This is the weekly Fantasy Roundtable, where the writers of Rotoworld Baseball let the readers of Rotoworld Baseball in on a quick staff discussion. It's water cooler talk ... that we've decided to publish. Look for it every Tuesday.
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Drew Silva: This week let's touch on some of the major disappointments from the 2016 fantasy baseball season. Give me a player who significantly underperformed your projections for him, and what is that player's outlook leading into 2017? We'll hit on fantasy surprises in the Roundtable next week.
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D.J. Short: Major disappointment might be a bit of an overstatement from a fantasy perspective, as Maikel Franco has at least managed 22 homers and 77 RBI, but it’s fair to say that he has taken a significant step back from his impressive first season in the majors. He’s seen his OPS drop more than 100 points from .840 to .714 and has been one of the worst hitters in the majors during the second half. Among players with at least 150 plate appearances, only Danny Espinosa, Jason Heyward, Jurickson Profar, and Derek Norris have a lower OPS since the All-Star break.
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin recently discussed the struggles with Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com and said that Franco has been “swinging wild” and “trying to do too much.” This sounds about right. With an increase in strikeout rate and a decrease in walk rate, we’ve seen a more aggressive hitter on the whole. Per FanGraphs, Franco is swinging more often on pitches inside the zone and outside the zone than he did last year. Watching him lose his helmet while chasing a pitch in the dirt has become the norm. The power has been there at times, but only three players have a higher infield fly ball rate this season.
Questions about Franco’s plate discipline will hang over him as we move into 2017, but he just turned 24 in August and the rebuilding Phillies will give him every opportunity to figure things out. If anything, the regression will make his price tag more reasonable in fantasy drafts next spring.
Nathan Grimm: After leaving the Twins, Francisco Liriano enjoyed a three-year renaissance with pitching coach Ray Searage and the Pirates. The usually-dependable lefty faltered in a big way this season, though, posting a 5.46 ERA and 1.62 WHIP in 21 starts with the Bucs before they shipped him to the Blue Jays ahead of the trade deadline. In Toronto, Liriano has been shuttled between the rotation and the bullpen, and while his 3.89 ERA suggests improvement, his 4.87 FIP says little has changed.
What did change this year is twofold. First, Liriano has gotten hitters to chase less often, leading to his highest walk percentage and lowest strikeout percentage since his time with the Twins. Secondly, he's giving up home runs at the highest rate of his career -- a product of having to live more in the strike zone, and also of lacking command of his two-seam fastball. His issues were profiled in a highly recommended August Fagerstrom piece on FanGraphs back in May.
If that's the bad news, the good news is that the issues are correctable. This isn't the case of a pitcher losing velocity and having to change his philosophy -- Liriano is still throwing as hard as ever, and he's still generating swinging strikes at a rate higher than the league average. Everything hinges on his ability to spot his two-seamer, and while that's easier said than done, he's got an established track record of being able to exhibit that control when he's right. There are some questions that need to be answered this winter -- will the Jays keep him, and if so, will they keep him as a starter? -- but he'll be pitching for a new deal in 2017, and if he's in the rotation, there will be few buy-low opportunities next spring I'll like more than the soon-to-be 33-year-old.
Ryan Boyer: Just about everything has gone wrong for the Diamondbacks this season. At or near the top of the list has been the disappointing showing from their $206.5 million free agent investment, Zack Greinke. After posting a microscopic 1.66 ERA in his National League Cy Young runner-up campaign in 2015, Greinke has put up a 4.42 ERA in 2016. He's pretty much earned that high mark, too, with a 4.07 FIP and 4.09 SIERA. Greinke's velocity has only been down very slightly, but his strikeout and walk rates have both gone in the wrong direction and he's simply been way more hittable. The righty has surrendered 11 more hits than he did last year despite pitching 70 fewer innings. Let me state that again: he's allowed 11 more hits in 70 fewer innings.
A lot of that is the result of Greinke's unsustainable .229 BABIP from 2015 normalizing (it's at .300 in 2016, which is right at his career average). Of course, that's not really a comforting feeling for his prospects moving forward. We also can't ignore the role Chase Field has played in the righty's struggles, as Greinke holds a 4.81 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and 55/25 K/BB ratio over 78 2/3 frames at his home park. Greinke's strikeout rate has fluctuated in his career, but it's been in a steady decline the last few seasons. I wouldn't be expecting a rebound in that area in his age-33 season.
I could see the price on Greinke dropping enough next spring to where I'd be comfortable taking a shot on him, but I suspect I probably won't wind up with too many shares.
David Shovein: When it comes to players who have underperformed this season, the first name that pops into my head is Jason Heyward. After resurrecting his career with a terrific 2015 season in St. Louis, Heyward inked a massive eight-year, $184 million free agent contract with the Cubs over the winter. This is a guy who entered the season with three 20+ stolen base seasons in the last four years and who clubbed as many as 27 home runs with the Braves in 2012. He began the season in the midst of his physical prime at 26 years old and was primed for massive offensive numbers playing his home games at Wrigley Field and hitting in the middle of the vaunted Cubs lineup.
What has actually transpired has been an unmitigated disaster. Heyward has hit a vomit-inducing .230/.302/.319 with just six homers, 43 RBI and eight stolen bases in 548 plate appearances. Heyward was a top 75 pick in the majority of fantasy leagues this spring and has been a major source of anger and frustration throughout his miserable campaign. While he does still play a tremendous defensive right field, his contract looks like it could be an albatross that the Cubs are going to have to deal with for most of the next decade.
So what does 2017 have in store for Heyward? He has already shown the ability in the past to rebound from disappointing seasons and he will be able to be secured for pennies on the dollar compared to his fantasy draft-day cost from this year. He’ll be worthy of a flier in the mid-to-late rounds, but certainly can’t be trusted as a foundation piece.
Matthew Pouliot: When hitters jump from the NL to the AL, I always feel like they’ll be better in year two than in year one. Justin Upton doesn’t seem to have waited until year two to figure it out – everything he hits lately is leaving the park – but it’s not going to be enough to cancel out his ugly first half in his overall numbers. He’ll be more comfortable from the get go next year, and he’s hardly past his prime at 29 years old. I could see him hitting 35-40 homers for the first time.
Drew Silva: I think we have to mention the sudden decline of Andrew McCutchen, a top-five MVP finisher from 2012-2015 who is sporting a .760 OPS through 140 games in 2016. Cutch hasn't come close to providing first-round value and that's where many people were picking him this spring. He is batting .252, by far the lowest mark of his career, and he's stolen just six bases in 13 attempts after swiping 11 bases in 2015, 18 in 2014, and 27 in 2013. Notice a trend there? I think the batting average will probably rebound in 2017 because McCutchen has been the victim of some bad luck this season (look to the BABIP), but speed isn't usually a thing that a 30-year-old outfielder can suddenly rediscover. The knee problems shouldn't be overlooked. If he's just a 25-homer outfielder going forward, Cutch is really just another guy.