Busts at the Break

This week I selected AL and NL fantasy all-star teams – players who exceeded preseason expectations by the largest amount. Not always the best players (although Chris Davis was close), they’re guys whose performance has been worth much more than you’d have expected at your draft. These are the players you need to win fantasy leagues.

Today’s topic is the opposite – the biggest busts: players expected to contribute a lot, but who have done far below expectations. If you have too many of them on your team, you’re not winning, and quite possibly at or near the bottom of your fantasy league standings. As before, I’m comparing RotoValue prices based on Consensus forecasts with prices computed using first half statistics.

C – Jesus Montero was projected to provide excellent power behind the plate after a promising rookie year where he hit .260 with 15 HR, 46 R, and 62 RBI. Still only 22, the consensus projections had him improving a little – to .267, 17, 54, and 66. Qualifying at catcher in a 10 team AL which starts two catchers per team, those numbers were worth $17.86 in 5×5, and $18.03 in 4×4, a nice value. But Montero struggled mightily at the plate before being demoted to AAA in late May, batting just .208 with 3 HR, 6 R, and 9 RBI, negative net value to his fantasy teams in both formats, -$2.93 in 5×5, and -$0.31 in 4×4, meaning he’s returned $18-$20 less than expected, by far the worst performance of any catcher this year. Montero tore his meniscus in AAA, requiring surgery, and is now on a rehab assignment. His career as a catcher is likely over, but he might make it back to the Mariners as a DH.

1B: Albert Pujols spent a decade as the most consistently excellent hitter in the game, but slumped early in his first season in Anaheim last year before recovering to hit .285 with 30 HR, 105 RBI, and 8 SB. Having turned 33 in the offseason, projections systems saw him entering the downside of his career, and essentially predicted a repeat of 2012: .289, 32 HR, 93 R, 102 RBI, 8 SB. While not the dominant numbers he hit in his prime in St. Louis, those stats, compared with other projections, still ranked Pujols in the top 5 among AL players, with a $36.38 RotoValue in 4×4, and $34.73 in 5×5. Unfortunately for his owners, Pujols has continued his decline. While it’s not precipitous, he’s been just a 3-category player: .249, 15 HR, 46 R, 57 RBI, 0 SB. Rather than helping in average, he’s now pulling it down. He’s stopped stealing, and the other power stats are, while still good, reduced from expectations. Adding it up, he’s earned $17.31 in 4×4 and $16.31 in 4×4, making him about half as valuable as expected. Pujols had terrible numbers in the first half last year, too, so maybe this is a buy low opportunity.

Paul Konerko had a similar shortfall, but from lower expectations than Pujols. The 37 year old slugger was projected to hit .287 with 25 HR, 69 R, 82 RBI, and 1 SB, which would have earned $23.27 in 4×4 and $21.76 in 5×5. Instead, he slumped to .249 with 7 HR, 25 R, and 30 RBI before landing on the DL with a back injury in early June. His actual numbers have been worth $4.44 in 4×4, and $5.06 in 5×5, so while he’s been a little better than a replacement player, he’s been a huge disappointment. He is on a rehab assignment now, and may be activated early next week, giving him a chance to salvage some more value for his owners.

2B: Aaron Hill has been quite a volatile player in recent years, having a great 2009, providing excellent power with a terrible average in 2010, and nearly disappearing in 2011 before a trade to Arizona, when he started hitting with average and power again last year. So projections were well below his stellar 2012 stats, but also above his terrible 2011 numbers: .263, 19 HR, 77 R, 70 RBI, 11 SB, which were worth $19.52 in 5×5 and $18.87 in 4×4. Unfortunately for his owners, he broke his hand in mid April, not returning until late June. So he’s only played 30 games this year. On a per-AB basis, he’s actually outperforming his projections, but he’s had just 110 AB instead of nearly 300 you’d expect by the break. So his .282, 4 HR, 18 R, 15 RBI, 1 SB line has earned just $0.80 in 5×5 and $2.32 in 4×4. The good news for his owners is that he appears healthy, and he’s playing well, so while he likely won’t meet his full season projections, so long as he avoids injury, his return will boost his teams.

3B: Aramis Ramirez has struggled with knee problems since the Spring, and while he has played 54 games, his per-game production is also down from projections. While he hasn’t missed as much time as Aaron Hill, the combination of worse production and missed time lands him on the all-bust team. Consensus projections were for .280, 25 HR, 76 R, 89 RBI, and 5 SB, earning $24.26 in 5×5 and $25.13 in 4×4. His actual numbers are .271, 5 HR, 21 R, 26 RBI, 0 SB in 181 AB, earning $1.55 in 4×4 and $0.90 in 5×5. Like Konerko, Ramirez could be activated Monday, and his owners have to hope he can finally put his knee problems behind him.

Will Middlebrooks wasn’t pegged to be a star, but after a rookie year with 15 HR in 267 AB, his projections were for a good, solid player – .273, 20 HR, 56 R, 71 RBI, 7 SB in 441 AB or $17.59 in 4×4, and $15.80 in 5×5. Like Montero, however, Middlebrooks was hitting poorly before being demoted in late June – .192, 9 HR, 19 R, 25 RBI in 203 AB, worth just $0.28 in 5×5 and $0.00 in 4×4.

SS: Jose Reyes has actually played very well this year, but a severe ankle sprain landed him on the 60-day DL in mid-April. Projected to hit .294 with 11 HR, 86 R, 54 RBI, and 29 SB, worth $26.95 in 4×4 and $27.06 in 5×5, Reyes has hit .322 with 4 HR, 19 R, 12 RBI, and 8 SB in just 115 AB after returning in late June, a little ahead of the original 3 month timeframe. Still, Reyes so far has returned about $20 less than expected, earning $5.72 in 5×5 RotoValue and $7.20 in 4×4. If he remains healthy, however, he could salvage much of that projected value with his strong play.

OF: The NL’s three biggest busts so far are all outfielders. Reigning MVP Ryan Braun was expected to be a prime source of power and speed, projected for .309, 32 HR, 102 R, 103 RBI, and 22 SB, which topped the league in RotoValue in both formats, $47.19 in 5×5 and $43.21 in 4×4. While he hasn’t missed as much time as Reyes, a thumb injury has limited Braun to 217 AB so far, and he’s hit .304 with 9 HR, 30 R, 36 RBI, and 4 SB. So the per-AB stats are not far off the projections, but the cumulative totals don’t come anywhere near the $40+ expectations, earning $15.86 in 4×4 and $13.92 in 5×5. Like Reyes, Braun can salvage more value by staying healthy and still playing well. Braun also may face quite a lengthy suspension from the Biogenesis investigations, but apparently that now would likely be served next year, so owners in redraft leagues may not need to worry.

The last two NL MVPs have struggled with injuries, as Matt Kemp is currently on the DL. Kemp missed significant time last year, also, but still was projected to hit .289 with 28 HR, 86 R, 91 RBI, and 18 SB, good for $34.48 4×4 RotoValue, and $31.81 in 5×5. In 224 AB, Kemp has hit just .254 with 4 HR, 29 R, 24 RBI, and 9 SB, so aside from running more than expected, his per-AB production is down sharply, too. Lower playing time and production has greatly reduced his value, as he’s earned just $6.56 in 4×4 and $6.99 in 5×5. While he’s not back yet, Kemp is expected to be activated from the DL as soon as he’s eligible, so his owners can hope for him to turn things around.

B.J. Upton was united with younger brother Justin in Atlanta, and expected to form a powerhouse outfield along with Jason Heyward. Consensus projections for B.J. were .250, 22 HR, 80 R, 73 RBI, and 28 SB, good for $24.57 in 4×4 and $23.80 in 5×5. But Upton struggled badly, hitting just .177 with 8 HR, 23 R, 20 RBI, and 7 SB in 277 AB, stats worth negative $1.77 in the 10-team 4×4 (starting a total of 50 OF) and $0.00 in the same-sized 5×5, basically making his entire auction cost a loss. Adding injury to insult, Upton is now going on the DL with a right abductor strain, so a sudden turnaround is not happening.

Unlike most of the stars on this list, Josh Hamilton has avoided a DL stint, playing in 89 of the Angels’ 93 games so far. The 2010 AL MVP was projected to hit .284 with 28 HR, 88 R, 97 RBI, and 8 SB, stats worth $30.63 in 4×4 and $30.10 in 5×5. But the big free agent has struggled in Anaheim, hitting just .224 with 14 HR, 48 R, 39 RBI, and 3 SB, to earn $7.10 in 4×4 and $10.85 in 5×5. Unless you’re in a shallow league, you can’t better those stats from the waiver wire, but his owners surely expected, and paid for, more.

RP: J.J. Putz entered the year pegged as the Diamondbacks’ closer, with Consensus projections of 3 wins, 32 saves, 2.83 ERA, 1.093 WHIP, and 64 Ks in 59 IP, which would be worth $22.51 in 4×4, and $16.12 in 5×5, but an early May elbow injury landed him on the DL. His season line of 2 wins, 5 saves, 1.444 WHIP, 3.50 ERA, and 20 Ks in 18 IP has earned just $0.52 in 4×4 and $0.00 in 5×5. While he has pitched more effectively since he returned from the DL, (1.125 WHIP, 1.69 ERA in 5.33 IP), Putz blew his only save chance in his second game back, and hasn’t had another chance since. Arizona is going with a closer by committee for the short term, so perhaps Putz will reclaim the job if he continues to pitch well. His owners surely hope so.

SP: The higher their price, the further they have to fall. Jered Weaver has been the biggest disappointment in the AL 4×4 format. Projected to win 14 games with a 3.30 ERA, 1.134 WHIP, and 160 Ks in 196 IP, Weaver was expected to earn $32.52 in 4×4 and $29.79 in 5×5. Instead, he suffered a broken elbow in his second start, not returning until late May. His production has been okay, 3 wins, 3.63 ERA, 1.224 WHIP, and 50 Ks in 67 IP, but the missed time cut his value to near replacement level – $1.31 in 4×4 and $1.28 in 5×5. But he could salvage the rest of the season for his owners.

Like Weaver, David Price has been derailed by injury, and he edged out Weaver as the biggest 5×5 bust in the AL due to higher projected strikeouts: Price’s expectations were 15 wins, 3.23 ERA, 1.186 WHIP, and 193 Ks in 206 IP, for $31.23 4×4 RotoValue, and $31.21 5×5 RotoValue. A triceps injury landed him on the DL in mid-May, and he didn’t return until July 2nd. Again like Weaver, he’s not been as effective as projected, but still decent – 3 wins, 1.225 WHIP, 3.94 ERA and 67 Ks in 80 IP, worth $2.57 in 5×5 and $0.51 in 4×4. Price has been terrific in 3 starts since returning from the DL, winning twice with a 1.08 ERA and 0.760 WHIP, giving his owners much hope that he’ll be strong in the second half.

Using Consensus stats, Justin Verlander was expected to be the most valuable pitcher in the AL this year at $42.42 in 4×4 and $40.92 in 5×5 based on 17 wins, 3.09 ERA, 1.118 WHIP, and 215 Ks in 223 IP projections. He hasn’t missed  a start, but he’s also not missing so many bats this year, as his overall numbers are 10 wins, 3.50 ERA, 1.341 WHIP(!), and 125 Ks in 126 IP. The WHIP is well above league average, and so overall he’s earned $14.30 in 4×4, and $18.57 in 5×5. Those who paid around $40 wanted ace performance, something Verlander hasn’t delivered. RotoValue prices are based not only on an individual’s statistics, but also on the stats of the whole league. Projections by their nature tend to be less extreme than actual results, so somewhat less impressive looking projections may have a higher RotoValue than better looking actual stats. The league leader in ERA is usually well under 3.00, but the projected league leader  is often above that. So a 3.20 projected ERA has more value than a 3.20 actual ERA.

Matt Cain and Cole Hamels projected to be the 3rd and 4th best starters in the NL, with quite similar stats. Cain’s projections were 13 wins (actually 13.47), 3.25 ERA, 1.130 WHIP, and 176 Ks in 209 IP, worth $27.83 in 4×4 and $27.01 in 5×5. Hamels was expected to have 14 wins, a 3.29 ERA, 1.139 WHIP, and 199 Ks in 208 IP, $27.39 in 4×4 and $28.10 in 5×5. Both have struggled, however. Cain has just 5 wins, a good 1.179 WHIP, but an awful 5.06 ERA, with 103 Ks in 112 IP, earning $0.00 in 4×4 and $5.91 in 5×5, while Hamels hasn’t been much better, with 4 wins, 1.225 WHIP, 4.05 ERA, and 118 Ks in 129 IP, earning $0.96 in 4×4 and $9.08 in 5×5.

At least those pitchers are healthy, and are capable of reverting to their better past history. Roy Halladay pitched terribly for the first month before having shoulder surgery, landing him on the 60 day DL. The former dominant starter’s Consensus projections were not as good as Hamels’s or Cain’s, but were still 13 wins, 3.26 ERA, 1.136 WHIP, and 152 Ks in 174 IP, worth $23.60 in 4×4 and $22.40 in 5×5. Halladay did post 3 quality starts, but was hammered in his other 4 outings, totaling 2 wins with an 8.65 ERA, 1.456 WHIP and 35 Ks in 34.33 IP, damaging the percentage categories for his owners and yielding a -$10.23 4×4 RotoValue and -$7.61 5×5 RotoValue. Halladay may return in late August, but if the Phillies are out of the race, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he were just shut down for the year. And his owners may be reluctant to start him until he shows he’s healthy anyhow.

Many players on this list are there because of injury, some are healthy but just not performing well, while others have both performed badly and been hit by injuries. In the AL, top starting pitchers have been the costliest busts, while in the NL it has been star OFs. I you have too many of these players – I owned Reyes, Montero, and Konerko in the AL-only Park Slope Rotisserie League, where my bid for a 3-peat title is gone – you’re not winning this year.

About Geoff

Dad, hacker, fantasy sports entrepreneur.
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