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Fantasy Baseball's 2021 Bust of the Year Will Be ...

Wouldn't it be nice to know which players would bust before every season started? Shawn Childs takes his shot to name this season's biggest bust!

A big part of winning in fantasy sports is knowing who to avoid during drafts. This critical tool comes from an intimate feel for the player pool while keeping a close ear to the injury news. It’s hard enough building a healthy roster to compete for a league title. When accepting weaker pieces to the puzzle with underlying injury risk or injury news, a fantasy owner sets himself up to fail more often than not.

The temptation to draft a sliding player with injuries news tends to be a trap. The easiest way to avoid these decisions in baseball is to game plan and anticipate which players will slide in drafts.

In 2020, Yordan Alvarez battled knee issues all spring, leading to him falling from a top 60 draft selection to an 11th or 12th round pick in 15-team leagues. Alvarez only saw the field for two games (2-for-8 with one home run and four RBI) before having season-ending surgeries in both of his knees in late August.

This draft season, the player pool looks extremely strong through the first 60 selections, which makes identifying a bust difficult. Here’s are the players with some minor injury news in mid-March:

Cody Bellinger has been slowed by his right shoulder injury that required surgery last November. The recovery time from this injury tends to be 10 to 12 weeks, which puts him on track to play when the regular season starts. Recovery from shoulder issues can lead to a drop off in power.

Xander Bogaerts has been limited in early March due to a right shoulder issue. Boston expects him to be back on the field by the last half of March. My more significant concern is that his injury is tied to his throwing shoulder.

Brandon Woodruff battled a back injury over the first half of March. His velocity looked strong in his first appearance on March 9th.

Alex Bregman missed time with a hamstring issue in 2020, and that same issue has been a problem in March. Even with questions about his health, Bregman hasn’t lost value in drafts. The Astros hope to have him back on the field over the last 10 days in March.

Of all the players drafted in the first three rounds, only Kenta Maeda feels like a player that doesn’t belong. Over four seasons with the Dodgers, he went 47-35 with a 3.87 ERA and 641 strikeouts over 589 innings. His WHIP (1.151) over this span suggested an ERA between 3.40 and 3.50 while also having strength in his walk rate (2.7) and strikeout rate (9.8).

Maeda had an exceptional 11 starts for the Twins in 2020, leading to a 6-1 record with a 2.70 ERA, 0.750 WHIP, and 80 strikeouts over 66.2 innings. His growth came from the best command of his career (1.4 walks per nine). Batters only hit .168 against him (.227 with the Dodgers).

Over his 114 career starts, Maeda averaged 5.4 innings. He’s had a high level of success in his career against right-handed batters (.195 with 71 walks and 444 strikeouts over 1,258 at-bats). His command has been much weaker vs. lefties (117 walks over 1,186 at-bats) with a much higher batting average against (.249).

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Batters will succeed with home runs against Maeda (31 over his last 220.1 innings and 1.2 per nine in his career).

As much as I believe Maeda is overpriced for his career stats, I expect him to be healthy while offering a serviceable ERA and WHIP with help in strikeouts.

SP Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Corbin Burnes

My 2021 bust of the year is Corbin Burnes. I understand his arm has electric upside, but my rub is how many innings can he handle as an SP2 starter?

Over the last three seasons between the majors and the minor, Burnes pitched 247.2 innings while working as a starter and reliever.

Between High A and AA in 2017, Burnes did pitch 145.2 innings with electric success in his ERA (1.85) and WHIP (0.954). He averaged 5.6 innings per start, which was helped by a lower walk rate (2.2).

Last year in his nine starts, Burnes averaged 5.2 innings per game with an eye-popping ERA (1.72) and WHIP (1.000) with 70 strikeouts over 47 innings. His most significant growth area came in home runs allowed (two over 59.2 innings – 17 over 49 innings in 2019).

Burnes needs to prove he can handle a full season of starts. Simultaneously, the wear on his arm will be much higher in 2021 when asked to throw over 90 pitches in more games.

His arm was at its best from August 28th to September 10th (4-0 with one run allowed over 29.2 innings with six walks and 47 strikeouts) while averaging almost 95 pitches. Over his final seven games, Burnes faced Pittsburgh (2), Detroit, and Kansas City (2) in five starts.

I expect regression in his stats when asked to face the top lineups in the National League. Burnes has a breakout feel, but I can’t buy him where he goes in drafts based on an excellent 59.2 innings in 2020.

Julio Urias has a similar upside, and he gets drafted four rounds later. The same could be said about Ian Anderson, Jesus Luzardo, and Chris Paddack that get drafted later.

In my initial projection, Burnes was the 39th ranked starter by SIscore with a 10-6 record, 3.52 ERA, 1.206 WHIP, and 194 strikeouts over 168 innings. 

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A big part of winning in fantasy sports is knowing who to avoid during drafts. This critical tool comes from an intimate feel for the player pool while keeping a close ear to the injury news. It’s hard enough building a healthy roster to compete for a league title. When accepting weaker pieces to the puzzle with underlying injury risk or injury news, a fantasy owner sets himself up to fail more often than not.

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