If there was one piece of information readers at SI.com reacted unfavorably to last season it was calling sophomore Buster Posey a bust candidate. Well, Posey, did, albeit because of a freak injury.
This isn't a "told you so" as much as an anecdote for how you have to approach a preseason list of bust candidates. You have to look right (pun unintentional) when everyone is looking left. It is how you can separate your team from the pack.
There is no surefire way to anticipate how a highly-regarded player is going to go bust; anyone that tells you otherwise is best equipped to sell used cars. But there are some criteria that can come in handy. Here are a few Emackxioms (Emack-axioms) on how to read through some of the B.S. that can overhype a fantasy pick:
This is just a handful of the criteria used to pick the busts and dishonorable mentions in the American and National leagues as we conclude SI.com's comprehensive fantasy baseball preview. We already broke down the cautionary tales
He has been a solid fantasy player who has been under-drafted for years, but he is now 31. Age and injury risk should worry you for someone who is going to be drafted as high as he ever has, but the reality is he is on the back end of his prime. After a great first half a year ago, Victorino hit almost .050 points less after the All-Star break (.303-.254). A second-half decline can signal a tired player, or someone heading for a down year.
He is coming off a career year before a huge free-agent contract. We have seen this movie before. Reyes is great player, when healthy, but he really isn't a batting champ and might not even hit .300 again. He will be the most over-drafted Marlin, even if he is still going to be a very productive fantasy player.
Hudson is coming off a great year, but he is going to turn 37 this season and is recovering from back surgery. That sort of procedure is as dangerous to pitchers as shoulder surgery. Hudson, who is targeting a May return, still has value, but he is a dangerous bet at his age and coming off surgery.
This, by no means, is to say Strasburg is going to go bust, but he has a lot of bust-like traits: 1. He is highly hyped; 2. He is coming off injury; 3. He could be held to an innings limit; 4. And he will get picked before hundreds of players who are long proven over full seasons. He is about as high risk and high reward as it gets.
You actually have to have value to be a bust. The Mets don't have value anywhere. You could consider David Wright (abdominal tear) a potential bust, but he has been multiple years in a row now. He is more likely to fall to a reasonable draft position finally. So let's go with Gee, who went 13-6 as a starter last season. He shouldn't be drafted in most fantasy leagues, but his record might get him picked. He is more likely to be out of the Mets rotation in midseason than still on a good fantasy roster.
He is coming off a renaissance season but Berkman has been a bit of a fantasy enigma in his later years. You can never be sure which one will show up. He is probably somewhere between his 2011 and '10 versions, but he is going to be drafted off last season's numbers. Replacing Pujols could be a psychological challenge, and Berkman is an injury risk with his chronic knee issues. He held up well in the outfield last year, and first base should be less wear on him, but you never know when the body, particularly the legs, will give out after the age of 32. Berkman is well past it at age 36.
Most of the Reds have yet to reach their projected ceilings. Phillips is one of the few veterans (well, one who still has strong fantasy value vs. Scott Rolen). We don't expect Phillips to slip much from his '11 numbers, but we had to pick someone who might go bust here and Phillips is entering his 30s, which are the twilight years for second basemen.
We tried this last year, suggesting Axford was a potential bust. It didn't work out. Instead, Axford was a breakout elite closer. His meteoric rise to the elite from being a relative unknown should be a caution sign, though. Francisco Rodriguez is still around to stalk the job if Axford falters, too. Just don't draft the Brewers closer tops at the position, because you stand to be disappointed.
You have to be valuable to be a bust candidate, because otherwise no one would care that a player didn't come through. Andrew McCutchen still hasn't reached his ceiling, but the next most valuable commodity on this team is the closer. Hanrahan is not a long-term option for a team that is perpetually rebuilding, so he could be dealt to set-up for a contender, which would ruin the fantasy value he has going in. There are some good young arms that have closer-of-the-future labels, too.
The Cubs don't have many highly-sought fantasy options, so if any of their mediocre picks don't pan out, it really is hard to consider them a bust. Dempster is one who tends to get a bit more credit than he probably deserves in fantasy circles. He went bust a year ago, but if anyone is picking him in a standard mixed league, they are probably wasting a pick on a pitcher they are going to rotate back to the waiver wire periodically.
Lee's numbers have been in decline for a few years and now he is stuck in a bad situation in Houston, where there just isn't much around him. Lee has the look of a fantasy pick that can go bust to the point of no longer being a viable member of a fantasy roster, particularly at the famously deep positions he is eligible at. At 35 with declining numbers and supporting cast, Lee is a player best avoided now.
No one could have seen Kennedy's dominance coming last season, particularly his remarkable 12-1 record with a 2.11 ERA after the All-Star break. He was roughly in the third-year starting pitcher category, though, and was built up to toss over 200 innings. Now the draft value lists him as an ace. The reality is he is probably more of a very good starter than an elite fantasy one. He also is coming off a career-high innings, so he might be a Verducci Effect breakdown candidate, having such a dramatic increase in innings and added work in October.
A decade ago, Vogelsong was a highly-sought pitching prospect. It took him years to finally break out at age 33. His numbers in the second half, though, are much more indicative of what he is: a back-end starter. If you draft him as anything more than such, you are easily setting yourself up for disappointment.
Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp are coming off career years and are candidates to disappoint based on their career-high draft positions. Still, they are just too good to predict that. Lilly is one Dodger that had a better-than-expected year and might be a bit over-drafted. Lilly's WHIP portends a 15-plus game winner. Instead, he is a .500 pitcher and you should wait until the late rounds or your last dollar.
This is an obvious pick, almost a cop-out, but Helton has hovered around the fantasy periphery at first base for years. He will be turning 39 this season and might completely fall off the map. Helton is best off avoided altogether at first base this draft season. He will wind up being available off waivers in mixed leagues anyway. Go with a younger slugger with upside, like the Giants' Brandon Belt over him.
He is a dangerous pitcher for fantasy owners this spring, because so many will remember his great first half (2.97 ERA) and forget his second-half return to reality (5.05 ERA). Stauffer is a back-end starter who is aided greatly by his home pitcher's park. He was a 6-5, 2.57 ERA pitcher at home compared to 3-7, 4.95 on the road. His home-road and pre-post-break splits are worrisome. Consider him nothing more than a late-round flier, not a potential ace.