The 2017 All-Bust Team
The 2017 regular season is over, and that means it’s time for the eagerly-awaited return of my long-running All-Star and All-Bust teams (I did them once, last year, and no-one has asked if they’ll be coming back). As with 2016, for the All-Bust team I’ve tried to limit this to players who were drafted in the early or middle rounds and whose season wasn’t just destroyed by injury. I’ve also tried to pick players at the positions they were most likely to be drafted at, where possible.
If your league was generous with position eligibility, Kyle Schwarber was at least making this a contest of some kind in the first half, especially when the Cubs demoted him. Ultimately, Lucroy ran away with this, taken as the fourth catcher off the board (and only just fourth, one place behind Schwarber) and barely finishing as a number two catcher at 23rd on ESPN’s Player Rater. Just six home runs and less than 50 runs and RBI was not what people who took Lucroy in the fifth or sixth round were hoping for. A trade to Colorado sparked some hope of a revival, and while Lucroy did hit .310 with a .429 OBP over 175 PA, he also hit just two home runs and still barely managed an ISO over .100.He also continued to hit too many ground balls, albeit at an improved rate over his awful Texas numbers (48% compared to 56.2%).
We don’t know where Lucroy will be playing next year, but if he can’t hit for power in Coors and remains a ground ball machine, he won’t hit for power anywhere. If you’re looking for reasons for optimism, the plate discipline is still very much intact, as he walked almost as much as he struck out (and almost 50% more often as he struck out in Colorado). However, without both power and the bonus plate appearances he used to get from being a significantly above-average hitter who deserved time at first base/DH, the only way he’ll end up as even a mid-range catcher is if he manages to run a .300-plus average and finds his way back into a good spot in a decent lineup.
Honourable mention: Schwarber. His last couple of months were very reassuring and owners still got 30 home runs to warrant that draft position, but a .211 average and the diminished runs and RBI numbers that resulted from sitting on the bench and being demoted left much of Schwarber’s line looking like waiver wire catcher in standard leagues, not ‘drafted right behind Gary Sanchez’ material. If Schwarber wasn’t eligible in your league, Russell Martin is the best candidate, albeit one who did lose some time to injury.
The injury caveat is obvious here, but the fact remains that Cabrera did still play most of the season, so you couldn’t use a DL spot on him, you couldn’t cut him until late on in all but the shallowest of leagues based on the pick you used to get him, and if you did trade him, you probably did so at a significant discount on his draft cost. Cabrera played in 130 games and still finished fiftieth(!) on the Player Rater at first base. It turns out it’s very difficult to play baseball with chronic back issues, even for arguably the greatest hitter of the last decade. It’s very difficult to believe Cabrera won’t continue to battle these problems on and off for the rest of his career, and even if an offseason of rest helps him to get back to close to his old form, it’s easy to see him getting a lot more rest in the future to manage his health. Based on his name value alone, he’s likely to go too high to bake in the significant injury risk involved, but it’s worth watching him closely in the spring to see if there’s much hope on the health front.
Honourable mention: Chris Davis (73.5). Like Cabrera, Davis did miss some time with injury, but still played most of the year and didn’t offer difference-making numbers in any category, unless you use strikeout rate as a category. In a league where almost anyone can hit 20-plus home runs, Davis’ skillset is only really valuable if he’s among the league leaders in bombs, and he’d need to replicate his 2013 or 2015 performance to get close. 26 home runs was a big disappointment, but even his 2016 line – .221/.332/.459 with 38 homers – would be a letdown at this draft price. Joey Gallo finished just 22nd at first base with similar average and OBP numbers and a good deal more power.
Villar was on the other edition of this last year, and destroyed the hopes of a lot of owners who drafted him as if he would replicate 2016. There was still some speed, with 23 steals, but that represented an almost 40-steal drop-off from last season, his strikeout and walk rates both went in the wrong direction, and his overall production was so bad that he not only got moved out of the leadoff spot, he ended up losing a significant amount of playing time to Eric Sogard, who was much more helpful to a team surprisingly contending for a playoff spot. Only hitting .241 with a .330 BABIP is hardly reassuring either. Villar is still only 26 and still likes to run, but he’s not a particularly efficient basestealer and 2017 raises some significant concerns for fantasy owners in terms of his playing time: namely that he might not be much more than a replacement-level guy in real life. Speed is at enough of a premium that he’s worth a bet as a bounce-back candidate if the price slips, but he’s extremely hard to have confidence in.
Honourable mention: Rougned Odor (43.3). You’d think it would be hard to knock a 30-15 season too much, but Odor couldn’t reach 80 runs or RBI despite playing in all 162 games, and that’s largely because he hit just .204 with a .252 OBP, and that really, really hurts over 644 PA. Odor’s contact rate dropped for the fourth straight year and as a player who still walks less than 5% of the time, he needs to be making decent contact to maintain his value. He’s still only 23 and you can’t find this kind of power-speed combo in many places, so look for the discount and hope he can bounce back, but make sure you have batting average cover.
There were a lot of mid-tier third basemen who ended up with home run totals in the mid-twenties, little speed and reasonable runs & RBI totals, so ultimately this came down to who tanked your average the most. It’s hardly surprising that Frazier was the loser by that reckoning, and not reaching even 30 homers hurt, but where he really lost his value over previous years was the speed: just four steals in seven attempts was his lowest total since becoming a regular in 2012. He didn’t attempt a single swipe after arriving in New York; whether that’s a personal decision or a change in managerial philosophy remains to be seen, so it’s worth watching to see whether he lands on a run-heavy team as Frazier is a free agent this offseason. If you were in an OBP league, Frazier got a lot closer to returning value for you with a .344 mark, thanks to a career-best 14.4% walk rate. Much like Davis, Frazier’s simply not going to be that valuable as a BA risk with power that no longer sets him apart, and as he’s turning 32 before next season, hoping that the speed will come back might be rather wishful.
Honourable mention: Honestly, most of the other third basemen in Frazier’s range, like Kyle Seager (51.8), Matt Carpenter (61.5), and Evan Longoria (91.0) have legitimate cases, not for being particularly big busts, but rather for doing much the same as Frazier with a better-but-not-great batting average. Josh Donaldson and Adrian Beltre also fell way behind their draft position in terms of overall value, but still pretty much hit like we expect them to when they were on the field in the end.
There was a time not so long ago that 24 home runs would have been so valuable at shortstop, Story would have still returned pretty good value. Just two years ago, in fact, when there were only two shortstops in the league who even reached 20 home runs, and 24 would have led the league. In 2017 there were ten different shortstops who hit at least 20, and all of them except Story hit better than .270. Even though he walks at a league-average rate, Story’s sub-par average made for a paltry .308 OBP, which really hurt his runs total, especially batting 6th or 7th in the Rockies lineup, as he did for the majority of his games. There’s still tremendous power for the position here, but the contact issues are also tremendous, and if power can be found at shortstop from such sources as Didi Gregorius and Paul DeJong, the wisdom of taking a gamble on Story is questionable, unless you strongly believe he is going to vault into the 30-plus homer range.
Honourable mention: Aledmys Diaz (134.3). One of my personal biggest misses of the year. I fully bought into Diaz just taking a little while to adjust to the U.S. after not playing baseball for almost two years, and took his impressive 2016 debut as a sign of things to come, especially with a premium slot in the Cardinals’ lineup apparently secured. Instead Diaz slashed .259/.290/.392 with seven home runs in half a season, then barely hit better at Triple-A Memphis while relative unknown Paul DeJong starred at shortstop for St. Louis.
We head back to Coors for our first outfield bust, where Cargo’s season was largely derailed by simple poor performance rather than injury for once. Gonzalez actually somewhat rescued his season slash line with a monster September, but for once his hot streak simply wasn’t long enough to make him a valuable player overall, and many players probably had benched him, or even dropped him in shallower leagues. For the 14th-drafted outfielder, his 14 home runs, .262 average, and 57 RBI were all massive letdowns. Even with a sizzling 1.250 OPS and 18 extra-base hits over his final month, Gonzalez had a career-worst soft contact percentage and is on a five-year decline for fly ball rate. There’s talk he will return to Coors, which still offers the potential for those trademark Cargo hot streaks, but also carries the confounding factor of far, far too many other options in the outfield. As the bat slows down those streaks may be fewer and further between and the slumps could reach even greater depths than they did this year. If you can replace him easily, taking a shot on a hot start if the price drops significantly has the potential to pay off huge, but he could crush a team in a deeper league.
Trumbo is yet another of those players who simply doesn’t have a remarkable skillset any more with power up across the board. 2016’s 47 home runs represented the high end of his value, while 2017 was likely the low end. Trumbo could hit anywhere between 20 and 50 home runs with no speed and a mediocre walk rate, and the number of balls that end up over the fence will almost entirely determine whether he’s worth much in most fantasy leagues, including whether he’s neutral or a negative in batting average – his difference in home runs of 24 between last year and this was almost exactly the same as the difference in total hits. If he hits .255 with 35 home runs, you’ll probably be happy, especially with his reduced cost next year. If he hits .235 with 25, who cares – you can find that almost anywhere.
Bautista bounced back from a miserable April with an outstanding May, only to go right back to being awful the rest of the season. In fact, outside of May’s 1.055 OPS, Bautista’s best monthly OPS was .638. His second half slash line of .165/.256/.326 was the third-worst in the league, behind only Jackie Bradley (not too far off making this list himself) and the spectacularly woeful Adam Engel. Both his pull percentage and hard-hit percentage were his worst marks since before his 2010 breakout and are suggestive of a slowing bat; hardly surprising for a player soon to turn 37. His walk rate was still well above-average but actually represented his lowest mark since he was a Pirate, with both his O-Swing rate and swinging strike rate increasing. In short, nothing about Bautista’s profile was promising, and only one hot month and a decent runs scored total made him even moderately valuable. If you’re in an OBP league there’s no harm taking a late-round shot on a rebound in the hopes that he has one more strong power season, but nothing about 2017 is encouraging.
Honourable mentions: The aforementioned Bradley (116.8), Gregory Polanco (59.8), Starling Marte (26.0). Both Pirates had enough confounding factors in terms of injury and suspension that it seemed a stretch to include them, but there’s no question they did significant damage to a lot of teams.
It’s always difficult to avoid the injury requirements for pitchers, so I can’t stay away completely, but Cueto made 25 starts and pitched 147 innings, so he wasn’t all that far off a full season of performance. A 4.52 ERA and 1.45 WHIP making half your starts in the best pitcher’s park in baseball is far from impressive, and the paltry eight wins that the lacklustre San Francisco lineup could help Cueto muster hardly helped. While Cueto’s control slipped and his home run rate spiked, there are reasons to believe he can produce some value next year. Both blisters and forearm pain interrupted his 2017, but prior to this year he had four straight seasons of well over 200 IP. His strikeout rate was right in line with his recent marks, and assuming he will stay with the Giants rather than opt out after this letdown, he’ll still be in a great park and facing some terrible NL lineups in many of his starts.
Honourable mentions: Noah Syndergaard (19.3) and David Price (103.3) probably get exemptions for their long injury lay-offs, but Kevin Gausman (135.3) is the prime combination of making every start and still destroying your ratios. His 4.68 ERA and 1.49 WHIP were worse than his peripherals might suggest, but not by a whole lot. Gausman still gets hit hard on a regular basis, still gives up too many home runs, and still plays in a bad division for pitchers. An improved second half (3.41 ERA), especially a 22% K-BB% in September, means that Gausman will, once again, be a breakout candidate, and the skills are certainly there. Let’s hope his overall 2017 line makes him enough of a bargain to cover you in case this is another false dawn.
Zach Britton and Mark Melancon were both contenders, but injury played a significant enough role in their seasons that I went with Oh, the last member of the top five closers taken. I was a big believer in the Final Boss after his impressive 2016 introduction to the league, with an 18% swinging strike rate and 65.7% contact rate highlighting his incredible stuff. Unfortunately, Oh became a lot more hittable in 2017, with over 5 points knocked off that SwStr% and ten added on to that contact rate. The Korean seemed to both lose some of his movement and ability to locate, and that also led to him losing his closing role. With the 35-year-old now a free agent, he may not even be a source of saves next year, and while the 2016 version of Oh would certainly be worth owning even without saves, the 2017 version is pretty mediocre by reliever standards if you’re just looking for ratio and strikeout help.
Honourable mention: Aroldis Chapman (53.3). Chapman’s 3.22 ERA and 1.13 WHIP certainly don’t look like bust material, and he does get an injury asterisk, but when you pay a fourth or fifth-round pick for a closer, they had better be elite, and Chapman finished just 24th on the Player Rater. A concerning blip of three consecutive multi-earned run appearances that led to a demotion from the role in August was the lowlight, but Chapman did not give up a run in an extremely strong September, allaying some injury fears in the process. If the slightly down season drops his price a round or two, there could be some value here, but the Yankees do also have a plethora of capable candidates ready to take his place if he stumbles again.