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Bounce Back or Bust: Which Hitters Will Rebound?

For those hitters who struggled in 2022, will they be able to bounce back in 2023 or are they stuck as a permanent bust?  Should fantasy owners trust the track record?  Or should they simply write off the bust as “done” and stay far away?  Let’s take a look at five 2022 busts to determine if they can bounce back in 2023:

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Who Will Bounce Back?  Who Are Busts?

Bounce Back – Ketel Marte – Arizona Diamondbacks

It feels like a lifetime ago when Marte hit .329 with 32 HR and 10 SB in 2019.  Various things have helped him to fall off the map:

  • We had the condensed 2020 season (he played in 45 games)
  • There was the injury-plagued 2021 (he appeared in 90 games though he hit .318 with 14 HR)
  • Most concerning was his disastrous 2022 campaign

Bust may be an understatement, as he hit .240 with 12 HR and 5 SB over 558 PA.  Considering the length of time since he was truly productive, can Marte now rebound from bust status?

One positive sign was the 42 doubles that he had last season.  Both his Exit Velocity (90.1 mph) and average home run distance (405 feet) were solid, indicating more power is possible.  Maybe the injuries have impacted him, but it’s easy to envision some of the doubles turning into home runs.

You also had a lot of poor luck, with his .276 BABIP.  It’s not like he was making significant soft contact (14.9%) and he wasn’t a flyball-centric hitter (39.0%).  Couple that with a strong approach (8.6% SwStr%, 30.7% O-Swing%), and things continue to point upwards.

Where he really struggled last season was against “Hard” pitches, with a .245 AVG and .434 SLG.  Prior to last year, he had a career .315 AVG against fastballs…

That tells us all we need to know.  Everything points to a bounce-back campaign for Marte.

Bust – Javier Baez – Detroit Tigers

Was Baez really a bust last season, or did the underlying issues finally catch up with him?  His approach has always been questionable, at best, with a career 18.4% SwStr% and 44.8% O-Swing%.  That continued to hang over him.  It helps to explain his .238 AVG last season.

What made matters worse was his power nearly disappearing.  Instead of pushing 30 HR, he managed 17.  It’s not that he wasn’t still producing extra-base hits, as he added 27 doubles and 4 triples.  What happened was his Hard% simply vanished:

  • 2018 – 35.8%
  • 2019 – 37.4%
  • 2020 – 36.2%
  • 2021 – 36.8%
  • 2022 – 26.8%

His average exit velocity of 87.9 mph was tied for 170th among qualified hitters.  His SwSp% of 29.7% placed him 213th.  In other words, when he made contact, it was rather weak.  Maybe it had to do with the way opposing pitchers attacked him.  After seeing around 55% fastballs for the bulk of his career, the number dropped to 44.41% in ’22.  A career .240 hitter against breaking balls and .236 against offspeed pitches, what’s the chance of a sudden improvement?

Baez gave his owners some hope with a late-season flourish.  From September 1 on he hit .293 with 6 HR over 116 AB.  The key was his sudden success against breaking balls, as he hit .339 with 5 HR against them.  Was this an aberration or an improvement?  A 16.7% HR/FB isn’t unreasonable, but given the makeup it’s a hard sell.

While Baez may be better than he was in ’22, he’s not living up to the hype once bestowed upon him.  He’s a bust and not someone I’d invest in for ’23.

Bounce Back – Tyler O’Neill – St. Louis Cardinals

Injuries played a part in O’Neill’s struggles, as he was limited to 96 games.  While that would help to explain away his 14 HR, how about his .228 AVG?  What’s interesting is that his approach improved, with a 12.7% SwStr% and 29.6% O-Swing%.

O’Neill also continued to hit the ball relatively hard.  His average exit velocity of 89.8 mph put him among the Top 90 qualified hitters (out of 252).  His average HR of 405 feet placed him tied for 56th.  He became a little bit too pull-heavy (46.6%), but with the new rules banning the shift that’s not as big of an issue.

It’s very easy to envision the production improving.  He has an improved approach and there’s no questioning his power.  The biggest key is simply better production against fastballs (.254 AVG/.416 SLG in ’22).  While it’s not quite that simple, everything points towards a bounce-back campaign.

Bust – Nick Castellanos – Philadelphia Phillies

A consistent threat to hit 25+ HR, things fell off a cliff in Castellanos’ first season in Philadelphia.  Appearing in 136 games he hit .263 with 13 HR and 62 RBI.  He hit .288 after the All-Star Break, but is that reason to be optimistic?

Castellanos has always struggled to make contact against non-fastballs, and that’s a trend that continued (Whiff%):

  • Hard – 11.71%
  • Breaking Balls – 23.84%
  • Offspeed – 24.90%

So it makes sense that opposing pitchers continued the trend of throwing him fewer fastballs (46.82%).  Now at 31 years old, why should we expect them to change that?  With his approach getting worse (17.0% SwStr%, 43.6% O-Swing%), the outlook is not bright.

You also have to be concerned about the quality of contact.  His HardHit% fell to 35.1%.  His average exit velocity was just 87.5 mph.

Maybe he rebounds a little bit, but unless he suddenly adjusts to non-fastballs it’s hard to expect a full bounce back.  Castellanos feels like a bust.

Bounce Back – Wander Franco – Tampa Bay Rays

This is a story we’ve heard time and time again.  A highly touted prospect hits the scene, only to struggle in the Majors.  Franco was as talked about as there has been, yet after injuries helped hamper his 2022 he hit just .277 with 6 HR and 8 SB over 314 AB.

Obviously, no one is going to write him off, but before we assume he won’t live up to the hype just look at some of the underlying metrics:

  • Plate Discipline – Playing at 21 years old, he posted an impressive 6.1% SwStr%. While his 34.7% O-Swing% is slightly high, it’s not crippling.
  • Using Entire Field – His 27.4% Oppo% should help his overall production.
  • Extra Base Hits – While he didn’t hit many home runs, Franco added 20 doubles and 3 triples.

We have to remember his age and allow him time to physically mature.  He has a strong approach and, with more experience, should improve his performance against offspeed pitches (.199 AVG, .291 SLG over his first two seasons).

He may never be as good as expected, but as long as he’s healthy a step in the right direction should come.  Would it be surprising to see some of those doubles turn into home runs in ’23?  Think of an average pushing .300 with 18-20 HR and the ability to steal bases.  That’s certainly not a bust!  Consider him a strong bounce-back candidate.

Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball

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