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Struggling Players Drafted in the Top 50

Every year we encounter the inevitable reshuffling of the top X list in fantasy baseball. Depending on how intricate you want to get, “X” can really range as high or low as you want and you’ll still get a hefty juggling of names. Even if I wanted to talk about the new top 10 players, I could easily do so after just a quarter of the season. It’s volatile, hard to predict, and most importantly fun to look at for crazies like myself. Today I want to look at players who were drafted in the top 50 (per Fantrax ADP, found here) who have not lived up to their draft slots. These struggling players range from tried-and-true veterans to young studs.

I’m going to ignore players with injuries because that’s an obvious answer. So you won’t find your Corey Seagers or Clayton Kershaws. (Though it’s time we knocked Kershaw out of the top 15, right? Ahhh, that’s a discussion for a different day.) Instead, we’ll focus on the players who have spent time in your lineup destroying your stats while you anxiously pace and wonder whether or not to trade them for Christian Villanueva only to endure an 0-for-37 slump from your new acquisition. So calm down, stop panicking, and let’s figure out whether or not you should be worried about your coveted early pick.

Paul Goldschmidt – 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks

There isn’t a worse feeling than having your first pick struggle so mightily that instead of being the top-ranked player at their position, they sit outside of the top 10. Well that’s what Goldschmidt’s owners are going through now that he sits 11th on the Fantrax list of top first basemen as ranked by their offensive output. When it is 2018 and Joe Mauer is producing more value than you, you’re in trouble. That’s not to say that Goldschmidt has been valueless, but he hasn’t exactly given you the power-speed combo that we’ve come to know and love from the first baseman in his career.

Through 41 games, Goldy has put up an atrocious .211/.337/.374 slash line with 4 homers, 2 stolen bases, and somehow only 12 RBI. You read that right, TWELVE RBI. The perennial MVP candidate is on pace for a full season in which he drives in 45 runs from the middle of the order in nice lineup. The one Goldschmidtian thing he’s still doing is walking nearly 15% of the time, but you didn’t pay for just some runs scored and a middle infielder’s OBP, you paid for a stud. Can he turn it around?

In short, I’m sure he does, but how much is up in the air and probably the thing I’m the least certain about on this list. Goldschmidt’s strikeout percentage is up from his career rate of about 22% to over 30%, and while that’s fixable, as far as the studs go his K% was always a little on the high side so it might stick at a higher rate. He’s obviously not driving the ball as hard, with his soft contact above 20% for the first time in his career. He’s also not pulling the ball quite as much and there are troubling signs like his infield fly ball percentage rising, his home run per fly ball percent dropping to nearly half his career rate, and a bit of a loss in the zone contact percentage – meaning he’s not hitting pitches that are strikes quite as often.

A lot of people out there are screaming about the humidor, and obviously that has a part to play in this story. But that simply can’t be the only thing wrong here. Admittedly Goldy is hitting a paltry .139 at home with all of his homers and a .294 mark coming away from Chase Field. But this is just insane. One fun fact: he’s walking nearly 20% of the time at home and only 8% away, so perhaps he’s just afraid to swing the bat now?

Ultimately I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Paul Goldschmidt as an elite baseball player. He’s certainly not going to catch up to his home run total from a year ago, though there is time for him to get to the 18 steals he netted. The average has to come up, but with a quarter of a season now gone, where does he end up at the end of the year? I’m guessing in the .270 range, which isn’t horrible, but not near the .300 mark he tends to hover around. All-in-all I’m holding onto Goldschmidt, not only because his value is at an all-time low, but because I think he has the talent to turn it around. But in the future, maybe we are looking at a 25-20 player instead of a 30-20 player… only time will tell.

Gary Sanchez – C, New York Yankees

Much has been made of Sanchez’s struggles, but I’m kind of here to posit that they really aren’t struggles in the truest sense. Sure, he’s hitting only .206/306/.496 but he does have 10 homers, 25 runs, and 30 RBI while playing as much as a starting catcher generally plays. You paid for those counting stats, but you also likely paid for batting average and OBP considering Sanchez went as the 23rd player off the board. But whose fault is that? Is it the guy playing the most demanding position on the diamond or is it the fantasy player expecting a catcher to do everything including play defense (well, if you can call what Sanchez does defense)?

The truth is, expectations were sky-high for Sanchez and they should have been. We had just seen 754 plate appearances (over 2016-17) with a .284/.354/.568 line and 53 homers. He was a monster and the heir apparent to Buster Posey’s number one spot atop the catcher rankings. He deserved every bit of our respect and deserved that 23rd overall pick. However, smart fantasy players just don’t take catchers that high. So I place the blame directly on you, Gary Sanchez owner. If you’re dissatisfied with what he’s done, then only you are to blame.

That said, chill out. It’s still early and he’s hitting the ball really hard. That average will come up. He’s walking 12.5% of the time as well. At the end of the year maybe he only has an average of .250, but when you look at the 30+ homers and 80-90 runs/RBI, you can rest easy knowing you still got the best of the position. Just don’t draft a catcher this high again, OK?

Cody Bellinger – 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers

Bellinger actually has a pretty solid slash line of .270/.327/.461. Of course, you paid for the .267/.352/.581 line from last year when the rookie mashed baseballs and took walks like a pro. This year not only are the walks down (about 4% actually), but the homers are waaaaaaay down. He’s now hitting the ball out of the yard at half the rate he did last year. In his rookie year he hit them once every 14 plate appearances. Now he’s only doing it once every 33 plate appearances. The strikeouts are actually down a bit, so there is a nice spin we can put on this story already, at least.

Looking deeper at the numbers, we can see that his HR/FB rate is well under half last year’s rate of 25.2% with a 10.9% rate so far, and we can also see the 6% more GB%. Notably we also see a spike in infield fly balls, which are basically the baseball equivalent of a boxer punching himself in the face (but not like Ken Giles, that was kind of sad). He has an IFFB% of 17.4%, double his 8.4% rate of a year ago. If you’re popping the ball up in the infield that much, you’re definitely not hitting home runs. That number can correlate with his lower Hard%, and we basically just have a player not hitting the ball as well.

In Bellinger’s case, even though we have a limited set of data thanks to his age, I really think this is nothing to worry about. It’s only 168 plate appearances and his whole team has struggled alongside him. I never valued him as a 40 homer guy, but I did pencil him in for 30, and if he can hit 30 while slashing .270/.340/.530 and stealing a handful of bases… I’ll take it for the position.

Quick Hits:

Alex Bregman – 3B, Houston Astros

He sucked last year early, and he’s sucking early this year. But not really. He’s walking a ton and barely striking out. As summer heats up expect the average and the power to come. He’s a stud.

Andrew Benintendi – OF, Boston Red Sox

Did we overvalue his ability to hit left handers? This year he is only hitting .158 against them, and last year he hit .232, which wasn’t good anyway. If he’s a platoon bat his value goes down. If he can’t hit 15-20 homers, the value goes down. Still an OK player likely to go 15-25, and he’s got a good enough bat to hit .300, but there are now questions about him as a full-time player, and those are never good.

Marcell Ozuna – OF, St. Louis Cardinals

We all know there were a lot of career highs in that 2017 season, but did the talent disappear? It’s a new team and the weather sucked early in Missouri (trust me, I know) so I think the power comes back to at least a 20-25 HR pace, maybe more. That average is about where it will end up, though, and hopefully the walks gains from the last few years make an appearance. I still like him but obviously not at the price most paid.

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