One of the best ways to find fantasy baseball success is to find those sleepers, the diamonds in the rough primed for breakout seasons. You can win your championship just as much in the late rounds as you can early on, if you’re able to find the right players.
As important as it is to find those players poised for breakout seasons, it’s also important not to “waste” high draft picks on players who might be heading for the wrong kind of regression in the upcoming season.
Here’s a list of players who could be looking at a slide backward in 2017.
C Wilson Ramos, Rays
OK, so this one might be cheating a little bit, as Ramos probably will miss the first half of the season with a knee injury. But when you look at his 2016 stats, the batting average on balls in play (.327) jumps out at you, especially considering it was nearly 30 points higher than his career BABIP. As a result, he hit .307 — 38 points higher than his career batting average. An uptick in hard-hit ball percentage helped account for his first season of 20-plus home runs, but given the injury situation, the nature of the position and that Ramos will be 30 in August, it might be best to stay away.
SP Kyle Hendricks, Cubs
There are reasons to believe Hendricks is the real deal despite lacking the stuff you’d expect from a pitcher who posted a 2.13 ERA in 190 innings in 2016. He throws a ton of strikes, induces ground balls and gets bad contact. That he does all of that in front of the Cubs’ defense — one of the best defensive infields in baseball — also makes him attractive. But we’re not ready to believe Hendricks can sustain such a low ERA (almost a run and a half better than his career mark entering 2016) for another full season. Not to mention the Cubs’ starting infield all played at least 142 games last season, which is the sort of good injury fortune that seems slightly unsustainable.
OF/DH Carlos Beltran, Astros
Look at Beltran’s numbers from last season, and they’re very impressive on the surface — especially from a power perspective. The 39-year-old slugged 29 home runs, the second-highest round-tripper total he’s had since 2007. That’s great, right? The issue, however, is Beltran did a lot of his damage at Yankee Stadium. Twenty of the switch-hitter’s 29 home runs came from the left side and eight of his nine shortest home runs of the season came at Yankee Stadium where left-handed hitters take advantage of the short porch in right field. No one would call Minute Maid Park a pitcher’s paradise, but it is bigger than Yankee Stadium, and how many players pushing 40 add power (naturally) at the end of their career?
SP John Lackey, Cubs
Lackey is highly owned (94 percent) and ranked high (preseason No. 132 overall) in Yahoo! leagues. That seems a little off for a 38-year-old pitcher with more than 2,600 career innings under his belt. If the age doesn’t scare you off, consider this: Lackey just posted the lowest full-season BABIP of his career (.255) and the only season he posted a lower ground ball rate was 2011 when he had a 6.41 ERA with the Red Sox. So he was giving up a healthy amount of fly balls but it didn’t really hurt him as confirmed by a 3.35 ERA. That sort of “luck” seems unsustainable particularly in a ballpark like Wrigley Field that can be homer happy.
2B Jason Kipnis, Indians
You obviously could do worse than Kipnis, especially at a position like second base. However, Kipnis went from averaging 15 home runs per 162 games for his career to hitting 23 in 156 games in 2016. He did that, in part, by hitting more fly balls than any other season in his career. It’s unlikely he’s able to sustain that sort of success, especially in Cleveland, where cold springs can make it tough for hitters to find a groove early in the season. Couple that with a nagging shoulder injury, and it’s hard to imagine Kipnis providing 2016 levels of power in 2017.
Thumbnail photo via Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports Images