Fantasy baseball busts: Picking the players to avoid in the National League
- These four players are big names with hefty fantasy price tags, but here's why you should consider using your high draft pick or auction dollars elsewhere.
Bust has become so familiar a term in fantasy parlance that it has lost its original meaning. A player can be a bust because he was overvalued or fell short of expectations. The key feature of a bust, however, is his high profile coming into the season. For a player to be a true bust, his poor season must do serious damage to your chances of winning a title. It doesn’t matter if your 11th-round pick doesn’t measure up to his draft-day price; it won’t be the difference between a contender and an also-ran.
As such, every player you see in our NL busts column and our AL busts column will be among the top 70 players in FantasyPros' consensus rankings. We aren’t going to give you a ton of names, because quantity is not our goal. Instead, we’re going to help you sidestep this season’s most dangerous potential landmines.
Jonathan Villar, 2B/3B/SS, Brewers
Like Dee Gordon before him, Villar is set up to be a victim of his own success. The Brewers' shortstop enjoyed a breakout 2016 season in which he slashed .285/.369/.457 with 19 homers and a league-leading 62 steals. What’s more, none of it was a mirage: He posted an 11.6% walk rate, 35.1% hard-hit rate and, taking advantage of his speed, a 55.6% ground-ball rate.
So why is he in this column? Fantasy owners have worked themselves into a frenzy over Villar, driving his ADP into the second round; he has a higher NFBC ADP than Joey Votto, Edwin Encarnacion, Starling Marte and Francisco Lindor. That’s simply too high for a guy who couldn’t force his way into a regular role over the first three seasons of his career. There’s a reason why Villar was a sometime starter with the Astros and why the Brewers viewed him as a bridge to Orlando Arcia before last season. He completely changed his career trajectory last season, but he’s not a second-round fantasy pick.
The comparison to Gordon is a touch unfair to Villar, but he’s the best recent example of a player obliterating expectations one season, leading to unfair ones the following year. Villar has more pop and better plate discipline than Gordon, giving him a higher ceiling than the latter could ever dream of possessing. At the same time, Villar fanned in 25.6% of his plate appearances last year and accrued a .373 BABIP. He likely earned a higher-than-average BABIP because of his hard-hit and ground-ball rates as well as his speed, but .373 is more than a bit unsustainable. As that comes down, so, too, will his slash line, steals and runs.
All the stats in the world can neither add to nor detract from this simple fact, however: At a second-round price, there is zero profit potential associated with Villar. That’s the dictionary definition of a bust.
Jake Arrieta, SP, Cubs
When does a season in which a pitcher totals a 3.10 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 190 strikeouts in 197 1/3 innings qualify as a disappointment? When that same pitcher spent much of the previous season doing the best impression of Bob Gibson the game had seen in 50 years. Arrieta wasn’t as good as his Cy Young campaign, but a pitcher can fall plenty short of “2015 Jake Arrieta” and still be one of the best in the league. That more or less describes the 2016 version of Arrieta.
The Arrieta hysteria may have gotten out of control last season, but there were noticeable dips in his performance. His walk rate climbed an alarming 4.1 percentage points to 9.6%, and his strikeout rate fell to 23.9% from 27.1%. He threw 32 fewer innings despite making just two fewer starts, completing seven innings 13 times; in 2015, he did so 18 times. You don’t need to look further than that to see that Arrieta wasn’t the dominator last year that he was two seasons ago.
Little, if anything, changed about Arrieta the pitcher. His velocity remained at the same impressive level. He didn’t change the offerings in his repertoire. His zone percentage—the share of pitches he threw in the strike zone—was 44.3%; in 2015, it was 44.1%. For all intents and purposes, Arrieta was the exact same pitcher both seasons. What changed was the hitters and, more accurately, their approach.
In 2015, Arrieta induced an o-swing percentage—which measures the frequency at which hitters swing at pitches out of the strike zone—of 34.2%. That ranked 11th in the majors. Last year, Arrieta’s o-swing rate fell to 29.6%, which was 46th in the majors. Hitters waited Arrieta out, worked deep counts, forced him into the zone and knocked him out of games earlier than they did in 2015. That’s what led to his relatively disappointing season.
The most troubling development was that Arrieta didn’t adjust as the season progressed. He still went with the same approach that was so lethal in 2016, and to his credit, it mostly worked; it just didn’t work quite as well. While he’s still a fantasy ace with the ceiling of being a top-three pitcher, he’s a serious risk to fall short of a profit at his mid-third-round ADP.
Wil Myers, 1B, Padres
Last year, three players cleared thresholds of 25 homers, 25 steals, 90 runs and 90 RBIs. The first two were Mike Trout and Mookie Betts, who finished first and second in AL MVP voting and will be the first two picks in most fantasy drafts this season. The third was Myers. The post-hype prodigal son returned to his foreordained place among baseball’s elite by hitting 28 homers, swiping the same number of bags, scoring 99 runs and driving in 94 more. After being written off by most of the league, Myers was an All-Star and the 41st-ranked player in standard 5x5 leagues.
A few red flags jump out when examining Myers’s breakout season, however. First, he went in the tank in the second half, slashing .223/.316/.381 with nine homers. After playing a combined 147 games in 2014 and '15 and never playing more than 88 games in a season, Myers played 157 and racked up 676 plate appearances last season. It’s entirely possible that he just ran out of steam in the second half, but his ability to remain productive for six months is still up for debate.
The other issue has nothing to do with Myers the player and everything to do with draft-day value. Myers may be realizing the potential he always had, and the obvious changes he has made to his swing and approach support that. Still, we’ve seen just one strong, full season for him, and even in that year, he did most of his damage over a half-season sample. We have little track record to go on, and that’s concerning at his draft-day price.
Buster Posey, C/1B, Giants
I love Posey. How could you not? He’s a former Rookie of the Year, MVP and three-time World Series champion who has played nearly every day since getting the call to the majors, save for the season in which he suffered a devastating ankle injury. That he came back from that literally better than he was previous speaks to the player he is. Every fan should be so lucky to have a player like Posey on his or her team.
That’s what makes this so painful. Posey continues to be one of the most overrated fantasy players in the league because of the false idol of positional scarcity. Production is nearly all that matters, no matter where it comes from. Can positional scarcity be a tiebreaker? Sure. It’s nothing more than that, though, and yet it continues to push Posey higher up draft boards than he belongs.
Don’t believe me? Let’s do a quick experiment. Posey hit .288/.362/.434 with 14 homers, 80 RBIs and 82 runs last year. Mystery Player A hit .266/.318/.521 with 36 homers, 98 RBIs and 81 runs. I could see fantasy owners preferring Posey because of his advantage in average and on-base percentage, but these two players should be close in the rankings, right? Mystery Player A is Evan Longoria, who’s consensus ranking is about 30 slots lower than Posey’s and who comes off the board about 70 picks later in a typical draft.
Let’s keep this rolling. Mystery Player B slashed .271/.380/.505 with 21 homers, 68 RBIs and 81 runs in about 50 fewer plate appearances than Posey last season. Any guesses? It’s Matt Carpenter, who’s ranked a full round lower by consensus ranking and nearly three rounds lower by ADP.
Let’s do one more, just for fun. Mystery Player C has a track record longer than Posey’s, stretching back to 2006. He hit .286/.361/.505 with 30 homers, 111 RBIs and 81 runs last season, but he's one round behind Posey by consensus ranking and 45 picks back by ADP. This final mystery player is Hanley Ramirez, who also, mind you, hits in the middle of one of baseball’s most potent lineups.
I love Posey, and unless you’re a Dodgers fan, you love Posey, too. But you can love him and think he is an overvalued fantasy asset. Those are not mutually exclusive.