Fantasy baseball 2014 draft preview: NL busts
Most fantasy owners will spend the offseason trying to identify sleepers and breakout candidates in order to get the most bang for their buck. But if you really want to make your money work in fantasy, it's vitally important to determine which players are going to bust in the upcoming season. Countless fantasy seasons were ruined last year by using a high draft pick on the likes of Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton or Starlin Castro, only to get replacement-level production or worse. With that in mind, we've picked 15 National League players who carry plenty of risk going into 2014.
Atlanta Braves: 3B Chris Johnson
2013 numbers: .321/.358/.457, 12 HR, 68 RBI, 0 SB (547 PA)
Johnson is likely going to pop up on a lot of bust lists for 2014, and there's one major reason why: His league-best .394 batting average on balls in play last season. Johnson is a solid line-drive hitter, but a .394 BABIP is unsustainable for all but baseball's best hitters, and Johnson doesn't have the walk rate to make up for a drop in that figure. Take his 2012 season as a cautionary tale: Johnson posted almost the same walk, strikeout and line-drive rate as he did in 2013, but his .354 BABIP depressed his overall numbers to .281/.326/.451. And that's still with a BABIP over 70 points above league average. Any further regression from there takes Johnson into replacement-level production, and you won't want to pay a high draft-pick price for that.
Miami Marlins: C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
2013 numbers: .273/.338/.466, 14 HR, 65 RBI, 4 SB (470 PA)
Once one of baseball's top prospects, Saltalamacchia turned in a career year for the World Champion Red Sox in 2013, posting career-highs in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and RBI. That landed him a multi-year deal with the Marlins, but anyone expecting Salty to match or exceed his 2013 output has another thing coming to them. Saltalamacchia is going from one of baseball's best lineups to one of its worst, not to mention a home park that was the least-homer friendly in all of MLB last season. Fenway Park was good to Saltalamacchia (.836 OPS at home last year vs. .770 on the road), and he can expect a tougher go of it in Florida. The cherry on top: A .373 BABIP in 2013 that he'll have a very hard time replicating.
New York Mets: OF Curtis Granderson
2013 numbers: .229/.317/.407, 7 HR, 15 RBI, 8 SB (245 PA)
Two fluke hand injuries, both a result from HBP, ruined Granderson's 2013, and you can expect a bounce-back in 2014. Just don't think that it will be a repeat of Granderon's superb 2011, or even his very productive 2012. Moving from Yankee Stadium to Citi Field won't murder Granderson's home-run totals, but the loss of the former's short porch and the addition of the latter's endless expanses in center field and right-center are going to put a dent in his power production. Granderson is still a solid offensive player, but Citi Field isn't an easy place for left-handed hitters. And at 33 years old, he doesn't have time on his side much longer.
Philadelphia Phillies: SP A.J. Burnett
2013 numbers: 10-11, 3.30 ERA, 209 K, 67 BB (191 IP)
There's absolutely nothing about A.J. Burnett's peripherals that suggests something bad; if anything, he was actually a little unlucky to post an ERA above 3.00 given his sterling strikeout rate and solid walk rate. Burnett's big problem going into 2014 will be his new home ballpark in Philadelphia, as he's moving from one of baseball's pitcher-friendliest stadiums to one that devoured starters last year. By park factors, Citizens Bank Park was the most homer-friendly stadium in baseball, and PNC Park in Pittsburgh was one of the stingiest. And veteran fantasy players remember all too well what happened to Burnett the last time he pitched his home games in a homer-friendly park: His less-than-stellar turn with the Yankees, where his homer-per-nine rate rocketed as high as 1.47 in his final season in pinstripes. Burnett's peripherals last year were better than at any point in his New York stay, but Citizens Bank Park will likely put a hit in his final numbers nonetheless.
Washington Nationals: RP Rafael Soriano
2013 numbers: 43 SV, 3.11 ERA, 51 K, 17 BB (66.2 IP)
The 43 saves are nice on the surface, but the giant red warning sign for Soriano is the massive plunge in strikeout rate. Soriano struck out 18 fewer batters in almost the same number of innings from 2012 to 2013, posting the worst full-season strikeout-per-nine ratio (6.9) of his entire career. Soriano got more swings in 2013 than 2012 but got fewer swinging strikes and gave up more contact, including a line-drive rate of 25 percent. He can mostly blame his slider, which went from his put-away pitch in 2012 to tattooed in 2013. Unless Soriano can correct the drop in strikeouts, he'll be walking a tightrope all season long.
Chicago Cubs: OF Junior Lake
2013 numbers: .284/.332/.428, 6 HR, 16 RBI, 4 SB (254 PA)
A former top-ten prospect in the Cubs' system, Lake burst onto the MLB scene in 2013 by hitting .352 in his first 17 big-league games, and will go into 2014 as one of Chicago's starting outfielders and a popular sleeper. But the 24-year-old is still a raw product prone to streakiness: From that high point of .352 on Aug. 3, Lake slashed .255/.317/.370 over 180 plate appearances to the season's end. He's been an impatient hitter his entire career, and his troubles against right-handed pitching (.692 OPS against in 2013) suggest that Lake needs some refinement before he becomes a reliable fantasy option.
Cincinnati Reds: 2B Brandon Phillips
2013 numbers: .261/.310/.396, 18 HR, 103 RBI, 5 SB (666 PA)
Phillips has been coasting on name value the last two seasons now, but after a second straight year of declining numbers, it's worth wondering if the 32-year-old has any gas left in the tank for fantasy owners. Phillips' problem is an increasing inability to make solid contact, particularly against fastballs (.257 average against four-seamers in 2013 vs. .344 in 2011), and he doesn't walk enough to offset that decline. Don't let the 103 RBI fool you, especially with ace table-setter Shin Soo-Choo now in Texas; let someone else shell out for Phillips to see if he can turn it around.
Milwaukee Brewers: SS Jean Segura
2013 numbers: .294/.329/.423, 12 HR, 49 RBI, 44 SB (623 PA)
Segura was one of 2013's out-of-nowhere studs, providing tons of value for savvy fantasy owners, but assuming that his 2014 will be as good or better is a huge gamble. After a blazing start to the year, Segura cratered in the second half, with a .241/.268/.315 line in 226 plate appearances after the All-Star break. Also alarming: His abysmal .319 OBP against right-handers, and his inability to hit breaking pitches (.243 average on sliders, .250 on curveballs). A big sophomore slump is a very real possibility for Segura.
Pittsburgh Pirates: OF Starling Marte
2013 numbers: .280/.343/.441, 12 HR, 35 RBI, 41 SB (566 PA)
Marte owners were likely thrilled with his stellar 2013 season, but his numbers last year were likely inflated by a sky-high .363 BABIP. Any kind of regression from that will mean bad things for a player who had a groundball rate over 50 percent and a miniscule 4.4 percent walk rate last season. Marte is a big-time hacker who needs balls-in-play luck to provide above-average value. For proof of what happens when the hits don't drop, check out his 2012 line: Same walk rate as 2013, similar strikeout rate, but with a BABIP of .333. That led to a .257/.300/.437 slash line in 182 plate appearances.
St. Louis Cardinals: 1B/OF Allen Craig
2013 numbers: .315/.373/.457, 13 HR, 97 RBI, 2 SB (563 PA)
It's not often you can find concerns with a guy who boasts a .371 OBP and some of the best numbers with runners in scoring position in MLB history. But there are some worry spots for Craig after last year. His .457 slugging percentage was his lowest mark since his rookie season and represents a 50-point dip from 2012. In particular, it was breaking pitches that gave Craig the most trouble; he slugged just .306 against sliders and .302 against curveballs last year. His .368 BABIP was the highest mark of his whole career. And equally problematic is Craig's injury history. Last year, he missed 28 games, mostly due to a foot injury suffered in early September. He also missed a huge chunk of time in 2012 with various leg ailments. Given that Craig will be moving from first base to the outfield to make room for Matt Adams, it's worth wondering if the extra strain of patrolling the field will cause issues for the 6-foot-2-inch, 215-pound slugger.
Arizona Diamondbacks: OF Mark Trumbo
2013 numbers: .234/.294/.453, 34 HR, 100 RBI, 5 SB (678 PA)
Most folks will look at Trumbo's counting stats -- the homers and RBI in particular -- and throw a high pick at him. But there are plenty of warning signs, beginning with his abysmal on-base percentage. No matter how much power he produces, a .747 OPS out of first base is hard to swallow, and Trumbo is entirely reliant upon the long ball for his production. Arizona is slightly more homer friendly than Anaheim, but not by much. Then take into account that he'll be switching leagues and positions, and that he'll have 57 games to play in the cavernous parks of Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, and his stock takes yet another tumble.
Colorado Rockies: 1B Justin Morneau
2013 numbers: .259/.323/.411, 17 HR, 77 RBI, 0 SB (635 PA)
His 2013 numbers don't exactly scream "trust me," but Morneau could be a popular sleeper pick this year thanks to his move to the homer-friendly park that is Coors Field. But is there any real reason to expect his power to pick up with the move? Injuries have sapped Morneau of that skill since his MVP-winning 2006 season, resulting in a .411 slugging percentage and .152 isolated-power mark in 2013. Those are his worst full-season stats in those categories since his rookie year way back in 2003. Morneau is moving from one of MLB's stingiest parks in terms of home runs to one of its best, but as a dead-pull hitter, Morneau won't benefit much with both parks boasting similar dimensions to right field. At 32, Morneau's best fantasy days are behind him, new home regardless.
Los Angeles Dodgers: OF Matt Kemp
2013 numbers: .270/.328/.395, 6 HR, 33 RBI, 9 SB (290 PA)
When healthy, Kemp is one of baseball's best players, not to mention a fantasy MVP. The problem, though is that "when healthy" has become an increasingly large caveat for Kemp. Last season, he was derailed by a litany of injuries, starting with offseason shoulder surgery and followed by recurring hamstring and ankle problems, as well as pain in that surgically repaired shoulder. The ankle injury required offseason surgery, and Kemp is no lock to be ready for Opening Day, or to be at 100 percent at season's start. Kemp is a huge question mark for top-flight production, and more likely to disappoint than outproduce your expectations.
San Diego Padres: RP Huston Street
2013 numbers: 33 SV, 2.70 ERA, 46 K, 14 BB (56.2 IP)
Are Street's days as a top-tier closer at an end? Last year saw a worrying plunge in his strikeout rate (10.8 whiffs per nine in 2012 all the way down to 7.3 in 2013) and an equally concerning rise in home-run rate (12 longballs surrendered on the season, or 1.9 per nine). Street settled down after the All-Star break, holding opposing hitters to a .154/.206/.254 line in 97 second-half plate appearances. But he can ill afford another slow start, especially with former Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit now in the Padres' pen as insurance. A bad month could result in Street losing his job, perhaps permanently.
San Francisco Giants: 3B Pablo Sandoval
2013 numbers: .278/.341/.417, 14 HR, 79 RBI, 0 SB (584 PA)
Last year, Sandoval owners wondered where his power had disappeared to; his .417 slugging percentage and .139 isolated power were his lowest marks since 2010. For the most part, Sandoval can blame a decreasing amount of production against fastballs for his power woes; his .465 slugging percentage against four-seamers is his lowest mark since, again, 2010. He still manages to get on base at a decent clip, and reports that he came into Spring Training having shed a lot of weight bodes well for production. But until Sandoval can rediscover that power stroke, he's a tough bet for top-notch fantasy production