10 Players Who Are Better Than Their Slumps (Fantasy Baseball)
2021 is going to be a wild fantasy baseball season. Think about the information we as fantasy managers are working with. We have an abbreviated and all-around strange 2020 season and statistics from a 2019 season that are somewhat unreliable because of juiced baseballs.
No one really knows what to expect in 2021, and we don’t even have a final decision on the universal DH. When it comes to evaluating the performances of players in the 2020 season, we must remember that we’re dealing with small sample sizes. Instead of the usual 162 games, we’re working with 60.
When we talk about players who go through slumps, 60 games can sometimes be the entire length of said slumps. So, in some ways, it’s possible that players who had down years in 2020 really just went through a lengthy slump without the opportunity to break out of it. We often talk about players who had great first halves but stumbled in the second half or vice versa, and a 60 game sample size is less than one of those halves.
With all of that in mind, let’s get a look at 10 players whose end-of-season numbers were dragged down by an uncharacteristic or lengthy slump, making them intriguing value plays heading into 2021.
A bunch of 2020 first-round picks had down (or at least “off”) years. Yelich was among the most disappointing. He still hit 12 home runs in 58 games, but he batted just .205 with a strikeout rate over 30%. Most of his batted ball numbers (exit velocity, hard-hit %, barrel %, in particular) were still excellent, but his whiff and strikeout rates were near the bottom of the league. He just wasn’t hitting the ball, and he didn’t look right all year.
I expect Yelich to bounce back in 2021, but so does pretty much everyone else. Assuming the knee isn’t a concern going forward, I don’t see any reason why he doesn’t return to form. So, there won’t be a huge discount here. But his early ADP is 12, when he was a consensus Top-3 pick in 2020. I currently have him at six behind only Betts, Trout, Acuna, Soto, and Tatis. So, if you’re picking in the bottom half of the first round, you could be getting a steal.
Depending on where I end up picking in drafts, it’s possible I end up with both Yelich and Cody Bellinger in the first two rounds. Like Yelich, Bellinger followed up a dominating 2019 performance with a dud in 2020. And also like Yelich, I’m banking on a bounce-back performance in 2021 and am buying Bellinger shares everywhere. His early ADP is currently 14, putting him just outside of the first round. Can you imagine ending up with the 12th pick in a snake draft and walking away with Yelich and Bellinger as your first two picks?
Jack Flaherty ended the 2020 season with a 4.91 ERA, but it was under 2.00 at the end of August. He allowed nine earned runs in a start near the end of the season, which torpedoed his final numbers due to the small sample size. His early FantasyPros ECR is 42, while his ADP is 28. I currently have him at 21, right behind Walker Buehler.
Rafael Devers slashed .263 / .310 / .483 with 11 home runs in 57 games in 2020 after going .311 / .361 / .555 with 32 home runs in 2019, and his strikeout rate jumped from 17% to 27%. The Red Sox were a mess in 2020, and no one looked very good in that lineup. He hit .172 with no home runs in July but was a much better .283 with five home runs in September/October last season. I’m expecting Devers to jump back up to around a .900 OPS with 30+ home runs in 2021. His ECR and ADP currently have him around 40-45, but I have him in my Top 25 overall.
Corbin’s velocity was down in 2020. That’s always a concern, but 2020 was a strange season. The veteran left-hander’s final numbers are also inflated by a late slump. In two of his final four starts, he allowed five and seven runs, respectively, which ballooned his ERA from 3.79 to 4.66. After throwing more than 400 innings from 2018-2019, maybe an abbreviated 2020 is just what Corbin needed.
Civale allowed eight earned runs in his final start and 12 total runs over his final two starts combined, which pushed his ERA nearly a full run from 3.80 to 4.74. Civale probably isn’t going to ever be a true ace at baseball’s top level, but he has the repertoire to be a more-than-solid starter. He dominated the upper minor league levels in 2019 before an excellent debut with Cleveland, and I expect him to shine in his first full season in the big leagues despite his mini-slump to end the 2020 season.
I have some concerns about Gleyber Torres. He hit 38 home runs in 144 games and was an MVP candidate in 2019. In 2020, he hit .243 with three home runs in 42 games. His strikeouts were down and his walks were up, but pretty much everything else was a mess. While I don’t expect him to replicate his 38 home run performance even while playing half of his games in Yankee Stadium, his 2019 was more than just small ballparks and juiced baseballs. And his drop from a 21.5% HR/FB in 2019 to 7.1% in 2020 is due for some positive regression.
Yoan Moncada never really looked like himself in 2020, and he admitted late in the season that he never really bounced all the way back after contracting COVID-19 earlier in the year. His Statcast data in 2020 was awful, but it was excellent in 2019. The real Moncada is probably somewhere in the middle, but he’s far better than the .225 / .320 / .385 he slashed last year. If you look at his early FantasyPros ECR and ADP, it’s clear that experts have differing opinions on the young infielder. His best ranking is currently 54, while his worst is 177. I have him right around the 75 mark. But if he is being drafted later because of a down 2020, he could be a steal in 2021 fantasy drafts.
Vladito’s final numbers don’t even really look all that bad, he just feels like a disappointment because of his prospect pedigree. A .172 batting average in July once the season started back up didn’t help, either. He’ll need to fix that launch angle and fly ball percentage issue if he is going to truly harness his power on a consistent basis, but he is still incredibly young and should continue to get better. I am not overvaluing his slump(s) in 2020.
I’m not sure we can even really pinpoint a specific slump for Pham in 2020 given the small sample size, but he did bat .173 in August after batting .267 in July. But Pham only played in 31 games thanks to a hand injury, batting .211 with three home runs and six stolen bases. But his advanced numbers point to some bad luck to go along with his injury. The Padres should be a top contender in the National League in 2021, and Pham should see plenty of opportunities in a loaded lineup.
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