Players I Whiffed On – 2018 Edition

This was a pretty good season for me.

I won the overall championship in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational and finished top 10 in the NFBC RotoWire Online Championship among 1,764 teams.

However, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. And realistically, nobody wants to hear about my successes anyway. It’s my opinion that in this game, looking at one’s failures is more productive than looking at one’s successes, so I wanted to take some time to look back at what I got wrong.

This is just scratching the surface:

Jose Peraza, SS, CIN – This was probably my biggest whiff of the season, and it was with a player on my favorite team. What I saw with my own two eyes in 2017 was beyond ugly. Part of it was body language — he wasn’t confident at all — but the numbers backed it up: no power (.066 ISO), no patience (3.9 percent walk rate), a 21.6 percent line-drive rate (down nearly six percentage points from 2016). I thought an ADP around pick 200 was way too high. I guess the lesson here is that it’s OK to overlook some warts and gamble on a player with pedigree outside the top 175 or so, especially when he plays a premium position, plays in an advantageous home park and helps in a scarce category.

Jose Quintana, P, CHC – Maybe consistency is overrated, when what’s consistent is only above-average skills. Results fluctuate in both directions…in Quintana’s case, he’s “overachieved” compared to his peripherals twice in the last five seasons and he’s “underachieved” three times (meaning he’s posted a higher ERA than FIP in three of the last five seasons). He’s probably a bounce-back player for next year, but in retrospect, Quintana’s fifth/sixth-round price was way too high. This is a player with a career 14.2 percent K-BB rate and 1.25 WHIP.

Manuel Margot, OF, SD – Rarely do prospects enjoy a straight line to success upon breaking into the majors. Ronald Acuna and Juan Soto barely hit any bumps in the road this season, but remember Alex Bregman’s first cup of coffee? Mike Trout’s? In the cases of Bregman and Trout, both players have been on the upward trajectory ever since their initial struggles, but the point is that most players endure some growing pains and it was unwise to expect Margot to build on his numbers across the board and not hit any snags. Outside the top 200? Sure, take a shot, but Margot was going 135 on average in the NFBC. Aside from the awful start, the biggest issue was his lack of success on the basepaths, as he was caught nearly as many times as he was successful (11-for-21). Still a work in progress.

Kevin Kiermaier, OF, TB – Never again. And I mean it this time. Kiermaier continues to entice with hot stretches at the plate, but the guy just can’t stay on the field. He’s an incredible athlete and great center fielder, but it’s a double-edged sword — his all-out style seems to make him more susceptible to injuries. He has now failed to crack 100 games in back-to-back seasons and has exceeded 108 games played just once in the major leagues.

Jason Kipnis, 2B, CLE – I’m mad at myself for getting duped into this one. Spring training stats don’t matter! As he entered his age-31 season, it was clear that Kipnis’ skills were eroding, and rather quickly. He then went off in Cactus League play for a .346 average and six home runs, one of which I was in attendance for at Maryvale Baseball Park in Arizona. Your eyes and small samples will lie to you. Spring training is important for determining job battles. Spring numbers hold no predictive value.

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Dominic Leone, P, STL – Here’s one of the countless examples of reliever volatility. Leone was coming off a sub-3.00 FIP season with the Blue Jays and appeared to have the inside track at the closer job in St. Louis. His cost was minimal even late into draft season and thus didn’t really set owners back, but Leone’s 2018 season serves as a reminder to not get too enamored with relievers without much of a track record.

Ian Happ, OF/3B, CHC – Playing-time uncertainty plus Ks equals a poor choice in the 8-to-10 round range. Happ gave back more than 100 points in slugging and 20 points of batting average while also losing second-base eligibility heading into 2019. He did get to 20 games at third to maintain multi-position eligibility. Happ also walked at a robust 15.2 percent clip and some of the playing-time uncertainty should clear up this winter, but there are obvious flaws here so an ADP closer to 200 in 2019 seems right.

Miguel Sano, 3B, MIN – I started coming around to Sano late in draft season as he started to work into shape, and even extended him through 2020 in Staff Keeper League 1, against my better judgement. It was a reversal in terms of approach on the matter — I grabbed Eduardo Escobar in AL LABR in early March because I was skeptical about Sano holding up (“Sano is dealing with issues off the field and is a big-bodied guy with a rod in his leg”). Big mistake. In keeper leagues, only extend the elite of the elite.

Scott Kingery, SS, PHI – Sometimes “old and boring” players are just old and crappy. And sometimes up-and-coming prospects are actually just young and crappy. After an excellent season split between Double-A and Triple-A in 2017, Kingery signed an extension with the Phillies before making his major-league debut. He ended up logging 484 plate appearances and, at least according to FanGraphs, was slightly below replacement level. It’s too early to close the book on Kingery, but the plate discipline is sketchy and I don’t see much in the batted-ball data to suggest that he’s going to become a viable mixed-league starter next season.

Domingo Santana, OF, MIL – Santana with one of eight players with 30 homers and 15 stolen bases in 2017. The Brewers of course added Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain last offseason, creating a glut of outfielders in Milwaukee, but I figured Santana would continue to play every day after the season he had. A few lessons here: 1) Never assume and 2) While defense may not “count” in fantasy, it is still hugely important. If a player is really good on defense, they will get a longer leash to figure things out if they struggled at the plate. Conversely, if the player is a liability on defense, the team will not have as much patience and players like Santana must avoid prolonged slumps to hold onto their job.

Delino DeShields, OF, TEX – Speed kills, and chasing speed will kill your fantasy team. DeShields posted a double-digit walk rate in 2017 and followed up with a similar mark, but a discerning eye is just one piece of a much bigger puzzle. I saw what I wanted to see and missed some obvious warning signs: 23.9 percent hard-hit rate, 20.2 percent line-drive rate, 10.2 percent infield-flyball rate.

Willie Calhoun, OF, TEX – Steamer optimism is a hell of a drug. In Calhoun’s case, Steamer’s preseason projection was especially eye-popping given that the system is generally conservative when it comes to prospects. Of course, Steamer was assuming close to a full season of playing time. Calhoun only ended up logging 108 plate appearances for the Rangers as his defense was on the wrong end of the spectrum and he took a big step back offensively in a repeat of Triple-A.

Austin Barnes, C, LAD – This was a classic example of buying too much into a postseason performance. Barnes overtook Yasmani Grandal during the Dodgers’ 2017 World Series run, starting 13 of 14 games behind the plate after Grandal started Game 1 of the NLDS. That’s a dramatic playing-time split, but the Dodgers were adamant that Grandal was still their starter heading into 2018. I simply didn’t believe it. It ended up being the right call for Los Angeles as Grandal finished second in fWAR at the position behind only J.T. Realmuto. Even with the letdown, I’ll probably be back in on Barnes next season with Grandal an impending free agent.

Dee Gordon, OF, SEA – I wasn’t in on Gordon at his draft price in the preseason, with him being an over-30, speed-centric player making a transition to the outfield. However, I did trade for him in-season in AL LABR, and that trade will haunt me for a while. I got so focused on making up ground in the stolen-base category and batting average that I ignored some obvious signs. One of the toughest things in fantasy is knowing when to change baseline expectations/projections. Gordon only missed nine games after suffering a fractured right big toe in May, but it seemed to inhibit him well after his return. He hit just .251 and was 14-for-24 on the basepaths (.583 success rate, .768 for career) from June 1 through the end of the season. I didn’t think Gordon would be what he was during his time in Miami, but I thought he would still do enough to be a big difference maker in AL-only.