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Infielder Busts Who’ll Keep Junking It Up in 2019


Every year in fantasy baseball we do our best to try and avoid the players who are going to be a big-time disappointment on our rosters. It’s the purpose of most preseason articles to sift through the vast array of major-league talent and try and pick out who will repeat, rebound, or regress. The “sleeper” is the most popular coined term in the fantasy game, and we all love our favorites in that category annually. For every sleeper in baseball, there is a bust, and knowing these players is just as crucial as guessing who the potential breakouts will be.

Finding busts is the easy part; we already know who wrecked our fantasy squads in 2018. Perhaps you were wise enough to see it coming last year and avoid them on your roster. For others, they paid a high price for a lousy return, and it certainly would have left a sour taste in their mouth during the season. The veteran players on this list of infielders are not a victim of a single outlying season of playing under expectations. They are players who we should expect more of the same moving forward, or in some cases, an even more significant regression.

With their draft day value already depreciated from a year ago, let’s look at the players who you should continue to avoid for their repeat bust year.

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Dee Gordon (2B/OF, SEA) - 111 ADP

If you selected Dee Gordon in the first five rounds in drafts last season, you didn’t get the return you were looking for at his price. In his first year with the Seattle Mariners, Gordon batted .268 with four homers, 62 R, 36 RBI, and 30 SB. His theft total was commendable but seeing how his 60 SB performance in 2017 was fresh in drafters' minds, getting half of this total at his high price tag was a considerable letdown. Not only was this a major bummer, but his once bankable .300 batting average was also way out of arm's reach.

A large reason for his batting average being this low was his complete lack of earning a free pass. Gordon had just nine walks all season, by far the worst BB% in the league at 1.5%. He has never drawn many walks over his career to begin with, but this rate was atrocious. Gordon has a career rate of 4.0% because pitchers throw him a ton of strikes knowing he doesn’t have the power to do damage. This method continued in 2018 and led to an abysmal .288 on-base percentage, an undesirable rate for a leadoff hitter. Gordon’s inability to reach the bases didn’t allow him to gain enough opportunity to steal bases and he also had his worst success rate at just 71.4%.

With Gordon turning 31 in April, it’s unlikely he’ll ever return to the stolen base dominance that he had in the middle part of this decade. His sprint speed has declined every year for three straight seasons, and he might not bat leadoff anymore for the Mariners. Mallex Smith is the new speedster in town, he resembles Gordon’s overall game but is five years younger and about to enter his prime. A repeat of 30 SB isn’t even a lock like it was over the past few seasons.

The batting average could positively regress towards his .289 career mark, but he’s only a two-category contributor if this were to transpire. Gordon’s run total barely reached 60 last season even as a leadoff hitter. With a few big bats out of the M’s lineup and a possible demotion to the bottom of the order, it’ll be hard for that number to see much improvement. At his cost, he won't meet his return value and Gordon will bust your squad once again.

 

Edwin Encarnacion (1B, SEA) - 125 ADP

It now appears that we’re picking on Mariners in this article. Edwin Encarnacion didn’t live up to his expectations in his second year with the Cleveland Indians in 2018. Batting .246, he hit 32 HR, 107 RBI, with 74 R a year ago. These were solid counting numbers, but a far cry from the production in his previous years. Since his breakout season in 2012, he set new lows in batting average, homers, and runs scored. Owners with his shares last season were sorely disappointed as he didn’t fully meet any of his roto projections that we sought after in the preseason.

Encarnacion has now seen a slow decline annually since 2016. All of his roto stats have taken a hit since then, and his strikeouts have risen from 19.7% K% to 22.8% K% in this time frame. His walks also took a plunge from a terrific 15.5% BB% in 2017 down to a 10.9% clip a year ago. EE has started to chase more pitches and whiff more often setting new career-worsts in SwStr% (10.8%) and O-Swing% (29.0%), numbers that have also been trending towards this level annually.

With his stats dwindling, the Cleveland Indians decided to move on from the 36-year-old shipping him to Seattle in exchange for more youth in their lineup. Not at all reprimandable as Encarnacion seems like a long shot at recovering his dominance that he had when he was in a Blue Jays jersey. Progressive Field in Cleveland is one spot higher in terms of park factor compared to his new home in T-Mobile Park, so there’s no elemental edge in hopes of regaining his power numbers. The table-setters in the Mariners lineup also aren’t as proficient as Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez who were getting on-base ahead of him with the Indians.

Encarnacion can still produce decent power numbers batting cleanup in Seattle, but the team has made it evident that they will trade the slugger at some point during the year. For now, they’ll try to build up his trade value and strut him out in the lineup every day. This concept may not be ideal for an aging veteran as this would further increase his injury risk. Everything is trending in the wrong direction with Encarnacion, making him an easy draft day avoid.

 

Elvis Andrus (SS, TEX) - 179 ADP

Coming off a career-year in 2017, Elvis Andrus’ draft stock surged into the top-100 picks in 2018. It was an injury that was the main factor in Andrus’ giant bust season. Eventually placed on the 60-day disabled list with an elbow injury, he only managed to play in 97 games accumulating six homers, 53 R, 33 RBI, five SB, and a .256 average. That became a disastrous season, since fantasy owners were banking on a repeat of a 20/100/80/25/.290 year. With this mentality, owners would have been left disgruntled, injury or not.

When Andrus returned from the DL in June, his level of production was still underwhelming. Being a perennial 25-steal threat, he only attempted seven SB after his injury while getting caught on two of these occasions. Whether the Rangers were protective of their star shortstop remains to be seen, but his sprint speed has also seen a four-year slow decline. This steady descent doesn’t bode well for Andrus, who will turn 31 in August, as the majority of his fantasy value has come from his legs.

It’s clear his 2017 season where he hit 20 dingers was an outlier. It was the first time Andrus had even broken double-digits in his nine-year tenure. Andrus’ SLG% in 2018 (.367) was right in line with his career rate (.371), so if we were to extrapolate his six HR over a full season, we’re still only looking at a 10 homer bat. Expecting another major increase in this category is unreasonable given the length of his career in which he’s proven to be incapable of doing it.

Andrus is likely to remain batting third in the Texas order as long as he keeps his batting average up. He’s not your prototypical heart of the order bat, so the team may decide to move him down a few spots in the lineup if they are looking for more pop. If you pass on Andrus at his ADP, you won’t regret it. There are better options deeper in the draft with his skillset or better. We can no longer count on more than 20 SB, and he doesn’t offer enough in the batting average or counting stats to impact your roster enough at his selection.

 

Eric Hosmer (1B, SD) - 172 ADP

After signing an eight-year deal with the Padres, Hosmer didn’t live up to his contract or his fantasy value in 2018. Batting just .253 he hit 18 HR with 69 RBI, 72 R, and seven SB in his first year in the NL. His counting stats were a letdown, but we expected some pullback on these numbers with his change in lineups. His batting average was a real blow to fantasy rosters as it wasn’t anywhere close to his .280 career mark.

Hosmer failed to square-up the baseball setting new personal lows in Barrel% (6.4%), Exit Velocity (88.8 MPH), and Hard Hit% (37.7%). He also saw over a 5% spike in K% as it reached a career-worst 21.0%. Hosmer struggled to make contact with only a 74.7% Contact%, way off of his 79.7% career-rate and he didn’t seem to make any midseason adjustments on this approach either.

Going into his ninth big-league season, the 29-year-old has only eclipsed the 20 HR plateau twice. Hosmer was second in the majors in GB% (60.4%) a year ago, and he was one of the few players with a negative Launch Angle (-1.2°). Dee Gordon even had a Launch Angle of 3.5°! Hosmer hits way too many worm-burners to exceed his 25-homer personal best, and he would be fortunate to top 20 HR again.

With a much improved Padres batting order, Hosmer will likely see an improvement in runs and RBI as he’ll presumably bat between Manny Machado and Wil Myers. It's hard to trust Hosmer as your starting first baseman, even at his cost, as he fits better as a corner infield option. He does add a few more steals than most players at his position which is laudable, but hoping for a substantial return in homers is a misconception. Last season’s numbers are closer to what we should expect moving forward than what he has done in his prime years in Kansas City.

 

Jonathan Schoop (2B, MIN) - 182 ADP

Another draft failure in 2018 was second baseman Jonathan Schoop. Coming off a major breakout year in 2017, owners who took Schoop as one of the first handful of second sackers off the board were supremely disappointed. Schoop batted .233 with 21 HR, 61 R, and 61 RBI in 131 games last season. A midseason deal which sent him from Baltimore to Milwaukee hindered his production slightly as he seen more off-days on his new squad. It wasn't looking stellar for Schoop before the trade either though.

Overall, Schoop disappointed in all roto categories. His batting average plummeted .060 points as he walked less and struck out more. He’s never been efficient at drawing walks, but watching his strikeouts elevate was concerning. He has an enormous 15.1% SwStr% for his career which he equaled in 2018, but he swung at 6% more pitches out of the strike zone from 2017 as it upped to a 43.1% O-Swing%. It also got worse as the season progressed as his 19.8% K% in the first half escalated to a whopping 28.8% mark in the second half.

Schoop’s drop in home run production also weighed on his fantasy production. His HR/FB regressed precisely on the mean in 2018 (15.9%), while his LD/GB/FB slash line stayed almost identical to his career rate. Schoop essentially hit the ball exactly the same as he has over his entire career meaning his 32 HR season in 2017 was an outlier.

Schoop is projected to bat seventh on a Minnesota Twins lineup packed full of pop. His on-base skills don’t play well enough on this team to see him hit in the top third of the order like his days in Baltimore. Target Field is also a significant drop in home run ballpark factor, and he won’t accumulate enough at-bats to sniff 30 HR again. Runs will likely be scarce, but it’s feasible he improves slightly in HR, RBI and average from last year. Expecting anything close to his breakout 2017 is a fallacy, and he’s a last resort option to start at your second base position.

More 2019 Fantasy Baseball Advice