We’ve almost completed four full weeks of baseball. While that might seem like a large chunk of the season, it’s still a relatively small sample in which to make definitive claims. There’s still multiple qualified players with BABIP’s above .400 or pitchers with strand rates over 90.0 percent; very simple indications that statistics continue to normalize as we settle into the summer. Yet, when it comes to fantasy sports – specifically DFS – sometimes the advantage comes in being the first to jump off a struggling player. To not wait for water to find its level. To be the person to proclaim that Player X is a bust.
So, let’s find the stats that can do just that. What’s the strongest case that can be made that these players drafted consistently within the top 75 picks will not return value in 2019? What’s their bust potential?
JOSE RAMIREZ: 48.5 PERCENT FLY BALL RATERamirez is a fascinating situation to break down. On the one hand, he’s been one of the best fantasy baseball contributors on the planet the past two seasons. On the other, his pedigree is murky. Many even expected him to come back down to Earth last year following an out-of-nowhere 29-home run campaign in 2017. He didn’t. However, the final two months of 2018 were ugly. Ramirez slashed .210/.343/.387 across his last 230 regular season plate appearances, and though his BABIP was a lowly .208, there were aspects of his batted ball profile that were serious red flags. Suddenly, Ramirez was an extreme fly ball hitter (47.8 percent) with a penchant for pop-ups (16.9 percent). We could have sat and waited for BABIP normalization all we wanted, but that archetype is not conducive to a player gunning for a batting title.
At the end of the day ground balls are a better result for a player looking to post a .300 average. Consider that in 2017 – the year Ramirez hit a career-best .318 – his GB/FB ratio was an unremarkable 0.98. His expected batting average on ground balls was .285 and his BABIP was league-average enough at .319. Through 21 games in 2019? Ramirez has a 48.5 percent fly ball rate – one of the 20 highest figures in MLB, and his expected batting average on those batted ball events is just .177. That’s a majority of his plate appearances with an output well below the Mendoza Line. That’s toxic to a player’s value. It also why simply assuming that Ramirez’s .167 BABIP will rebound emphatically could be a mistake. Obviously, it won’t stay that low forever, but a lot more than bad luck goes into these occurrences.
Ramirez will start to see the fantasy benefits of his fly ball preference when the weather warms up and the ball starts flying again. Progressive Field was an amazing power park for left-handed batters in 2018 and it’s likely that carries over into this season; while Ramirez won’t be sporting a 3.1 percent HR/FB ratio for eternity. There’s also the matter of his unluckiness when it comes specifically to barreled balls and line drives so far in 2019. Among the 123 players with five-plus barrels entering play on April 23, Ramirez has the seventh-largest negative disparity between his expected batting average on those BBEs (.623) and his actual average (.333). His 222-point differential on line drives isn’t much better, either. The fact remains that Ramirez is a very good hitter, yet clearly one that is augmenting his approach at the plate. There’s the matter of Cleveland’s monstrous roster turnover, too. I do believe that Ramirez’s power numbers will return sometime soon. However, his batting average appears a sunk cost in the trade-off for home runs.
Bust Potential: 20 Percent
YASIEL PUIG: 43.0 PERCENT CHASE RATEWhen looking atop MLB’s current leaderboard for chase rate – a measure of how often a batter swings at pitches outside the strike zone – there are some very familiar names in Javier Baez, Jonathan Schoop, and Avisail Garcia. However, Puig sitting with the seventh-highest mark in baseball at 43.0 percent is a little shocking. Far more shocking than the former Dodger possessing baseball’s highest overall swing rate at 60.6 percent. Really, that’s been part of Puig’s appeal since the beginning of 2014; an almost measured and patient aggression. In fact, in the 2,333 plate appearances from 2014 to 2018, Puig was able to boast a 9.3 percent walk rate to go along with a below-average 19.3 percent strikeout rate. He was never really a player who’s approach at the plate screamed red flag, but now he’s a man who hasn’t drawn a walk in his last 65 PAs. That’s concerning.
Now, I should point out that sometimes this swing-happy approach is an appreciated revelation. It’s possible that this new level of aggressiveness is a direct result of Puig’s new home in the exceedingly hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. An intentional shift in philosophy based upon the fact that GABP was Baseball Prospectus’ No. 1 home run field for right-handed batters in 2018. I can get behind that. It’d be a similar tactic to the one’s we’ve seen employed by players making the move to Colorado in recent seasons. However, despite swinging at almost everything in sight, Puig’s making less contact than he ever has before. His 72.2 percent overall contact rate is the lowest it’s been since his rookie campaign, with the causality of that phenomenon very obviously coming back to the chase rate. Puig’s outside the zone contact rate is just 53.5 percent and that’s ballooned his swinging strike rate to an ugly 16.9 percent – another statistic that hasn’t been that high since 2013.
Again, it’s not as if Puig’s logic is all the flawed if this is, in fact, a conscious effort. Many hitters have thrived thanks to an aggressive approach, but it’s all about being aggressive on the right pitches. For instance, Puig currently sits fourth in baseball in first-pitch swing rate at 50.0 percent. However, 11 of the 35 times he’s swung 0-0 so far in 2019, he’s missed. That puts the 28-year-old in an early hole and, when batting from behind in the count this season, Puig sports an awful .097 wOBA. I don’t want to over simplify things too much, however, to put it blandly, Puig just has to get back to swinging at strikes. While it’s a noble pursuit to try and create a surplus of batted ball events within the comfy confines of Great American, all Puig’s managed to do is strike out in 29.0 percent of his PAs in Cincinnati. He should take a page from his new best friend Joey Votto and allow a little discipline into his life. The sooner the better.
Bust Potential: 40 Percent
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I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is theglt13) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.