Fantasy baseball busts: Be cautious when drafting Hamilton, Wainwright
We wrap up staples week here on SI.com with the high-profile players you’ll want to avoid at your draft table. The qualifications for a bust are essentially the exact opposite for those of a sleeper. Every player listed below (including all but one of the quick hitters) are being selected inside the first 100 picks of a typical draft, and I think they will all fail to return the value necessary to take them at their expected price. Not all will be completely devoid of fantasy charm. Most, in fact, are simply value busts. If they weren’t priced as highly, they would be good picks. Unfortunately for them, and the owners who buy in, that is not the case.
Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds
Everyone knows what Hamilton does, and he does it very well. Last season, Hamilton stole 56 bases, the second most in the majors. He was also caught 23 times, which, in real life, made his already terrible OBP even worse. That doesn’t much matter to the fantasy owner, but it is worth noting that a 70.8% success rate makes calling Hamilton an elite base stealer a little dubious. Dee Gordon succeeded in 77.1% of his attempts, while Jose Altuve swiped a bag 86.2% of the time he took off. Hamilton’s a volume stealer, and that’s fine for fantasy owners.
What isn’t fine, however, is the batting average and OBP price owners have to pay for all those steals. Hamilton hit .250 with a .292 OBP last season. Even with his 56 steals last year, Hamilton ranked 84th among all players in standard 5x5 leagues, and 56th among hitters. And now fantasy owners are supposed to use a fourth-round pick on him, according to his average draft position and consensus FantasyPros ranking? Why?
Nothing in Hamilton’s past suggests he’s going to be any better as a hitter this season, other than the nebulous idea that a young player will get better with age and experience. In Hamilton’s last season at Triple-A Louisville in 2013, he hit .256 with a .308 OBP, 6.9% walk rate and 18.6% strikeout rate. Last year wasn’t a case of a young player struggling with his first taste of major league pitching. It was Hamilton being exactly who he is. He maxed out his base-stealing abilities last year, especially if he’s only getting on 30% of the time. His prohibitive batting average and OBP also limit his run-scoring ceiling, essentially reducing him to a one-category player. This is a player fantasy owners are really willing to commit a top-four pick to? You can always find speed late, with players like Alcides Escobar, Leonys Martin and Emilio Bonifacio all carrying 30-steal potential. Don’t burn a high pick on a guy who’s going to make meaningful contributions to one category, while absolutely killing you in another.
Todd Frazier, 3B, Cincinnati Reds
I don’t mean to pick on the Reds (chances are they’re going to get plenty of that by the teams they play during the regular season), but Frazier lands here as a prime value bust. I do think he will be a productive player this season, but more along the lines of his 2012 and '13 seasons, not his breakout '14 campaign. His 39.54 ADP reflects owners paying for last year’s stats, and there’s just too much evidence to suggest he will not reach that level this year.
Let’s start with Frazier’s career-high 29 homers from last season. While his average true home run distance of exactly 400 feet, and his average fly ball distance of 293.6 feet are both impressive, there are some red flags. First, his fly-ball rate dropped for the second straight season, hitting 37.1% last year. His HR/FB ratio spike looks great, but he got that partially from having fewer of the denominator. Of the 26 players with at least 25 homers last year, only one, Marlon Byrd, had a lower isolated slugging percentage than Frazier’s .186. If you increase the threshold to only include players who hit at least as many homers as Frazier, all but one outpaced him in ISO by at least 15 points.
Moving on to Frazier’s career-high 20 steals. That number just looks screwy on its face, given that Frazier had 10 steals in his career last season. Right away, I figured some of it could be chalked up to the managerial change of Dusty Baker to Bryan Price. Baker famously keeps the shackles on potential base stealers, especially one who isn’t a traditional burner, like Frazier. That doesn’t explain everything, however. August Fagerstrom did a great analysis over on Fangraphs I suggest you read. The gist is that time and time again, Frazier took advantage of pitchers paying him no attention because they figured he wouldn’t run. That also helps to explain why 14 of his 20 steals, and 18 of his 27 attempts, were before the All-Star break. The book on his newfound running started to get out. Now that Frazier’s base-stealing won’t come as a surprise, expect that number to be cut in half this season.
Frazier’s never going to be a huge batting average or OBP help, likely settling somewhere in the .265-.275 range for batting average with a .300ish OBP. If and when the homers and steals come back to earth this year, he’ll be a solid option at third base, but not someone worthy of a top-40 pick. If he were coming off the board 30 picks later I’d be all over him, but I don’t want anything to do with him at his current price.
Adam Wainwright, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
Like Frazier, Wainwright is not a true bust, but finds himself in this column because it’s going to be hard for him to perform up to his expected draft-day price. His ADP has dipped in recent weeks, but even its current 55.36 is too steep given the very real skill decline he experienced in one area last season.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first so I don’t have Cardinals fans accosting me everywhere I go. Wainwright remains a great pitcher and every bit the real-life ace he has been for the better part of a decade. He’s a major reason why the Cardinals are, and deserve to be, the favorites in the NL Central once again this season. With that out of the way, let’s pick apart Adam Wainwright, fantasy ace.
There are a lot of traits that true fantasy aces share. The first five starting pitchers in our Top 250 are Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale, Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer. Notice something about all of them that makes Wainwright stand out like the misplaced object in a Sesame Street “which of these isn’t like the other” lesson? All of those guys are elite strikeout pitchers. They were all in the top six in strikeout rate last year (joined by our No. 7 pitcher, Corey Kluber), and top eight in K/9. Wainwright, meanwhile, was 40th in K-rate and 48th in K/9.
Wainwright is still plenty worthy of being among the first 12 or 15 starting pitchers selected in a draft. However, if he experiences even a slight increase in ERA or decrease in wins, two things that are at least partially out of his control, he could provide a negative return at so high an ADP. Without the big strikeout club in his bag, Wainwright should not be considered a fantasy ace, yet that’s exactly what he’s being drafted as.
Christian Yelich, OF, Miami Marlins
Yelich is a popular breakout pick this season, and I do see the allure in the 23-year-old outfielder. There’s just one problem. His draft-day price reflects not a breakout candidate, but a player who has already made that leap or is a mortal lock to do so. I may like Yelich, but given his 79.95 ADP, I clearly don’t like him as much as the next guy.
Yelich had a nice 2014, his first full season in the majors. He hit 284/.362/.402 with nine homers, 94 runs and 21 steals. That’s not a superstar by any means, but it’s a very productive fantasy player who checked in at No. 76 in the overall rankings. In other words, fantasy owners drafting Yelich at his expected price are betting that he, at the very least, repeats what he did last year. I’m not so comfortable with that bet.
First of all, the homers aren’t increasing so long as he’s posting a 17.8% fly-ball rate and 11.5% HR/FB ratio. Unless he dramatically changes his approach, he maxed out what he can get from his bat in the power department. There’s also reason to doubt the .284 batting average, given that it came on the wings of a .356 OBP. Yelich did compile a 21.2% line-drive rate and 61% ground-ball rate, so we should expect him to enjoy a higher-than-average BABIP, but .356 is an awfully tough mountain to climb, especially when you also have a 21.8% strikeout rate for your career.
One of the drivers of Yelich’s value last year were the 94 runs scored. He’s likely going to hit second in the Miami lineup and will have the luxury of Giancarlo Stanton behind him, but 94 runs is a lot for any player to score. He was tied for 10th in the league in runs. Everyone in front of him, other than Matt Carpenter, was either in one of the top-10 scoring offenses in the league, hit 20 homers, or both. Yelich isn’t coming close to 20 bombs this year, and there’s a strong chance the Marlins are not in the top 10 in runs.
There’s no doubt that Yelich has the potential to take another step this season, but he’s not going to add to his power or speed, and could very well slide in runs and batting average.
Greg Holland, SP, Kansas City Royals
One of the hardest things for a fantasy owner to do is separate heart from head, especially when considering a player who came through for you in the past. Two years ago, I bought into Holland early, and he rewarded me with 47 saves, a 1.21 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 103 strikeouts in 67 innings. I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for Holland ever since, but I can guarantee I won’t own him this season. Quite simply, the price is just too high.
Holland’s 57.45 ADP suggests he’s on par with Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel, and while I believe he’s definitely the third best closer on the board, he’s more in the neighborhood of Dellin Betances and David Robertson. Last season, all of Holland’s pertinent numbers went in the wrong direction. His strikeout rate fell, his walk rate increased, he gave up more home runs, his average fastball velocity dipped, his slider and splitter were less effective by Fangraphs’ grades and had less horizontal and vertical movement. Seriously, every number that carries meaning got worse last season.
There’s an argument for taking a closer early, but only if he’s giving you elite rates and strikeout production. You can bank on Chapman and Kimbrel doing that. Holland is a step or two behind that pair, but is priced in the same neighborhood. You’re better off waiting another 30 or so picks and grabbing Betances or Robertson.
Albert Pujols, 1B, Los Angeles Angels – Had a bounceback season in 2014, but he’s now 35 years old and has had two straight seasons with an isolated slugging percentage south of .200. If the power goes down, so goes his fantasy value.
Nelson Cruz, OF, Seattle Mariners – We know his power is legitimate, but we have no idea how it will play in Seattle. Batting average is always going to be a struggle for him, as well.
Dee Gordon, 2B, Miami Marlins – Brings the same risk as Billy Hamilton, but he gets a bit of a pass since he comes at a much cheaper price and has a higher stolen base success rate.
David Wright, 3B, New York Mets – The wheels came off for Wright in his age-31 season, and even the most optimistic 2015 forecasts don’t have him doing any better than .275-15-60-60-8.
Sonny Gray, SP, Oakland A’s – His strikeout rate came down last season, and it’s possible that greater exposure to the league made his breaking stuff much more hittable than it was in 2013.
Zach Britton, RP, Baltimore Orioles – He was a revelation for the O’s last season, but he doesn’t strike anyone out and walks too many batters. He’s a prime candidate to be out of the closer’s chair early on in 2015.