UPDATED: January 23 at 11:45pm ET
Labeling a player as a potential bust comes with some apprehension. Breakouts or career years occur, so discerning how to assess them in a market which slants to recency bias becomes difficult. To filter out some of the noise, take a look under the hood when assessing players in the early top-200 of average draft position (ADP) to see where potential pitfalls or fool's gold lies for the 2021 season. It's alright if one disagrees with a player on the list, just be sure the end justifies the means when paying full price for a player who enhances a risk profile.
Without further ado, here's the busts based on draft capital:
Trevor Bauer , SP - Free Agent
- 2020 Statistics - 5-4, 11 games started, 73 innings, 100:17 K:BB, 1.73 ERA, 2.94 SIERA, 0.79 WHIP
Going against the defending National League Cy Young Award winner? Actually, yes. Bauer's never been a consistent cat for fantasy. Despite his swinging strike percentage remaining stable, his strikeout percentage jumped to a career best 36 percent courtesy of the hitting bereft National League Central division.
Bauer studies his craft and calls out the Astros for their transgressions, but how did Bauer raise the spin rate on his fastball in 2020 by over 300 revolutions? With the added spin, Bauer produced a career best 15.9 pop up percentage helping him cut down on fly balls and line drives. One also cannot ignore some luck found in Bauer's 90.9 percent strand rate (runners left on base) along with a career low batting average on balls in play (.215), well below his career mark closer to .300 as a major league pitcher.
Going over his last three years of data, note which season does not appear like the others:
- Bauer 2018 - 30.8 K%, 7.9 BB%, 29.1 Hard HIt%, 2.21 ERA, 1.09 WHIP
- Bauer 2019 - 27.8 K%, 9 BB%, 37.7 Hard Hit%, 4.48 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
- Bauer 2020 - 36 K%, 6.1 BB%, 38 Hard Hit%, 1.73 ERA, 0.79 WHIP
- Career - 25.4 K%, 9 BB%, 3.90 ERA, 1.26 WHIP
Although Bauer finally took a more streamlined approach with his arsenal, paying full retail for a facsimile of 2020 in the late first or early second round feels too rich. His predictive statistics and career marks point to regression. Our Hall of Famers (Glenn Colton and Rick Wolf) never pay for a career year, especially when a free agent so if you do not believe, heed their advice.
DJ LeMahieu , 1B/2B/3B - New York Yankees (Updated: 1/21)
- 2020 Statistics - 50 games, 216 plate appearances, 41 runs, ten home runs, 27 RBI, three stolen bases; .364/.421/.590
Finding batting average insulation in the present baseball climate enhances LeMahieu's portfolio. However, if he ends up anywhere but the Yankees, migration to the mean may ensue. One potential suitor resides North of the border in Toronto. LeMahieu's hit 39 home runs the last two seasons with New York, however, in 2020 his home run total accompanies an unsustainable 29.7 home run per fly ball rate. Statcast bases their expected statistics on quality of contact. With this in mind, here's his zone profile displaying expected isolated power and expected weighted on-base average on contact (xwOBAcon):
Look, LeMahieu's eligible at three positions, makes great contact, especially in the strike zone and remains a productive player staying in New York. But, at his present price point, he needs to hit for a high average with the counting statistics still piling up. Using Statcast, LeMahieu produced five barrels of his 175 batted ball events in the shortened season with a 29.7 sweet spot percentage, an expected slugging percentage over 130 points below his actual one, and a .315 expected batting average. He's no longer a fantasy secret, which makes me sad since hyping his arrival to Yankee Stadium went overlooked by many in 2019.
Whit Merrifield , 2B/OF - Kansas City Royals
- 2020 Statistics - 60 games, 265 plate appearances, 38 runs, nine home runs, 30 RBI, 12 stolen bases; .282/.325/.440
Some chinks in the armor appeared for quick Whit. He swiped 12 bases but his sprint speed fell for a third straight season. Of more concern, Merrifield's on-base percentage drop to just over 32 percent coupled with a rise in chase contact makes his average a bit more slippery to predict. Not known as a power hitter, Merrifield popped nine home runs in the truncated season but finished in the seventh percentile of hard hit percentage. Merrifield's fantasy appeal lies in his ability to generate steals. Noting the reduced walk rate (4.5 percent) and slight regression in discipline may be the foundation for a further erosion of stolen base attempts in 2021. Key on the slash lines starting to decline and be careful if paying for 25-plus stolen bases in the season ahead.
Tyler Glasnow , SP - Tampa Bay Rays
- 2020 Statistics - 5-1, 11 games started, 57.1 innings, 91:22 K:BB, 4.08 ERA, 3.04 SIERA, 1.13 WHIP
Perhaps it's jealousy of the tremendous lettuce Glasnow owns atop his head, but his profile provides trepidation for 2021. First, 95 percent of his pitches come from his four-seam fastball and his curve. They can be glorious working in harmony generating swings and misses evidenced in his career high of a 14 swinging-strike percentage but it also gets predictable in deeper counts.
First, note his average start in 2020 of five and one-third innings. Glasnow does not go deep into games due to his team's deep bullpen along with his reliance on two pitches. More exposure to his curve allows hitters to produce hard hits. He also induced fewer ground balls in 2020, down almost ten percent while his line drive rate rose by seven percentage points. Last season gives him a pass on innings logged but Glasnow's eclipsed the 100 innings mark once since 2017. Given the shortened season, a perfect storm of performance along with limited exposure allowed Glasnow to maximize his arsenal. However, if 2021 reaches at least 130 games in the major leagues, can Glasnow last all season? Throw enough meaningful innings to provide a dividend on his ADP? Feeling lucky?
Josh Hader , RP - Milwaukee Brewers
- 2020 Statistics - 1-2, 13 Saves, 21 games, 19 innings, 31:10 K:BB, 3.79 ERA, 3.04 SIERA, 0.95 WHIP
Once again, love hurts. In 2017 covering closers it was all aboard the Hader train upon his arrival to high leverage. Using primarily his fastball and elevating it to generate strikeouts, Hader surged to success moving into the upper tier of relievers. His 13 saves ranked third in the majors at a time when many situations remain unsettled when trying to accrue them in drafts.
But here's the catch, what set Hader apart from his peers, innings and strikeouts. In 2018, Hader appeared in 55 contests logging 81.1 innings (over 1.2 innings per outing average) and 143 strikeouts with only 12 saves. But his ratio protection along with the high strikeouts made him a fantasy asset like no other. His follow-up in 2019 featured 61 games with 75.2 innings (1.2 innings per outing average) and 138 strikeouts with 37 saves. That’s incredibly elite. Last season, Hader made 21 appearances with only 19 innings (less than an inning per outing), the 13 saves and 31 strikeouts. Seeing a disturbing trend in last season's results?
Even worse, working as a traditional closer Hader struggled yielding eight earned runs his last 11.2 innings with an uncharacteristic 19:6 K:BB, 25.5 strikeout percentage and 11.8 percent walk rate. This resulted in a .378 weighted on-base average against Hader. That is less than optimal for the first closer taken in many drafts.
Beneath the surface statistics, Hader used his slider more than double in his outings compared to 2019. His four-seam fastball velocity dipped by a mile per hour along with his whiff percentage (33.6) and put away percentage (17.2). Of more concern, Hader's first pitch strike percentage fell by over ten percent. Perhaps he did not trust his fastball, his bread and butter, or health played a part. Either way, Hader was not, well, Hader.
Good news, Hader's SIERA above and his xERA (2.94) suggests positive migration to the mean but it's not back to the elite levels he displayed. In fact, Hader did not rate as the best reliever on his own team (Devin Williams ). Taking the first closer in any draft comes with inherent risk due to the volatility of the position. It used to feel safe taking Hader in the fifth round but for 2021, it may be a reach based on performance and usage from last season.
Trent Grisham, OF - San Diego Padres
- 2020 Statistics - 59 games, 252 plate appearances, 42 runs, ten home runs, 26 RBI, ten stolen bases; .251/.352/.456
At a time when players who could produce 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases look like unicorns, passing on Grisham here could be tough. However, noting three of his home runs happened in one contest, Grisham limped to the finish hitting .240/.333/.394 his last 29 games with three home runs and six steals in them. Like José Ramírez in 2019, it looked like Grisham realized his power outage required him to be more aggressive on the bases to retain fantasy value.
Grisham's young enough to make adjustments but he profiles to be a streaky player, speaking from the experience of owning him. A rise in ground ball rate (up to 43.8 percent) last season while producing fewer fly balls may cap his power. There's a very good chance Grisham reaches a 20/20 season but if the on-base percentage regression from last season's slump carries over, his counting statistics like runs and RBI will suffer if he moves down in the batting order.
Teoscar Hernández , OF - Toronto Blue Jays
- 2020 Statistics - 50 games, 207 plate appearances, 33 runs, 16 home runs, 34 RBI, six stolen bases; .289/.340/.579
This one hurts me. Being a year too early on Teoscar then seeing his breakout last season still resonates. A Statcast hero, Hernández accrued 129 batted ball events with a 93.3 MPH average exit velocity, 23 barrels (17.8 percent) and 68 hard hits (53.1 percent) resulting in his tremendous batting average and slugging rate.
In order to accomplish this, Hernández sold out contact with a rise in swinging strike percentage and fewer walks. Like many on this list already, his 2020 season puts his draft stock into a different stratosphere changing his outlook. Could Hernández launch 30 home runs in 2021? Absolutely. Will he hit .260 or higher? Taking the under.
Dinelson Lamet , SP - San Diego Padres
- 2020 Statistics - 3-1, 12 games started, 69 innings, 93:20 K:BB, 2.09 ERA, 3.16 SIERA, 0.86 WHIP
Lamet finished second only to Bauer in WHIP in the National League while ranking third in ERA and fourth in strikeouts per nine innings (12.13). Like a different pitcher earlier in this list, Lament features mostly a two-pitch arsenal using his slider 53.4 percent of his pitches and his four-seam fastball 37.3 percent of the time. Usually only relievers rely this heavily on a slider but to the extreme of Matt Wisler . Still, Lament puts a tremendous amount of pressure on his elbow with slider usage this heavy and it cost him appearing in the postseason.
Not only did Lamet undergo Tommy John surgery costing him the 2018 season, but he received a PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injection in October. It may just be myself, but a starting pitcher without a third pitch racking up strikeouts with a slider occupying over 50 percent of his pitches with an injury checkered past does not sound like a top 75 pick no matter how he performed last season. Here's the sequel, feeling lucky?
Charlie Blackmon , OF - Colorado Rockies
- 2020 Statistics - 59 games, 31 runs, six home runs, 42 RBI, two stolen bases; .303/.356/.448
Blackmon started the season on fire but finished strong with runs plus RBI without power or stolen bases. In fact, his .145 isolated power represented his lowest total since 2012. Of more concern, his drop to the 50th percentile in speed suggested the stolen bases may not return.
Combine this with his low hard hit percentage (29.7 percent) placing in the 11th percentile amongst his peers while Blackmon's whiff rate rose to 23.5 percent. Playing half of his games in Coors insulates the counting statistics but if his power remains in decline with only a handful of stolen bases, an empty batting average at this point of the draft does not warrant paying for the name value.
Austin Meadows , OF - Tampa Bay Rays
- 2020 Statistics - 36 games, 152 plate appearances, 19 runs, four home runs, 13 RBI, two stolen bases; .205/.296/.371
No one would like to press the reset button on the 2020 season more than Meadows. After posting a breakout season in 2019, a battle with COVID and then a slump he could not overcome harpooned his season. Beneath the numbers, Meadows maintained his hard hit percentage at 42.9 percent but the strikeout rate climbing to 32.9 percent plus his struggles to hit left-handed pitching forced Meadows into a platoon role at the end of the season.
There's time for him to recapture his past glory and his spring may go a long way towards predicting a return to his breakout numbers. However, taking him in the top 100 knowing Tampa Bay could cap his upside in a platoon role makes this a dicey move.
Jesús Luzardo , SP - Oakland A's
- 2020 Statistics - 3-2, 12 games, nine games started, 59:17 K:BB, 4.12 ERA, 4.05 SIERA, 1.27 WHIP
It felt like a truncated season would play to the strengths of Luzardo trying to build up innings in his return to starting for Oakland. Luzardo's swinging strike percentage went down while his contact and Z-contact (in the strike zone) rose putting a damper on his draft capital in terms of his ratio statistics.
Could Luzardo benefit from throwing fewer sinkers? Perhaps. But, until he overcomes his home and road splits, his ceiling remains limited:
- Luzardo career at home - 42.1 innings, 2.34 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 44:11 K:BB
- Luzardo career on the road - 28.2 innings, 5.65 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 31:9 K:BB
Do not get me wrong, there's talent in his arm but targeting Luzardo where one needs to in order to roster him given his injuries in the past plus the struggles away from Oakland make him too rich for my taste.
Chris Paddack , SP - San Diego Padres
- 2020 Statistics - 4-5, 12 games started, 59 innings, 58:12 K:BB, 4.73 ERA, 3.91 SIERA, 1.22 WHIP
I did not shoot "The Sheriff” though he tore through my ratios at the end of the season in two different leagues. Maybe his performance last season warrants demoting him to a deputy in starting pitcher ranks. Paddack struggled to replicate his success from 2019 last season despite owning one of the top rated change-ups among his peers. His change-up still generated a 32.7 whiff rate with a 20.8 put away percentage. His fastball regressed and Paddack became predictable resulting in a lower swinging strike percentage and O-Swing (outside the strike zone) rate in his underlying statistics.
An interesting chasm exists between his SIERA (3.91) and his xERA (5.08) leaving many to wonder which Paddack will emerge in 2021. There's a chance his fastball regains movement or he develops a third pitch allowing him to diversify his arsenal and regain traction with the fantasy community. Until then, let someone else incur the risk for the season ahead.
- 2020 Statistics - 58 games, 242 plate appearances, 37 runs, 11 home runs, 28 RBI, five stolen bases; .262/.364/.437
On the surface, Lewis appears to be an emerging young power hitter with improving plate discipline. When one digs into his 2020 season, some disturbing trends emerge. Lewis started strong with seven home runs in his first 29 contests hitting .368/.456/.585 with a .217 isolated power, 14.4 walk percentage and 22.4 percent strikeout rate. It's this start which propelled Lewis to Rookie of the Year honors in the American League.
His last 29 games yielded a much different hitter. Lewis only hit four home runs with a paltry .150/.265/.280 slash line, a .130 isolated power, a 13.7 walk percentage and 36.8 percent strikeout rate. Will the real Kyle Lewis ()">Kyle Lewis please stand up, please stand up.
Deferring to Statcast for some help discerning who the real Lewis may be, his average exit velocity dropped in 2020 plus his expected batting average (.240) and hard hit rates (down over 11 percent) do not provide a warm fuzzy feeling. While many focus on the power surge he displayed at the end of 2019 along with the strong start to 2020, the real Lewis may hit 20-to-22 home runs with an average closer to (or below) .240 than the .260 he finished with last season.
Carlos Correa , SS - Houston Astros
- 2020 Statistics - 58 games, 221 plate appearances, 22 runs, five home runs, 25 RBI; .264/.326/.383
A precipitous fall from grace for a once considered top end prospect at shortstop to a player to avoid for the upcoming season. Correa struggled to produce for the Astros in a full shortened season. He produced a 49.7 ground ball rate, pulling the ball in almost half of his batted ball data while hitting the sweet spot only 26.8 percent of the time. His .256 expected batting average and .406 expected slugging do not provide much hope for the future either. If you prefer paying for playoff experience at a bloated cost, target Correa with confidence.
Kenley Jansen , RP - Los Angeles Dodgers
- 2020 Statistics - 3-1, 11 Saves, 27 games, 24.1 innings, 33:9 K:BB, 3.33 ERA, 3.30 SIERA, 1.15 WHIP
Do you like Piña Coladas and getting caught in the rain? Do you prefer closers who lose their role every October, or stability? Jansen owns the most saves in Dodgers history (312) yet Julio Urías closed out the most important game in recent team history clinching Game 6 of the World Series. Fun fact, Jansen boasts an ERA of three or higher in each of the last three seasons. His ground ball rate remains in decline in each season since 2017. How does a reliever who relies on a sinker and a cutter generate a ground ball rate of 26.3 percent?
Taking his numbers at a larger sample, Jansen's second half from 2019 through the end of last season yields a 5-2 record with 21 saves, seven blown saves, 50.2 innings, a 65:18 K:BB, 3.91 ERA, 3.47 SIERA and 1.20 WHIP. There's a chance he retains the regular season role as the closer with experience but the Dodgers would be well served going out and getting an elite closer to anchor this bullpen in need of an enema. Getting out before the getting's good relates to avoiding Jansen this season. Segue alert!
Alex Colomé , RP - Free Agent
- 2020 Statistics - 2-0, 12 Saves, 21 games, 22.1 innings, 16:8 K:BB, 0.81 ERA, 4.44 SIERA, 0.94 WHIP
Sound the SIERA siren on this one. Using SIERA makes sense since it's been the most predictive of underlying numbers on Fangraphs. Colomé walked a fine line last season notching 12 saves with such a low strikeout rate versus walks issued. Benefiting from a .200 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and generous 86.4 percent strand rate, Colomé enters free agency with some trepidation.
His 3.09 xERA on Statcast proves a bit more alluring along with a 53.1 ground ball percentage. But, his cutter's put away percent of 15.1 and 31.3 percent line drive allowed may come to call in 2021. Since he's a known commodity, Colomé will be sought after in drafts for those seeking a top tier closer, do not be that guy.
Nick Anderson , RP - Tampa Bay Rays
- 2020 Statistics - 2-1, 6 Saves, 16.1 innings, 26:3 K:BB, 0.55 ERA, 1.96 SIERA, 0.49 WHIP
It's frustrating to place Anderson here but his team's forward thinking caps his saves totals. Anderson led the Rays with six saves and he's one of 12 Tampa Bay pitchers to record a save last season. In the postseason, Pete Fairbanks led the team in saves despite not registering one in the regular season. Anderson's one of the best ratio erasers out there and his price tag this year proves more tolerable than last season. He's the reason more leagues should play with SOLDS (saves plus holds) where he becomes a top three option. Until the Rays change their fluid high leverage approach, investing in their reliever for your top option remains risky.
Dustin May, SP/RP - Los Angeles Dodgers
- 2020 Statistics - 3-1, 12 games, ten games started, 56 innings, 44:16 K:BB, 2.57 ERA, 4.29 SIERA, 1.09 WHIP
Poster boy for the GIF driving up expectations. There's so many May videos on Twitter showing the flailing swings at his nasty sinker and curve but his role and effectiveness over a full season cannot be predicted at this point. May's stuff generates an enticing 54.6 percent ground ball rate but only a 19.2 whiff percentage. Despite the arsenal, only his curve registers a whiff -decent percentage (38.8 percent) and 25.8 put away percent above league average. For now, let someone else reach for his potential while keying on his SIERA and xERA (4.30) almost aligning with the regression monster lying in wait.
Rafael Montero , RP - Seattle Mariners
- 2020 Statistics - 0-1, eight saves, 17 games, 17.2 innings, 19:6 K:BB, 4.08 ERA, 4.00 SIERA, 1.02 WHIP
During his time with Texas, Montero logged 46.2 innings in 39 appearances finishing 22 contests. He recorded a 3.09 ERA, 3.34 SIERA, 0.986 WHIP, 53:11 K:BB, 11.2 swinging strike percentage and 22.7 K-BB percent. On the surface, that’s pretty good. But, when delving into his Statcast data some disturbing trends emerge.
From 2019 to 2020, Montero yielded a spike in hard hit percentage (up almost 14 percent to 44.4 last season) along with a rise in launch angle allowed to 23 degrees compared to 13.7 in 2019. He also suffered a drop in ground ball percentage to 28.9 percent last season versus 40.3 in 2019 while giving up more line drives. That is far from optimal.
Taking into account Montero’s 4.00 SIERA from 2020 with his 4.61 xERA, his sliding scale predictors for a 2021 ERA causes some concerns. Can Montero’s stuff bounce back in Seattle? Perhaps. As for his contract, Montero will make a base salary of $2 million and become arbitration eligible in 2022. It’s very likely Montero represents a placeholder for the Mariners until Andres Muñoz can take over as closer. A top-200 pick? No thanks.
Digging into the data can bring to light player tendencies. No list will be perfect, but taking into account past performance with underlying indicators, use these busts as players to avoid in the coming season.
Ian Anderson , SP - Atlanta Braves - Updated 1/24/2021 10:16am ET
2020 Statistics - 3-2, 6 games, 32.1 IP, 41:14 K:BB, 1.95 ERA, 3.82 SIERA, 1.08 WHIP
With so many owners searching for reliable pitching, Anderson sits inside the top-100 picks due to his tremendous debut with Atlanta helping them to within one game of the World Series. Over his six starts, Anderson averaged 5.4 innings with a 29.7 percent strikeout rate and 10.1 walk percentage. Avoiding hard contact makes his ERA sparkle, but can Anderson repeat this during a full season? How many innings will Atlanta let him throw?
Beneath Anderson's 32.1 hard hit percentage allowed last year, his SIERA of 3.82 represents a warning. Since SIERA proves to be the most predictive ratio rating on Fangraphs, it needs to be accounted for in Anderson's profile. His 2.57 xERA from Statcast sits above his actual as well. There's things to like in Anderson, he owned a 54.3 ground ball rate and kept runners off base with a .239 expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA).
So, why the apprehension? In 2019, Anderson logged 135.2 innings across Double-A and Triple-A with a 30 strikeout percentage and an 11.3 walk rate. During 2018, he recorded 119.1 innings across High-A and Double-A with a 28.7 strikeout percentage and 9.2 walk rate. With teams able to adjust in 2021 added to Anderson's innings cap sitting between 135-to-150 innings over a full season, it's going to be tough for Anderson to rise into the tier of pitching he's targeted in.