with a lot of learning and potentially some hard knocks as well. If his performance isn’t there, he could even find himself back in AAA. With an ADP of 90, there is too much risk here with lots of ways that Manoah could bust.
Justin Verlander is a 39-year-old pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery. That alone is enough to question his 106 ADP. We don’t know how many innings he is going to pitch and we don’t know how long it will take for him to get back to his old self when facing batters. Verlander has pitched just six innings in the last two years combined. While his secondaries are good enough that he can survive without a big fastball, we are also unsure how much Father Time has taken from his abilities as well.
Chris Bassitt falls into a very similar mold as Max Fried. They don’t strike out a lot of batters, so the ERA and WHIP are that much more important. Bassitt adds one other dimension to the equation, though, and that is the number of innings he is going to pitch. He'll be 33 this year and he's yet to throw 160 innings in a season – making it hard to expect that his ceiling for innings is going to be much higher than 160. Bassitt will be a miss if he finishes the season only throwing 120 innings, as he will not have solidified your ERA and WHIP as much as you were hoping.
One of the biggest questions facing Shane McClanahan this season is, will he be able to bring down his home run numbers? Fourteen percent of his fly balls became home runs last season, and in his previous season in AA, he had a home run-to-fly ball percentage of 17. Few teams are as good at developing pitchers as the Rays, but he could find himself on the outside of the rotation looking in if he continues to struggle with home runs. That would completely sink his value, especially when you’re going to have to take him in the top 115 picks.
Yu Darvish will have a second year in San Diego and that familiarity should do him some good. Still, he is 35 years old now and already has a checkered injury history. Add in that Darvish struggled with giving up home runs last season as his ERA found itself over 4.00. With an ADP around pick 100, there is some room for profit if his strikeout numbers stay high and he brings his HR/9 numbers back to 2020 levels. If his 2020 number of 8.8 is the outlier, and it looks like it might be, then you’re going to be paying a hefty price for a pitcher with an ERA over 4.00 and a declining strikeout rate.
On the surface, you would expect Austin Riley to be a player on the rise – not one you find on a bust list. With that said, Riley’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was up 80 points from his two previous seasons. That means he is likely more of a .250 hitter, which can bring his RBI and runs numbers down substantially. The power is for real but with an ADP in the top 50, and a walk percentage below 10 percent, Riley will struggle to return value if his batting average drops below the .250 mark.
Kris Bryant got about as soft of a landing as you could have hoped for. Playing half of his games in Colorado should give his batting average a boost, and will also ensure that he has a solid slot in the lineup each day. Still, Bryant hasn't played 150 games in any of his last three seasons and his 10 steals last year were the most in that span as well. If we get a season where he only hits 25 homers with five steals, to go along with a .260 average, we are going to see a lot of disappointed owners at his ADP in the 80’s.
People who owned Salvador Perez last season won’t want to read this, as he likely won them leagues – but his 48 home runs are likely not coming back. His previous career mark was 27, and he is going to have to stay healthy to get anywhere close to the 160 games he played last season (which was also a career-high). I would expect his home run number to be closer to 30 this season, and that isn’t what you’re going to want to see from a catcher who currently has an ADP in the 30’s.
I can understand the allure to Daulton Varsho. He's catcher-eligible and could get you more volume than the average catcher will while playing some games in the outfield. The problem here is that the numbers you are hoping to see simply haven’t been there for him. He might not hit 20 home runs or even a .250 average, either, which leaves you in a place where you have an outfielder who isn’t good by outfielder standards – and a catcher that might not be better than average. All of that would be fine and worth his price if he was going closer to pick No. 200 in drafts. With his ADP currently sitting at 95, though, you have a lot of ways that he could bust.
The typical knock on Javier Báez is that he is a wild swinger. That hasn’t changed as he swung at 57% of the pitches he faced last season, which led to him having a walk rate in the 5% range. Now factor in that he will be facing American League pitches for the first time in his career in a pitcher-friendly park in Detroit for home games. Plus, Baez will have very little protection in the batting order. Put it all together and you can see how Baez might have a substandard year while costing you a sixth-round pick in a 12-team league.
It is easy to appreciate how sexy the power of a player like Ryan Mountcastle can be. He hit 33 home runs as a rookie he will likely go over 40 home runs at least once in his career. The question we are ultimately faced with here, is will it be this year? The second year is typically one where players struggle in the majors and Mountcastle is coming with an ADP around 100. So if he only gets you 30 home runs, and he continues to hit for a batting average below .250 with a walk rate below 10 percent, it would've been better to wait a few rounds and take some of the other first basemen who will still be on the board. Furthering the potential for Mountcastle to struggle this season is the recent adjustments to Camden Yards, which now leaves Baltimore with the deepest left-field dimensions in the MLB.
It wouldn't be a bust list without Byron Buxton, right? We saw first-hand what his ceiling could be last year when he hit 19 home runs with nine steals in just 61 games. The long-standing issue, though, is that he just doesn’t play enough due to his injuries. He hasn’t played more than 87 games since 2017 (four years ago), and it is likely in your best interest to pass on him at his current ADP of 65. There is just too much risk at that ADP and it likely means you’re going to need to spend more early draft capital on outfielders than you would like – which would leave a hole somewhere else in your lineup.
Luis Robert is an extremely talented baseball player. He has 30/30 potential, but to date, he hasn't played 110 MLB games yet. Robert's scouting reports indicate he is a player who is more apt to hit in the .220-.250 range than someone who is going to hit closer to .300. He's very much like the aforementioned Javier Báez in the sense that he is a free-swinger that will go through ups and downs hitting everything hard and then striking out a lot. At the end of the day, Robert is going to be a player that can cause frustration because of those periods. We should try to temper expectations as he is likely to hit sixth for the White Sox, which could also limit the number of runs and RBI he can produce. He will likely be worthy of a top-20 pick at some point in his career, but we shouldn’t look for it to be this year.
Ty France’s value will be somewhat tied to his position eligibility. If he is eligible at second base, his ADP of 130 is going to produce solid value since you can roster him at the 1B, 2B, corner infield and middle infield spots. If he is only first base eligible, though, he likely doesn’t produce enough power to fulfill the expectation of what you should be looking for from that position. He likely won’t hit much more than 25 home runs and potentially won't provide an abundance of runs or RBI either. He should start to slide down the order as players like Jarred Kelenec and Julio Rodrigeuz start to get more seasoning and become full-time major leaguers.
We all understand that steals come at a premium and Tommy Edman provided 30 of those last season. The concern comes with the 17 combined swipes that he provided over the previous two seasons combined. Mix in the Cardinals bringing in a new coach, who may not be looking to have his players steal many bases. Edman’s value is almost entirely tied to his ability to steal, if we take that away we are left with a .260-.270 batter who will hit 10-15 home runs only walks 6-7 percent of the time. That isn’t ideal for a leadoff hitter, and it certainly isn’t ideal for a player with an ADP in the 80’s. Edman looks to have secured the leadoff spot in the lineup, at least for now. If you are going to draft him, though, you will want to keep a close eye on his spot in the order. If he isn’t leading off, he could find himself down closer to the bottom.
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