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A Year to Forget: MLB Hitters Who Will Rebound for 2023 Fantasy Baseball

Javier Baez - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB Injury News

If I had to pick one piece of general fantasy sports advice to give, it would be this. Price is king. You can know all the stats and trends and spend hours and hours pouring into player breakdowns and all the rest, but if you don't draft based primarily on price in mind, you will not have success.

This is true with fantasy baseball just as much as it is with any other sport. With the random nature of the game, we tend to get a ton of these huge busts and huge breakouts based on their draft cost. Whoever avoids the busts and spots the breakouts best will typically win the league.

So here we are, still in the fall months - getting ready to go for 2023. We will be primarily looking backward for a bit here. In this piece, I want to talk about a handful of the busts from 2022 that I believe have a high probability of having a bounce-back season in 2023. Let us begin!

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Bounce-Back Hitter Candidates

Javier Baez, Detroit Tigers

Keep in mind that "bounce-back" doesn't necessarily mean "will be good" – it just means they're likely to be a much better fantasy asset in 2023 as compared to 2022. Baez had the worst season of his career in 2022, which will make it pretty easy for him to "bounce-back." Here is a table of his yearly stats in categories I have selected intentionally to support my own narrative. The HR Pace and SB Pace represent the 600 plate appearance pace of that statistic.

Year PA HR HR Pace SB SB Pace
2014 229 9 24 5 13
2015 80 1 8 1 8
2016 450 14 19 12 16
2017 508 23 27 10 12
2018 645 34 32 21 20
2019 561 29 31 11 12
2020 235 8 20 3 8
2021 502 31 37 28 33
202 590 17 17 9 9

So we see that from 2016 through 2021, Baez was on a 29-homer, 18-steal pace over a 600 PA season. In 2022, he dropped to 17 and 9. There are some possible explanations here:

  • Age/health
  • Contract
  • Detroit
  • Randomness

You might know this – but Baez is just 29-years-old (he will turn 30 in December), which makes it tough to blame it on age. The contract situation may have played a part, as he banked a long-term contract with the Tigers. Some might say that has a de-motivating effect, but that is all in the realm of guesswork and speculation – not useful. We can feel pretty confident that Comerica Park played a part – as it has been one of the worst parks in the league for homers for years now.

If you read my stuff a lot, you know that I have a healthy respect for randomness, and that's what I want to lean on here. Baez actually posted a 24.9% K% in 2022, the second-best mark of his career (he went for 24.0% in 2016, his career K% is 28.6%). Despite that, he hit just .238 on a normal .292 BABIP. He did not hit the ball nearly as hard (.285 xwOBA, a significant drop from the .325 mark he posted in 2021), and continued to hit a ton of ground balls (49%).

Randomness can manifest in ways we see (BABIP), but it can also manifest in ways we cannot. If I'm projecting Baez for 2023, I want to rely more heavily on the data sample of 2016-2021 as compared to the data sample of 2022. I don't want to ignore 2022, certainly, but I much less want to ignore the many more events that happened before.

That leaves me with my conclusion – Baez will almost surely perform better in 2023 than he did in 2022, and his ADP will assuredly hit an all-time low – a perfect bounce-back situation to capitalize on.

Austin Meadows, Detroit Tigers

Another bounce-back pick coming from this bad Tigers offense, but this time for different reasons. We didn't see enough of Meadows to draw any firm conclusions from in 2022, but nonetheless – it was a goofy year for him as he did not hit a single home run in 147 plate appearances despite a huge .380 xwOBA. Comerica Park is not a great place for him to hit, and the lineup around him is also far from the ideal situation, but Meadows is another guy that is very likely to see his price fall precipitously given all the missed time in 2022 and the Tigers situation.

Meadows has been inconsistent in his career, but he provided something positive every year in a Rays uniform. He hit 33 homers in 2019 with a .291/.364/.558 slash line, and then in 2021, he hit 27 more homers but saw his batting average fall to .234. He is more of a "some steals" guy than a "steals" guy, but he has that in his game.

Point is, we should forgive Meadows for his 2022 transgressions and recognize that this is a very talented player with tons of upside remaining at just the age of 27.

Luis Robert, Chicago White Sox

I'm guessing I will not be the only one to write up Robert as a bounce-back candidate. He is probably the most obvious one out there. Let's compare his 2021 with his 2022.

Category 2021 2022
PA 296 401
R 42 54
HR 43 12
RBI 13 56
SB 6 11
AVG .338 .284
OBP .378 .319
SLG .567 .426

The problem with Robert, for two years in a row now, has been health. Not only has his health kept him off the field about half the time over the last seasons, but it's also fair to say that it cost him production when he was on the field – at least in 2022.

His barrel rate fell from a strong 12.5% to a much more pedestrian 8.9% in 2022. He did manage a respectable 19.3% K% with a fine .327 xwOBA – those are encouraging numbers.

The kicker here is that we really can't take a ton of insights from his season in 2022 because it was impacted so much by injury. We have to use a more logical approach. What we can feel confident about right now is this:

  • Someone in your league last year got burned really, really badly by drafting Robert
  • Everybody probably knows that
  • He has never played a full season in the Majors

All of that will send his price in a free-fall. One way to win your league is to take the super-talented players that fall due to injury concerns, and then benefit from them well...not getting injured. I can't sit here and tell you he won't get injured again, but I really do have my doubts about the "injury-prone" thing, and I think drafters are far too averse to guys for that reason only. Robert has 30 homers, 30 steals, .300 batting average upside, and you're going to be able to get him at a big discount next year – I would go after it.

Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays

Another guy making the list mainly due to a 2022 injury. I doubt we get a huge discount on Lowe given that he's a second baseman with a strong track record on a more interesting team, but that doesn't mean he won't be too cheap.

Lowe saw just 266 plate appearances last season and posted a poor line of .221/.308/.383 with eight homers. His expected stats were disappointing (.320 xwOBA, .237 xBA), but he did post a career-best 22.9% K% in his time in the majors. I like to see that from a player entering his prime years (he turned 28 in July), and the 11% barrel rate showed us the homer upside was still there even while dealing with injuries and inconsistent playing time.

Going back to 2018, we can find only 44 players that have seen at least 1,000 plate appearances while maintaining an HR/PA rate below 20. Here is the full list, you will find Lowe ranked 25th on the same page.

So we have a player still in his prime years that has proven to be one of the game's best power bats for a handful of years now, and his price will almost surely come down in 2023 drafts. That's a big fat "sign me up"!

Franmil Reyes, Chicago Cubs

Just three slots below Lowe on the home run rate table above is Reyes, who is coming off of just a miserable 2022 season. Few players had a more disappointing season without health being the primary thing to blame. Let's check the numbers.

Stat 2021 2022
PA 466 473
HR 30 14
K% 32.0% 33.2%
BB% 9.2% 6.3%
Brl% 16.9% 11.3%
xwOBA .353 .275

Bad news across the board. So what reasons do we have to expect a bounce-back season for Reyes in 2023? The best reason I can give you, and the one that I keep coming back to, is that I trust multiple seasons' data more than a single season's.

One other point that I think is less relevant, but will certainly be brought up a bunch this offseason, is that he performed better after signing on with the Cubs after the Guardians cut him.

Team PA AVG OBP SLG OPS Brl% K%
CLE 280 .213 .254 .350 .603 14.3 37.1%
CHC 193 .234 .301 .389 .689 7.3% 27.5%

A pretty drastic reduction in K% there, but at the expense of some barrels. This was likely a conscious change in approach as he was fighting to stay in the major leagues by any means possible. He likely slowed down the swing to avoid so many strikeouts, and it did lead to an improvement in OPS – but don't get me wrong, a .689 OPS guy isn't winning anybody a fantasy championship in 2023.

So where will Reyes settle in 2023? Time will tell, but I imagine it's a mixture of the two guys we see in that most recent table. I think he will recognize he needs to be a home run hitter, but not go so far as to completely sell out for power like he was in the past. He was also shifted 18% of the time in 2022, which won't be possible in 2023 – making him possibly a slight beneficiary of that rule. Reyes is just 27- years-old, and we know he has prolific power. One other thing to note is that he gains outfield eligibility for 2023. That's a pretty big deal in most fantasy league formats.

So we have a guy in his prime years with huge power potential and a falling price. That sounds like a great bounce-back candidate to me!

Kris Bryant, Colorado Rockies

Bryant's first year in Colorado was sullied by injury, as he saw just 181 plate appearances in purple. He hit a nice .306/.376/.475 in that time with five homers on a 6.7% Brl% with an elite 14.9% K%. Overall, he looked very good when at the plate.

The injury that ended his season was plantar fasciitis, which is not one likely to linger into 2023 and cause problems. I believe Bryant will have a clean bill of health heading into 2023, which will make him super interesting as an affordable outfielder with a solid floor next season.

 

There you have it, a solid core group of players to keep in mind as we slowly head toward the draft season. I feel confident that the upside on these players will vastly exceed their draft cost in 2023, even before we even get early ADP data, but as always - it's very important to consider cost when picking any player. Thanks for being here, we'll be bringing you fantasy baseball content all offseason long!



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