There is not a more disappointing feeling than drafting a player with expectations of greatness and watching them struggle throughout the season. This happens every year though with Nick Castellanos and Javier Baez being just two of the most recent examples. In my last article, I discussed xwRC+ and what the model could be used for. I then outlined three players that the model believes will have breakout seasons in 2023. If you missed it, you can check that out at this link. In this article, I look at three players that xwRC+ thinks you should avoid in your fantasy drafts. These are players that outperformed their true talent level in 2022 and should see regression this season.
The season is not here yet, but why not get a head start and jump in a Fantrax Classic Draft contest? Get a jump on the season with a Best Ball league or maybe a Draft and Hold. Or put some green on the line with a new season-long league to try and conquer. There’s no better time than now to get your baseball on!
Fantasy Baseball Busts Using xwRC+
Jake McCarthy- OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
Entering the 2022 season, Jake McCarthy was not on any fantasy manager’s radar. The former fourth-round pick was in the Major Leagues for two separate stints early in the season, before finally making a name for himself in the third. From July 11th forward, McCarthy hit .302/.361/.4334 with 22 stolen bases. He led the league in steals over that period while posting an impressive 124 wRC+. This off-season Arizona went out and traded for Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Kyle Lewis. With himself, Pavin Smith, Corbin Carroll, Kyle Lewis, Lourdes Gurriel, and Alek Thomas all battling for playing time, he is going to have to hit to remain in the lineup. xwRC+ does not believe the success he had in 2022 is repeatable and you should be fading him in your 2023 fantasy drafts.
The speed is undeniable. However, for this speed to be useful, McCarthy must stay in the lineup. He is a well below-average fielder which means he is going to need to maintain his above-average numbers from 2022 to be relevant in 2023. The first place to start is with McCarthy’s quality of contact metrics. How does McCarthy compare to the league average in several relevant areas?
McCarthy is below league average in every relevant category. He is not a real threat with the bat and it is difficult to imagine him maintaining his success from 2022. McCarthy’s speed helps him run high BABIPs, but we should still expect some regression in 2023. He is also likely to see his power numbers come back down in 2023. Last season, he hit a home run on seven of his 12 barrels. This number is unsustainable for a player like McCarthy who does not pull the ball much or hit it particularly hard.
Another part of his game that xwRC+ is not a fan of is the plate discipline. He posted below-average chase and whiff rates while only making contact on 78% of pitches inside the zone. McCarthy could see his strikeout rate increase in 2023 making success more difficult to come by.
The speed is tantalizing for fantasy managers, but should not overshadow the fact that there is a legitimate chance McCarthy does not play every day in 2023. He is being drafted as OF28 in fantasy drafts ahead of guys like Christian Yelich, Taylor Ward, and Anthony Santander who are all guaranteed full-time jobs. Even without his xwRC+ McCarthy seems like an easy fade. Now that the model is also predicting heavy regression, you should avoid McCarthy heading into 2023.
Oscar Gonzalez- OF Cleveland Guardians
Talk about another player that was not on any fantasy radars entering 2022. Oscar Gonzalez had been in Cleveland’s organization since 2015 and finally got a chance to make his debut in 2022. He did not disappoint hitting .296/.327/.461 with a 122 wRC+. Entering the 2023 season, he is projected to hit in the middle of Cleveland’s lineup and be their everyday right fielder. Fantasy expectations are high for Gonzalez entering 2023, but xwRC+ is skeptical of his true talent level. The model believes he outperformed his wRC+ by over 25 points and fantasy managers should expect to see regression in 2023.
If you understand what wRC+ is, it is not too difficult to figure out why the model does not like Gonzalez. Amongst batters with 250+ plate appearances, trailed only Francisco Mejia and Javier Baez in chase rate (46.6%). That is not the company you want to be in when talking about having success at the plate. Not only does Gonzalez swing at just about anything out of the zone, but he also makes contact at a below-average rate. His average walk rate in the Minor Leagues was 4.7%, close to the 3.9% he posted at the Major League level in 2022. xwRC+ is extremely concerned about his lack of plate discipline. More than half the pitches that Gonzalez saw were out of the zone which will likely continue in 2023.
Another reason that xwRC+ is skeptical of buying into Gonzalez is his struggle to elevate the baseball. Throughout his Minor League career, Gonzalez has always run high ground-ball rates, which did not change in 2022. His average launch angle was 5.4 degrees, yet Gonzalez was able to maintain a BABIP well over .300. The BABIP Gonzalez ran in 2022 is unsustainable and will come back to earth in 2023. With this, we should expect his average to fall likely below .260.
At 6’4”, Gonzalez’s raw power is evident. He posted a 91st-percentile exit velocity and has the potential to hit over 25 home runs. To accomplish this, he will need to undergo a swing change that forces him to elevate the ball more. Without this, Gonzalez profiles as a hitter who is going to post mediocre averages with low walk rates. Entering the 2023 season, Gonzalez is a popular breakout pick around the fantasy community. He is going as OF41 in drafts despite regression being far more likely than a breakout. xwRC+ thinks that you should steer clear of Gonzalez during your drafts and target other players like Riley Greene or Lars Nootbaar.
William Contreras- C Milwaukee Brewers
Unlike the first two batters on this list, William Contreras had some recognition to his name before his 2022 season. Part of that is due to his brother, but he was a also top prospect for the Braves before getting a chance to play. He had to earn his playing time in 2022 battling with Travis d’Arnaud. Despite this, he was named to the All-Star Team and hit .278/.354/.506. His 138 wRC+ ranked first amongst all catchers with 350+ plate appearances. This off-season he was traded to Milwaukee opening a clear path to everyday playing time. The stars seem to be aligning for Contreras to be a fantasy star, but xwRC+ isn’t so sure. According to the model, he was the third luckiest hitter in baseball, and we should lower our expectations for him in 2023.
One of the most impressive parts of Contreras’ 2022 season was his batting average. He was never known for posting high batting averages in the Minor Leagues but performed well in the majors. However, looking at the chart below, his batting average was inflated by a .344 BABIP. This was well above the league average of .290.
So, if he had a high BABIP, one would figure that he was posting above-average line drive rates.
Nope, Contreras’ 15%-line drive rate was actually 5% below the league average. He hit the ball on the ground over 53% of the time with a sweet spot percentage of just 31.9%. This is part of the reason that xwRC+ is so low on him. The BABIP is bound to come down; his average will come with it.
The other primary reason for the model’s skepticism is Contreras’ below-average contact skills. In 2022, Contreras whiffed on 34.3 percent of pitches which is 10 percent worse than league average. The problem is amplified against non-fastballs. On breaking pitches, he whiffed over 42% of the time and 39.4% of the time on off-speed pitches. He also chased both these types of pitches over 32% of the time. Opposing pitchers are able to exploit his contact skills by throwing him secondary offerings he struggles to hit. It is rare for a hitter to maintain success while striking out over 30% of the time which is exactly what xwRC+ believes will continue happening.
The report on Contreras is not all doom and gloom. He has excellent power which is valuable at the catcher position. His barrel rate and exit velocity numbers would be good for any position he plays. There are genuine concerns with his ability to elevate the baseball and make consistent contact that could prevent him from having success in 2023. He is currently going as C9 in drafts which is too rich for the regression we should expect. The model thinks you should be avoiding Contreras at his draft price, and I agree.
Are you buying in on Tyler’s favorite bounce-back players? For more great analysis check out the 2023 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit!