Hitting Outliers: 2022 Fantasy Busts

I consider one of my greatest skills as a fantasy manager to be my ability to make the “unsexy pick.” When youngsters with tantalizing upside are gradually floating up the draft board, I typically stray away from the temptation and grab myself a more trusty, high-floor veteran to help keep my team afloat. As a result, I wind up with a more cohesive and consistent team than many of my opponents who have to deal with a number of busts and platoon headaches.

So far this year, that strategy of mine has had pretty mixed results. Luckily some of my old-timer favorites like Yuli Gurriel, Josh Donaldson and Justin Turner have begun to come around lately, but multiple others are still lagging.

In today’s article, I’ll be focused on those old-timers who are still lagging. More particularly, I’ll be focused on the lagging old-timers who made significant strides last season. Was 2021 the anomaly or is there evidence that their late-career breakout is carrying over into 2022?

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In 2021, a 34-year-old Brandon Crawford looked like a completely different player than the one we’d known over the previous decade of his career. Over 139 games, he slashed .298/.373/.522 with 24 home runs, 11 stolen bases, 90 RBI and 79 runs. A career .254 hitter, Crawford had only mustered more than 14 home runs eleven in his career prior to last year and he’d never even reached close to double-digits in stolen bases.

So far this year, Crawford has looked more like his old self than his 2021 self. Through 35 games, he has a .222/.315/.349 slash line with three home runs, one stolen base, 15 RBI and 20 runs.

Crawford’s 2021 breakout was fueled by a career-high 43.3% hard-hit rate and a stellar 0.96 GB/FB rate. Unfortunately, both of those stats have moved significantly in the wrong direction so far this year. His 29.9% hard-hit rate ranks in the bottom 10% of the league and he has a GB/FB rate of 1.35. His groundball rate is up from 39.8% last year to 47.9% this year.

All indicators are looking like the dream is over for Crawford. His situation of him is even tougher due to the fact that he’s only eligible at shortstop, the most top-heavy and deepest position in fantasy. Unless we see him rediscover the hard contact he made last year and keep his groundball rate down, he’s someone who can be left on waivers in most fantasy leagues.

I promise this article isn’t just Giants-focused. It would be pretty hard to justify that choice when the team’s sitting pretty at 22-15 with 189 runs scored (third-most in the majors).

Belt’s career-best 2021 campaign wasn’t nearly as unprecedented as his teammate’s. The 34-year-old has been a Statcast darling since the metrics were first introduced back in 2015. He’s just unfortunately been held back in fantasy terms by a combination of things such as injuries, platooning, and playing at one of the worst hitting parks in the majors.

Last year, Belt launched a career-high 29 home runs over just 97 games – a 162-game pace of about 48 homers. He had a .975 OPS on the year while slashing .274/.378/.597. Belt only has four home runs over 26 games so far this year, which puts him on pace for about 25 homers over the season if he can stay healthy. Meanwhile, he’s slashing .228/.342/.386.

There are a lot of indicators suggesting that Belt overperformed last season – which is what you would generally expect from someone on a 48-homer pace. He paired a career-high 50% fly ball rate with a ridiculous 26.9% HR/FB rate. Over his career, he’s had a 44.1% fly ball rate and a 12.6% HR / FB rate. Those rates this year (47.1% fly ball rate, 12.5% ​​HR/FB rate) look much more like his career marks than they do his 2021 marks.

Additionally, he had a .243 xBA in 2021, one of the lowest xBAs of his career. That alone seems like a pretty major red flag, but it’s also heavily a result of his increased strikeout rate last year (up from 20.1% in 2020 to 27% in 2021). He was selling out for more power in 2021, and while his increased power from him is no surprise from that strategy, his increased batting average (career .263 hitter) is harder to justify.

Belt is a well above average MLB hitter, but his situational flaws will continue to hamper him. If he’d remained healthy last year, we likely would have seen his numbers drop off even though his career-best power metrics would have remained. He should remain rostered in all daily-lock deep leagues, but in most other formats he’s a bit fringy.

Kansas City Royals star catcher Salvador Perez was one of the most valuable players in all of fantasy last year, setting a record by hitting 48 home runs as a primary catcher. Perez had been a must-start fantasy catcher for about a decade prior to the 2021 season. Still, last year Perez was a completely different beast.

Perez was an elite power hitter across the board last year, as indicated by his blood-red Statcast power numbers from 2021:

His most impressive feats were his 56.2% hard-hit rate and 93.0 mph average exit velocity. Those are two areas where Perez had been verging on elite in previous years. His 47% hard-hit rate of him in 2020 ranked in the 85th percentile while his 91.0 mph average exit velocity that year ranked in the 82na percentile.

It’s easy to feel discouraged in the high investment you made in Perez by taking one look at his Statcast page this year:

However, it’s essential to remember that Perez isn’t a one-season-wonder of the Brandon Crawford variety. We have a long sample of him being a high-end power hitter compared with a very small sample of his 2022 struggles. His concerning metrics this year include a 41.8% hard-hit rate and .212 xBA, but there are also a lot of encouraging underlying stats.

His 91.2 mph average exit velocity ranks in the 83dr percentile and he has a career-high average launch angle of 19 degrees. Additionally, he has a career-high 50% fly ball rate, which has contributed to a GB/FB rate of just 0.78, down from 0.93 last year. While he’s been putting the ball in the air more consistently this year, we’ve seen his HR/FB rate drop all the way from 26.4% last year to 12.2% this year – the lowest it’s been since 2016.

Perez is currently on the injured list and expected to miss at least two weeks with a sprained left thumb. Now is the ideal time to jump on buy-low offers for the slugger. He’s not going to hit another 48 home runs or drive in another 121 runs this year. If we believed he would, we would have been recommending to take him first overall in just about all fantasy drafts this spring.

In all likelihood, Perez will be the best fantasy catcher on a per-game basis this year, verging on “cheat code” status when he’s really cranking. Don’t miss out on the buy-low window while it’s still open.

In his first season with the Detroit Tigers last year, outfielder Robbie Grossman set career-highs across the board with 23 home runs, 20 stolen bases, 69 RBI and 88 runs scored. His previous career-highs prior to last year: 11 home runs, nine stolen bases, 48 ​​RBI and 62 runs.

First thing first, let’s be clear. If you’re in a shallow league, you can move to the next player as Grossman just doesn’t have the upside nor the floor to warrant rostering in, say, a three-outfielder, 10-team league. For deep leagues and AL-only leagues, Grossman is someone who is still worth monitoring, despite his dreadful start to the 2022 season.

Over 34 games this year, Grossman is slashing .207/.329/.241. He has just four extra-base hits (all doubles) and only one stolen base.

Apart from his stellar walk rate, his Statcast page screams waiver wire:

Grossman has always been known for his plate discipline. He has a career 13.5% walk rate and 20.9% strikeout rate. Last year, I have employed a similar strategy to Belt, selling out for power a bit more while sacrificing his strikeout rate. His strikeouts from him increased from 19.8% in 2020 to 23.1% in 2021. Meanwhile, he increased his barrel rate from 5.5% in 2020 to 7.6% in 2021 and increased his average launch angle from 15.2 degrees in 2020 to 21.1 degrees in 2021.

This year, it’s unfortunately been the worst of both worlds so far for Grossman. His strikeout rate has ballooned up to 30% while his barrel rate is back down to 5.3% and his average launch angle has tailed off to 18.6 degrees. Until we see more promising metrics either in his peripherals or in his surface stats from him, Grossman should be on waivers in just about every fantasy league.

Veteran outfielder Adam Duvall had his first breakout back in 2016, when he racked up 33 home runs and 103 RBI with the Cincinnati Reds. He launched another 31 home runs the following season, but then went on to struggle with injuries and inconsistency for multiple years before popping back up on the fantasy map last season.

In 2021, Duvall hit a career-high 38 home runs while leading the National League with 113 RBI. He split his season between the Miami Marlins and Atlanta Braves and was about equally effective with both clubs. A career .230 hitter, he finished the 2021 season with a .228 batting average that fantasy managers could certainly live with alongside his elite power stats from him.

This year so far, the 33-year-old Duvall has looked much more like his circa 2018-2020 self. Over 37 games, he’s slashed .198/.257/.290 with just two home runs, 15 RBI and 15 runs. Strikeouts have always been a concern for the slugger and his 32.6% strikeout rate this year ranks in the bottom 4% of the majors. However, he had a 31.4% strikeout rate during his breakout 2021 season, so that alone isn’t the main concern for him. The main concern is that when he’s been making contact with the ball this year, it hasn’t been the type of contact we’d expect to see from him.

His aforementioned .290 slugging percentage is extremely alarming and unlike anything we’ve previously seen from him. He’s slugged .464 over his career and has rarely been far beneath a .500 slugging percentage by season’s end. He also has a .375 xSLG, which ranks in the bottom 21% of the league. Pair that with his 5.8% barrel rate (31st percentile) and 88.1 mph average exit velocity (33dr percentile) and you wouldn’t know we were discussing a player heralded for his power acumen. Despite all those red flags, I’m going to encourage patience and maybe even buying low on Duvall in a few fantasy formats.

First of all, offense in general has been shaky across the league this year and Duvall is far from the only veteran with scary peripheral numbers (take one look at his teammate Ozzie Albies’ Statcast page). Couple that with the fact that Duvall was a slow-starter last year and it makes it even easier to believe that he’ll settle in at some point soon. He slashed just .188/.233/.388 in April last year, then we saw him slug .467 in May and .578 in June.

Second, Duvall doesn’t have any of the playing time concerns that hamper other fringe fantasy players. He’s started 36 of 38 games so far this year. He was away from the team due to a family-related illness for one of those games and in the other game, he came on as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning. He has a clear, important, everyday role as the Braves’ center fielder. A standout fielder, he won his first Gold Glove Award last year.

Duvall is of course going to have to put things together at the plate at some point to avoid a platoon situation, but the Braves don’t really have anyone pressing him for playing time as of this moment. Guillermo Heredia is the only other Brave to earn a start in center field this year and he’s slashing just .111/.200/.306 on the year. Meanwhile, Travis Demeritte has been hitting decently well, but has only played corner outfield. Marcell Ozuna and Ronald Acuna Jr. will also be strictly used as corner outfielders this year, as will Eddie Rosario, who is currently out until at least midseason.

In shallow mixed leagues, he’s fine to leave on waivers, but in NL-only leagues and deep leagues (especially rotisserie and head-to-head categories), I believe Duvall is well worthy of a roster spot still.

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