There comes a point in every Fantasy draft where the tiers of players remaining force you into uncomfortable selections. Generally, for me, this occurs around pick 125 in a baseball setting. Teams are often made or lost in the eight, ninth, tenth, and eleventh rounds; as you’ve run out of marquee names and are maybe still a few picks away from getting value on the sleepers you’ve scouted for later on. What makes these rounds even more complex is the archetypes of players you tend to see: aging former superstars, high-priced rookie upside, and, worst of all, previously dismissed quantities coming off abnormal seasons. Let’s focus on that latter grouping.
Coming into 2018, we had quite a few players coming off what appeared to be outlier campaigns, but were too good in 2017 to be outright ignored. Two players in particular, who had similar NFBC ADPs, have been monumental disappointments through eleven weeks. What went wrong for this pair? Should we have seen the writing on the wall? Let’s break it all down.
2 Mid-Round Fantasy Baseball Busts
Marwin Gonzalez, Astros – NFBC ADP: 122.7
The appeal on Gonzalez, especially in generous positional leagues on Yahoo!, was immense entering the 2018 season. Not only was the now 29-year-old coming off career-highs in home runs, wOBA, and wRC+; but he was also still slated to be privy to 2017’s greatest offensive environment. It can’t be overlooked that Gonzalez racked up 90 RBI in only 515 plate appearances last year. That has nothing to do with the man himself, yet speaks so highly of the Fantasy opportunity in playing for Houston, that, even with a little regression baked in, most felt investing in Gonzalez couldn’t fail. A rising tide lifts all boats, right?
Well, as of June 15, two things have happened. First, Gonzalez just hasn’t been all that good. His batting average and isolated power have cratered as his strikeout rate and HR/FB ratio have wrecked havoc on his slash lines. Also, these two problems have only magnified themselves with runners on base. Gonzalez has struck out in 27.9% of his plate appearances with runners on and has produced a less than average .120 ISO on the rare occasion he does make actual contact in these situations. Still, the numbers we’re seeing now are far more in line with what we’ve seen from the non-2017 version of the utility-man throughout his playing days – leaving last season to look more and more like it doesn’t belong.
The second issue is with the Astros as a whole and it is definitely what one might dub a “first-world problem”. It’s not that Houston has been bad offensively in 2018, they currently lead the league in runs scored and rank behind only the Yankees when it comes to wOBA and wRC+, it’s just that they haven’t quite reached the levels of absurdity that they hit last season. So, while Carlos Correa or Jose Altuve might not need to be part of one of history’s best offenses to reach value – Gonzalez’s ADP dictates that he did.
It’s likely that, with his swiss-army knife nature, Gonzalez can still be a useful part of a daily-moves fantasy baseball team, however, considering some of the players that were probably available when you took him off the board, I don’t see how his 2018 season ends in anything but being a bust.
Justin Smoak, Blue Jays – NFBC ADP: 158.2
This was a tough one to parse out. On the one hand, we’d all gotten pretty used to Smoak not being any good. Ask any Mariner fan. I’m sure they have some horror stories. On the other hand, we’d seen this story play out so many times before in the past few years. Launch angle is a crazy thing, man. It can apparently turn Yonder Alonso into a vital piece for a World Series contender and make Scooter Gennett one of the best starting second baseman in all of baseball. Why couldn’t Justin Smoak use it to create a little career consistency at the ripe old age of 31? Well, the thing about contact profile is you have to actually make some contact every once and awhile. Smoak’s just not doing that.
Its not even really his fault. You can’t blame a real-life baseball player for making real-life decisions that help his real-life team. Smoak, to his credit, has been one of the most patient players in the game in 2018. Only Mike Trout has a higher walk rate than Smoak’s 16.8% mark, as the first baseman’s OBP has stayed at .366 (higher than it was in his breakout 2017 season), even with his average now down at .229.
That’s not to say there aren’t other issues, though. What makes Mike Trout so good is that even with taking a walk once every five times he comes to the plate, he still does ridiculous amounts of damage in the other four at-bats. That hasn’t been the case with Smoak. In a league-wide offensive haven where seemingly everyone is setting a new career-high in hard contact rate, Smoak’s figure has fallen off a cliff. Last season, Smoak possessed a 39.4% hard contact rate. This year? That number is down to 31.6% – lower than any season he’s spent with Toronto. Where Smoak sat inside the Top-10 in barrels per plate appearance last season, he now barely makes the Top-100.
YES, was feeling this way too. but also, league average:
— Alex Chamberlain (@DolphHauldhagen) June 12, 2018
Maybe this all changes with the Jays getting a little healthier. Old school baseball takes would tell us that Smoak simply needs some lineup protection. Could a surging Teoscar Hernandez and the return of Josh Donaldson be enough? However, even if you’d like to optimistically subscribe to that mentality, it’s jarring to think that Smoak’s been this useless in standard 5×5 formats with a .406 BABIP with RISP. When that regresses, what’s even left? Most likely – a bust.
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