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Outfielder Busts Set to Bounce Back in 2020

Recency bias plays a large role in player valuation for many fantasy baseball owners and probably more than it should. Consequentially, a player's price will drop the following a down year, often creates a buying opportunity.

As is the case with some of the names below, sometimes injuries are to blame for a decrease in performance. Other times, a player's skills drop off or he suffers some bad luck. Whatever the case may be, it's important to try to get a good read on the causes behind the poor performance and to also consider a player's track record when projecting future performance.

In this column, we'll dive into four outfielders who fell short of expectations in 2019. All of them stand a pretty good chance of proving that last season was an aberration and still own the skills that made them attractive options just one year ago. Now with a much lower price tag than before, there is a lot of potential for these players to bounce back and earn a profit in 2020.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year and many more! Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!


Brandon Nimmo, New York Mets

Nimmo showed a lot of positive signs during his breakout 2018 season. His marginal power took a significant step forward, hitting 17 home runs across 535 plate appearances. Nimmo not only continued to walk at a very high rate but his 26.2% K-rate was nearly two points lower than the year before. The end result was a strong .263/.404/.483 line, though his season was eventually cut short due to neck issues.

Nimmo got off to a slow start in 2019, as he was hitting just .200/.344/.323 when the neck problem resurfaced, knocking him out of action for more than three months. He returned in September to hit .261 with five home runs and two steals over 93 plate-appearances, showing that he still brings some upside to the table when he's healthy.

Nimmo was batting .379 through 33 plate appearances this spring when things came to a halt, albeit with a .440 BABIP, and was getting good reports from scouts. He may cede some time to Jake Marisnick against left-handed pitching, but even in a crowded outfield, he looks like a good bet to lead off regularly against right-handers.

It's pretty clear that Nimmo's 2019 season was affected by injury, not just the counting stats due to the missed time, but in the on-field results as well. He is going at pick 364 in NFBC drafts this year, a significant discount from his 185 ADP a season ago. The chance of recurrence of the neck issue is at least a little concerning, but Nimmo should definitely bounce back in 2020. Over the course of a full season, it wouldn't be shocking to see him end up with 20-plus homers and double-digit stolen bases.


Justin Upton, Los Angeles Angels

Going into the 2019 season, Upton had reached 600 plate appearances and eight or more steals in eight straight seasons, while hitting 26 or more homers in all but one. Needless to say, just 12 home runs in an injury-plagued campaign was a massive disappointment. A turf toe injury kept Upton out until June, and a knee issue in September ended his year a few weeks early. In between those ailments, he posted a .209/.315/.416 line in 256 plate appearances.

There were a few concerning signs, as Upton's strikeouts continued to creep up, and the quality of contact dropped off. After ranking in the top 10 percent of the league in Hard Hit % (per Baseball Savant) in two of the previous three seasons, he was slightly below league average in the category in 2019. While he still crushed fastballs, Upton struggled against pretty much everything else.

Injuries clearly played a major role in Upton's down year, and all signs point to him being good to go for the start of the 2020 season. Sure, he's a bit more of a health risk than we thought last off-season, and at age 32, his days of double-digit SB may be behind him. But Upton's lengthy track record can't be dismissed, and with the addition of Anthony Rendon, he now has an even better lineup around him.

Upton was going just outside the top 100 in 2019 NFBC drafts, and his price has fallen all the way to 212 in drafts so far this year. He should certainly rebound, and over the course of a full season, a line similar to 2018 (.257 BA, 30 HR, 85 RBI, 8 SB), minus a few steals, doesn't look unrealistic at all. Target Upton in the middle rounds, especially if you're in need of a power boost.


Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee Brewers

After hitting .300 or better with 26 or more steals in four of five seasons heading into 2019, Cain seemed like a pretty safe source for batting average and speed. However, he fell well short of expectations. While his 11 home runs were right in line with previous levels, he compiled a disappointing .260 batting average, along with 18 SB.

Most of Cain's struggles came during the first half of the season, slashing .248/.313/.350 line across 348 plate appearances. A nagging thumb injury likely deserves some of the blame for his lackluster performance, requiring a cortisone shot and cryotherapy injection in late June. Cain's .274/.339/.399 line in the second half was much more respectable, though still below his typical level, even though oblique, knee, and ankle issues limited him to 274 plate appearances during that time.

Digging deeper, the majority of Cain's Statcast numbers suggest there's no reason to be overly concerned. Most metrics were right in line with his career norms, while his Hard Hit % was actually his highest in the five years they've been tracking the data.

Cain's sprint speed and success rate on the bases did fall off in 2019 but the lingering injuries were likely contributing factors. At age 34, the speed and health can't be counted on to fully recover, so don't expect a return to peak form. However, Cain still offers the potential for 20 steal and his skills at the plate remain strong.

Now sitting at 181, Cain's ADP has fallen more than 100 spots from 2019. He looks like a good bet to top last season's performance, as most signs suggest his career-worst .301 BABIP should improve. Even without a full rebound, Cain should turn a profit at his current cost.


A.J. Pollock, Los Angeles Dodgers

Pollock has typically been very productive when on the field but has always had a very hard time staying healthy. His upside has often made him an intriguing early-round pick, but he's reached 500 plate appearances just once in his career, and that was back in 2015.

Pollock stayed true to form in 2019, appearing in just 86 games. He also off to a really slow start, hitting just .223 with two home runs before undergoing surgery due to an infection in his surgically repaired elbow. Pollock ended up missing more than two months but got hot upon returning after the All-Star break, slashing .288/.348/.537 with 13 home runs and five stolen bases over 227 plate-appearances in the second half.

Manager Dave Roberts stated back in February that Pollock was likely to platoon in left field with left-hander Joc Pederson. However, the use of a universal DH is a rumor that has been swirling around as being part of baseball's return to play, and that would mean an extra lineup spot. Pollock wouldn't necessarily be locked into an everyday role in that scenario, as the Dodgers have plenty of viable options battling for at-bats, but it would certainly give him an opportunity for more playing time.

Pollock had an NFBC ADP of 121 in 2019, but his stock has fallen severely after another injury-riddled season and he now sits just outside the top-300. The possibility of adding a DH to the lineup is likely to move his price up some, but likely nothing drastic. Even though he won't be playing every day and doesn't offer the speed he used to, Pollack has a great shot to outearn his price on draft day.

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