The definition of sleeper may have changed over the years, but bust means today what it did 10 and 20 years ago, and what it will 10 and 20 years in the future. There are two types of busts. Those that completely flop, and those that play well enough, but don’t come close to justifying their draft-day price tag. We’ll feature both types in our look at AL busts for the 2018 season.
One important note before we get going. A player needs to be a high- or middle-round pick to be a bust. No one cares if your 14th-rounder falls flat on his face. Given that, we set an average draft position cutoff of 100 to qualify as a bust. Pick No. 100 comes in the ninth round of a 12-team league, eighth round of a 14-teamer, and seventh round of a 15-teamer.
Whit Merrifield, 2B/OF, Royals (ADP: 33.6)
Right off the bat, I’ll grant you that Merrifield should steal 30 bases as a floor, and could push up toward 50 in a best-case scenario. He has hit .296 with a .347 OBP over the last two seasons, so the rates will be strong. Is there anything else here, though? And if there isn’t, is Merrifield really worth taking ahead of players like Trevor Bauer, Anthony Rizzo, Carlos Carrasco and Rhys Hoskins?
Let’s talk about the things Merrifield will not do. He’s not going to hit for much power. Even in his 19-homer season in 2017, he had a 9.4% HR/FB ratio. Last year, that fell to 6.5%, and he hit just 12 homers. Last year’s total is much more realistic than the 2017 number. A leadoff man or No. 2 hitter who lacks power and plays for a bad team isn’t going to drive in a statistically significant number of runs. The team context, however, is more important because how many fewer runs he will score than if he played for a more powerful offense.
Merrifield had a .367 OBP and 45 steals last year, and was on base 261 times, which tied for 12th in the majors. He essentially did all he could to maximize his run-scoring potential. His 88 runs ranked tied him for 34th in the league. Nineteen other players reached base at least 250 times, and 14 of them scored more runs than Merrifield, including four who were on base fewer times than he was. The Royals ranked 25th in runs last season, and that was with power-hitting Mike Moustakas on the team for half the season. Merrifield isn’t going to drive himself in, and he’s not going to get a ton of help from his teammates. If his run-scoring upside is capped at 75, he’s a 2.5-category player at a premium price. He’s going to do what he does and do it very well, but he’s a prime value bust.
Adalberto Mondesi, 2B/SS, Royals (ADP: 45.46)
I don’t mean to pick on the Royals, Really, but Mondesi’s draft-day stock is completely out of hand. His ADP is higher than that of Anthony Rendon, Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts, just to name three players. That is, in a word, ridiculous.
Mondesi has appeared in 147 games and totaled 500 plate appearances across three different MLB seasons. He got his most single-season run last year when he played in 75 games and made 291 trips to the plate, hitting .276/.306/.498 with 14 homers and 32 steals. I admit, the counting-stat pace is drool-worthy. But his ADP assumes he can be that player this year, without any major supporting evidence. For him to pay off his draft-day price, he has to fulfill about 90% of his best-case scenario numbers. Is that really someone you want to trust over the likes of Rendon, Correa and Bogaerts?
Mondesi’s speed is one of his greatest assets, but his plate discipline doesn’t allow him to take full advantage of it. He had a 26.5% strikeout rate and 3.8% walk rate last season. His whiff rate was up at 18.2%, while his chase rate was 38.4%. If Mondesi had enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, he would’ve had the second-highest whiff rate and 15th-highest chase rate in the majors. Again, this is someone the fantasy community is believing in ahead of Rendon, Correa and Boagerts?
I’m all for buying in on the ground floor of a potential breakout for a youngster with an elite pedigree. This is not Juan Soto, though, who found immediate success over 494 plate appearances at 19 years old. This is not Javier Baez, a similar free-swinger who struggled through two full MLB seasons before making a major change in approach and breaking out last season. We’re supposed to believe in Mondesi completely based on a 291-PA sample, during which he had an extreme strikeout profile, and we’re supposed to pay full freight for the privilege. That’s a terrible setup for any fantasy play.
Patrick Corbin, SP, Nationals (ADP: 49.96)
I wrote about Corbin being overvalued in early drafts back in January, and nothing has changed over the last two months. Here’s part of what I said then.
Corbin pitched to a 3.15 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 2.61 xFIP, with 246 strikeouts in 200 innings last season, and was one of eight pitchers with a strikeout rate north of 30%. Whenever we see a leap that dramatic, we want to look for a substantive change that could be responsible for it. Did he add a new pitch? Did he change his pitch mix? Did he increase his velocity. In Corbin’s case, the answer to the first two questions is yes, but there’s no indication that there’s any causation to go along with the correlation.
In 2017, Corbin relied heavily on his slider, four-seamer and two-seamer, and mixed in an occasional changeup for good measure. He was just as slider dependent last year, but flipped the usage rates of his two fastballs. Meanwhile, he added a curveball and all but scrapped the changeup. Here are his usage rates by pitch for the last two seasons, with 2017 listed first.
2017 Usage PCT
2018 Usage PCT
Just as the slider did the heavy lifting in Corbin’s repertoire generally, it was mostly responsible for spiking his strikeout rate specifically. He got whiffs on 30.2% of his sliders last season, up from 21.8% the year before. His strikeout rate, meanwhile, jumped to 30.8% from 21.6%, almost the exact same increase. The pitch, however, remained exactly the same otherwise. In shape, velocity and movement, there was no difference between Corbin’s 2018 slider and the 2017 version. Is it possible that the increase in whiff rate on the pitch was anomalous? Certainly possible enough to make Corbin a bigger risk at his inflated ADP than he appears at first glance.
What’s more, when hitters did put Corbin’s pitches in play, they regularly did so with authority. His 41.7% hard-hit rate was second highest in the majors, behind only Cole Hamels. His 24.3% line-drive rate was the league’s fifth highest, and it was accompanied by a 48.5% ground-ball rate. Grounders typically do less damage than line drives and fly balls, but they also find more holes than the latter. As such, it’s common for ground-ball pitchers to have higher-than-average BABIPs. Corbin’s BABIP last year was .302. Given his batted-ball stats, he got lucky on balls in play.
Corbin wouldn’t be anywhere near this column if he were going 20 picks later in a typical draft. Inside the top 50, though, he’s looking like the premier value bust among starting pitchers.
Ozzie Albies, 2B, Braves (ADP: 52.48)
Check out the following two stat lines:
684 PA, .261/.305/.452, 24 HR, 14 SB, 5.3% BB, 17% K
470 PA, .261/.316/.465, 16 HR, 6 SB, 4.9% BB, 16.8% K
The first line belongs to Albies in 2018. The second is Rougned Odor’s line from 2015, the first season in which he broke spring training in the majors. I’m getting a distinct Odor from Albies, and that is not a good thing.
We all know Albies’ story by now. He had a monster April, during which he slashed .293/.341/.647 with nine homers and three steals. He hit .254/.296/.409 with 15 homers and 11 steals the rest of the year, torpedoing what once looked like a breakout campaign. Albies’ draft stock does reflect this a bit, as a 52.48 ADP isn’t exactly prohibitive. Still, it asks the fantasy owner to take Albies ahead of Eugenio Suarez, Gleyber Torres and George Springer, among others. That’s too much, given the downside Albies displayed last year.
There is no question that Albies has a power-speed profile that could turn him into a fantasy star. As we just discussed with respect to Mondesi, though, the draft-day price forces him to be that star to live up to expectations. In effect, there’s little room for profit, and significant room for letdown. The latter looks even greater when you consider that Albies’ strikeout rate may have been artificially low last season.
Albies had a 39.6% chase rate last year, which ranked 12th in the majors. His strikeout rate was manageable in part because he made contact on 69.9% of the pitches he chased out of the zone. Among players in the top 30 in chase rate, which stretched all the way down to 35%, just six other than Albies made contact on as high a percentage of those pitches. If Albies goes after nearly 40% of all pitches he sees outside the strike zone, it’s likely that his strikeout rate will climb north of 20%. There’s simply too much risk here to trust Albies at his ADP.
J.T. Realmuto, C, Phillies (ADP: 60.71)
Realmuto was in that same early overvalued column as Patrick Corbin, and I’m even more dug on him than I was two months ago. Why? Let’s turn to our catcher primer for some help.
Realmuto had a career year in 2018, hitting .277/.340/.484 with 21 homers, 30 doubles and 74 RBI in 531 plate appearances. Over the last three seasons, during which he has been a top-flight fantasy catcher, he’s slashed .286/.338/.454, with his homer totals climbing from 11 to 17 to last year’s 21. Taking position out of the equation, those are solid, but not elite numbers. The rates should increase a fantasy team’s bottom line, but not by much. The homers are nice, but not eye-popping. Salvador Perez and Yasmani Grandal both had more homers last year, while Yadier Molina, Mike Zunino, Robinson Chirinos and Gary Sanchez (in 150 fewer plate appearances) were all within three. He doesn’t run at all. And while that’s true of all catchers, remember, Realmuto’s ADP forces you to compare him with the player pool at large, not only catchers. His numbers are dwarfed by the hitters being selected in the same draft-day neighborhood.
Consider Tommy Pham, the hitter going right after Realmuto in a typical draft. He had a disastrous first half last year before being traded to the Rays, hitting .248/.331/.399 in 396 plate appearances. Even after being saddled with that sunk cost all year, Pham finished the season with a .275/.367/.464 slash line, 21 homers and 15 steals. The year before, he hit .306/.411/.520 with 23 jacks and 25 swipes.
How about Lorenzo Cain, the next hitter by ADP? He hit .308 last season, posted a .395 OBP, stole 30 bases and scored 90 runs. The next two? Matt Carpenter and Joey Votto. And then Jean Segura. And then Miguel Andujar. And then Corey Seager. Now in his age-28 season, it’s safe to say that this is who Realmuto is, a good player who will contribute meaningfully, though not overwhelmingly, to four fantasy categories and likely has more real-life than fantasy value because of the position he plays. That’s not someone on whom you want to burn a top-60 pick.
Jesus Aguilar, 1B, Brewers (ADP: 79.65)
Up to this point, we’ve discussed mostly value busts. Aguilar breaks that mold. Among the players in this column, he’s the one I’d bet on to be a true, performance-based bust.
There’s no doubt that Aguilar’s power is for real. Over the last two seasons, he has 51 homers, 23.4% HR/FB ratio, and a .256 isolated slugging percentage in 877 plate appearances. We’ve seen enough of him leaving the yard to know he’s going to do so with regularity. A 30-homer hitter isn’t worth what he used to be, though, even with the prevalence of homers taking a dip last year. If Aguilar is going to pay off at his draft-day price, he’ll have to match last year’s slash rates, and that’s where there’s cause for concern.
Aguilar went into the All-Star break hitting .298/.373/.621 in 315 plate appearances. He slashed .245/.324/.436 in 250 trips to the plate the rest of the season. This is not to say that the second-half version is the real Aguilar, but it is to point out that there’s some real rate risk here. Aguilar cut his strikeout rate by five percentage points last year, but it was still high at 25.3%. His walk rate increased to 10.2%, but his chase rate increased while his swing rate on pitches in the zone decreased. An accurate reading of his plate discipline numbers could lead you to the conclusion that he lost his feel for the zone a bit last year.
If all you need out of your first baseman is 30 homers and 90 RBI, then Aguilar will serve you just fine. Expecting him to match last year’s rates is a bit of a stretch, though. The ADP suggests he’s Matt Carpenter or Jose Abreu, when he might be more Matt Olson or Edwin Encarnacion.