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Infielder Busts Set to Bounce Back in 2020

Fantasy baseball owners tend to put too much emphasis on the previous season when it comes to valuing players. There is a reason projection systems use three years of data, because while last year's numbers are typically the most important thing to consider, what a player has done in the past matters as well. Each player starts with a clean slate every season, so relying too heavily on last year's statistics can be a big mistake.

In addition to a decline in skills, several other factors can lead to a player underperforming his expectations. Injuries and bad luck can both play a large role in dragging down a player's numbers over the course of a single season. Also, as you'll see with one player below, the 2019 data is based off an extremely small sample that doesn't hold much weight in regards to future performance.

We recently looked at some outfielders who are likely to bounce back in 2020, and this time, we'll look at some infielders who fit the bill. The price has significantly dropped since a year ago on the veterans in this group, and each of these players stand a strong chance of turning a profit on their current ADP.

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Daniel Murphy, Colorado Rockies

After hitting .299 or better in each of the previous three seasons, Murphy seemed like as good of a bet as anyone to win the NL batting title in his first season in Colorado in 2019. Instead, he hit just .279, his lowest mark in the past nine seasons, while hitting just 13 home runs across his 478 plate appearances.

Murphy suffered a fractured finger in the second game of the season. He missed less than a month of action, but wore a splint on the finger, and GM Jeff Bridich noted back in December that he probably rushed back too quickly. Granted, Murphy's Hard Hit % had slipped in 2018, but the finger injury seems like the most logical explanation for such a nosedive in his other batted ball metrics.

Murphy did get going for a while, hitting .343/.377/.547 in a 217 PA span from late May to early August, but faded down the stretch, and ended up falling well short of expectations. Even at age 35, he still offers a lot of upside, including the potential for a batting title, especially if the Rockies play most or all of the season at Coors Field. If MLB goes through with the plan to play in just Arizona and Florida, the possibility of a universal DH could help offset the loss of Coors, and help his chances of staying healthy.

Murphy has seen a massive dip in his ADP following his disappointing 2019 campaign. He was going at pick 70 in 2019 drafts, but has fallen all the way to pick 250 in 2020. If you are in need of a batting average boost in the middle rounds, he makes for a very intriguing target, as he could turn a huge profit on his draft-day cost.


Manny Machado, San Diego Padres

Machado fell short of expectations in his first season as a Padre. Coming off of a year in which he hit .298 with 37 home runs and 14 stolen bases, he dropped to a .256 average with 32 HR and 5 stolen bases in 2020. Machado was performing quite well for most of the season, hitting .278/.348/.515 with 26 HR through the end of July, but limped to a .209/.305/.348 line with 6 HR over the season's final two months.

Machado's K% jumped up to 19.4%, which, on the surface, may put into question a batting average rebound. However, after whiffing at an unusually high rate during the first month of the season, Machado cut the K% down to a more typical 17.9% from May 2 through the end of the season, a span of 537 plate appearances.

Machado enjoyed hitting in Camden Yards while with Baltimore, posting a .296/.353/.537 career line in the park. Things didn't go as well in his new home park, though.

For the first time in his career, Machado was a below-average hitter in his home park. Strikeouts were part of the problem, but an extremely low BABIP also factored into his struggles. While Petco Park is tougher on hitters than his old home venue, it's not the pitchers' park it used to be, and Machado's numbers there should improve in 2020.

Don't count on a return to double-digit SB, as Machado has achieved that feat just twice in his career, and his sprint speed has ranked below the 40th percentile in each of the past four seasons. However, he has a lot of things going for him that should make owners optimistic about a bounceback in 2020.

Machado is extremely durable, having played in 156 or more games each of the past five seasons, which has allowed him to reach 32 or more HR in each of those years. Machado also has a history of higher batting averages, offers multi-position eligibility, and is still just 27 years old.  A drop in ADP from 20 in 2019 to 60 this year seems like an over-correction following a down year, and provides a nice buying opportunity.


Didi Gregorius, Philadelphia Phillies

Gregorius missed most of the first half in 2019 as he recovered from October 2018 Tommy John surgery. His home run pace was in line with recent history when he came back, as he clubbed 16 HR across 344 PA. However, Gregorius was a big disappointment in the batting average category, hitting a meager .238, after he had hit .265 or better in each of the previous four seasons.

Gregorius did strike out a little more than he usually does, as his 15.4% K% was his highest since 2014. However, much of the blame falls on his .237 BABIP, which was far below his .283 career mark. A .247 xBA per Statcast suggests that bad luck wasn't the sole reason for his struggles, but at the same time, Gregorius did put up career-best numbers in Barrel % and Hard Hit %, areas where he usually checks in well below average.

Gregorius won't have hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium helping him out anymore, but if teams end up playing in their home parks, he will once again be in of the best hitters' parks in the league in Citizen's Bank Park. Simply being on the field more will give his value a boost in 2020, and most signs point to a significant batting average correction. With an ADP of 205 in NFBC drafts, Gregorius offers plenty of appeal in the middle rounds.


Carter Kieboom, Washington Nationals

After putting up an impressive 1.161 OPS over his first 19 Triple-A games in 2019, Kieboom got the call to the big club in late April when Trea Turner was out with a fractured index finger. Owners who spent a high percentage of their free-agent budget on his services were left disappointed. Kieboom hit just .128 with a 37.2% K% in 43 PA, and was sent back down in early May, never to get another chance.

The departures of Anthony Rendon and Brian Dozier have opened up another opportunity for Kieboom. While the team signed Starlin Castro and brought back Asdrubal Cabrera, Kieboom is expected to see the majority of action at third base for the defending world champs.

Kieboom ended the 2019 season with a .303/.409/.493 line at Triple-A in 2019, along with 16 HR and 5 SB. He isn't likely to be an immediate difference-maker, and may not play every day, so he probably won't turn a huge profit on his 309 NFBC ADP, but the possibility of a universal DH would potentially create one more opening in the lineup.

A ridiculously low .143 BABIP contributed to Kieboom's small sample struggles in the majors in 2019. His pedigree, as well as his success at the upper levels of the minors, suggests he should be able to hold his own at the highest level in 2020.

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