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Busts and Disappointments - 2018 Year-in-Review

Love ‘em or hate ‘em (and you probably hate ‘em), busts are a huge part of fantasy baseball. While it’s fun to gush over all the new breakout stars of 2018, we also need to reflect on the players that made us want to pull our hair out last season.

Highly-drafted busts can be season killers, but before we cast them aside completely, we need to understand the underlying reasons for their poor performances. Last year’s busts can often be this year’s sleepers, because many owners disregard after disappointing campaigns.

In this article, we’re breaking down four high-profile busts from 2018 and their value heading into draft season in 2019.

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Biggest Busts of 2018

Joey Votto – 1B, Cincinnati Reds

Votto was the second 1B off the board in NFBC leagues behind Paul Goldschmidt yet failed to deliver for his owners this season. What hurts even more is that Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Freddie Freeman, and J.D. Martinez went right after Votto. League-winning players could’ve been had, but instead Votto gave his owners nothing but empty on-base percentage.

The biggest problem for Votto this year was a lack of power. His .135 ISO and 12 home runs were the lowest for Votto in any full season. The second half was especially pitiful, as Votto had a .273 AVG and .099 ISO. This drop-off came after Votto had the second-best power season of his career in 2017, when he had 36 home runs and a .258 ISO. Other than his age, there was nothing in his batted ball profile to suggest Votto was due for such a drastic loss of power.

The typical signs of age-related decline in a hitter are an increase in strikeout rate, drop in contact rate, and drop in hard contact. Votto’s 84.8% contact was a slight drop from his 2017 rate, but still the second highest contact rate of his career. His 16.2% strikeout rate is below his career average as well. The problem doesn’t lie in Votto’s batted ball profile either. His 88.1 MPH average exit velocity is also slightly better than his career average. His .477 xSLG was a noticeable drop, and it was perhaps the result of a career-high 31.4% line drive rate. Line drives, while the best type of batted ball for hits are not as conducive to power. Batters hit .680 with a .219 ISO on line drives league-wide last year. Compare that to a .230 average and .460 ISO on flyballs league-wide in 2018. While the jump in line drive rate doesn’t explain Votto’s entire power drop-off, it could certainly explain some of it.

Perhaps Votto made a conscious effort to hit more line drives last season. Votto is a famously cerebral hitter who tries unique approaches at the plate, and has tremendous control over his batted balls. The batted ball profile still looks solid for Votto, and unlike other aging first basemen like Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols Votto doesn’t have a long history of chronic injuries. For 2019 Votto shouldn’t be drafted among the top tier first baseman like Paul Goldschmidt and Freddie Freeman anymore, but he will probably go slightly after the Anthony Rizzo, Matt Carpenter, and Rhys Hoskins area.

Carlos Correa – SS,  Houston Astros

Correa dealt with injuries all season, but even when the young shortstop was healthy he did not perform well. Correa had the lowest batting average, on-base percentage, and ISO of his career. Correa’s 101 wRC+ meant he was essentially a league-average hitter; a far cry from the second round production we expected. Correa dealt with lingering back issues all season, and Correa even told reporters that the injury was affecting his performance at the plate. Digging into his batted ball profile it’s easy to see the impact of the ailment.

Correa had the lowest average exit velocity of his career at 88.2 MPH; he had never been below 90 MPH. His .227 xBA and .304 wOBA are the numbers of a utility man, not a supposed MVP candidate. His 28.8% hard contact rate ranked 21st among the 183 batters with at least 450 plate appearances in 2018. Basically, Correa earned his bad stats. Unlike Joey Votto, there is little redeeming in Correa’s batted ball profile. That makes his injury excuse more believable, because it seems highly unlikely that a 24-year-old would experience such a drastic skill drop-off. There are a lot of good shortstops in baseball these days, and a few more turned the corner last year, which makes placing Correa’s value difficult for 2019. He is certainly behind tier one, which will include the likes of Francisco Lindor, Alex Bregman, and Javier Baez among others. Correa is such an enticing talent that I suspect owners won’t let him tumble too far. Carlos Correa versus Xander Bogaerts could make for an intriguing debate come draft season. Gleyber Torres could sneak up around Correa’s range as well, but expect him as a tier two shortstop with tier one upside. If he stays healthy there’s no reason to think he’ll bust again.

Byron Buxton – OF, Minnesota Twins

Byron Bust-on let his believers down once again last season, having an offensive season that Zack Greinke would scoff at. In 94 plate appearances, Buxton hit .156 with a .183 OBP and had 28 strikeouts compared to three walks. He had four extra-base hits, all doubles, and four RBI all season. On the positive side, Buxton was 5-for-5 on steals, but that makes him nothing more than a glorified Terrance Gore. Surprisingly, after his second disabled list stint Minnesota sent him to the minors and Buxton never came back up. By the time September call-ups rolled around Minnesota was well out of playoff contention and may not have wanted Buxton to accrue service time. Either way, Buxton’s age-24 season ended up being a lost year.

With a season this brief and this poor it’s difficult to glean much of value from the numbers. Buxton had a .169 xBA, which is pitiful, but not that much different than his xBA in past seasons. Buxton’s career xBA is .196 and he had an xBA under .183 in three of his four major league seasons. Speedsters like Buxton tend to out-perform their expected stats because they can leg out grounders. For example, Dee Gordon has a career .289 BA but a career .238 xBA. Even though Buxton’s expected stats are horrid they aren’t the most concerning aspect of Buxton’s overall profile.

There are some signs that Buxton got unlucky last season. He had a .226 BABIP last year compared to a career .330 BABIP going into 2018. Buxton also had a career-best 30.2% hard contact rate, which is still below league average but a marked improvement for Buxton. His 23.3% line drive rate about the same as his line drive rate in 2017, which means he should have had better luck on his batted balls. Buxton had a .286 BABIP on line drives last season, while the league had a .672 BABIP on line drives. Obviously, Buxton isn’t a true-talent .156 hitter, and there is room for positive regression here. He’ll be a late-round lottery ticket, but Buxton shouldn’t sniff the top 150 after last year.

Gary Sanchez – C, New York Yankees

Amid multiple injuries, questionable defense, and accusations of dogging it, Gary Sanchez had a disappointing season after universally being drafted as the top catcher in 2018. The bar is so low for catchers in fantasy baseball, yet Sanchez managed to be a huge detriment by hitting .186 with a .291 on-base percentage, and an 89 wRC+. Was it injuries, bad luck, or something more serious that hindered Sanchez’s production in 2018?

The most glaring component to Sanchez’s overall profile was his .197 BABIP. Sanchez is just one of 13 players since 1950 to have a BABIP below .200 (min. 350 PA). Funny enough, Logan Morrison suffered a similar fate last season as well, meaning for the first time ever two players with at least 350 PA had a BABIP below .200. Is this a sign that the big, bad shift is killing hit opportunities for certain players? Perhaps in Morrison’s case, because Morrison faced a shift 74.4% of the time last season, though his wOBA against a shift versus no shift was basically the same. Sanchez can’t make that excuse, since he saw a shift 43% of the time and his wOBA was 72 points higher when facing a shift last season. The shift was not the reason for Sanchez’s bad luck.

Part of the reason for Sanchez’s low BABIP is his odd batted ball distribution. Sanchez’s line drive rate fell by nearly 7% from 2017 to 2018, and his 14.3% line drive rate last season was the second-lowest among hitters with at least 350 plate appearances. Unlike Byron Buxton, when Sanchez hit line drives, the results were good. He had a 1.759 OPS and .727 BABIP on line drives, both above league average. Groundballs, on the other hand, killed Sanchez last season. He had an .091 BABIP on grounders, which especially hurts since he had a 42.9% groundball rate last year. A catcher that dealt with groin issues isn’t going to have a league average BABIP on groundballs, but .091 is horribly low for just about anyone. Either Sanchez needs to get healthy and make better contact on groundballs, or, preferably, turn those grounders into line drives.

The power is still here for Sanchez, and while a .220 ISO is a career low for him, his past numbers were inflated by an unsustainably high HR/FB ratio. He had an 18.2% HR/FB ratio last season, which is still was above league average, but not in the ridiculous range of his 2016 or 2017 seasons. For next season it’s hard to see Sanchez’s value take too much of a hit. Catcher is weak, and sharper owners will understand that a low BABIP and injuries played a big factor in Sanchez’s struggles. 2019 will be a big year for Sanchez. He needs to fix his batted balls by hitting fewer grounders, he needs to stay healthy for an entire season, and he needs to prove he can hang behind the plate defensively. That being said, his value should not slip below the number two overall catcher.

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