Busts: Starting Pitchers (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
In fantasy baseball, it is inevitable that we will experience the deflating feeling of realizing one of our starting pitchers has busted. Usually, it’s a player drafted in the early rounds who fails to deliver on lofty expectations. Sometimes, it’s a buzzworthy player whose ADP shoots through the roof leading up to the draft – only to dash your hopes with each poor start.
More often than not, we hold onto these players for too long, longer even than our better judgment tells us we should. We do this because we want to believe in the same hype that led us to draft that pitcher in the first place. We want to justify our choices, no matter how misguided they become with each passing start.
In most cases, there were signs long before draft day that the pitcher was unlikely to meet our inflated expectations.
To be clear, none of the following pitchers are guaranteed to be busts. All of them could have stellar campaigns. Last year, I correctly identified Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander as busts, and neither was able to post a positive return on investment. However, I whiffed wildly in predicting that Trevor Bauer, Yu Darvish, and Aaron Nola could bust. Still, a look back at the process shows that there were underlying numbers that made it reasonable to cast some doubt on how each would perform in 2020. Our goal is to highlight a few pitchers who will be taken early in most drafts and present a sobering enough picture that you should at least proceed with caution before spending an early-round pick on them.
If you decide to draft any of these arms, and they pan out, good for you. I’d rather be wrong and see a player succeed than root for one to fail. However, if these pitchers struggle to meet expectations, at least you can circle back here and find some solace in possible answers as to why they busted.
Let’s look at some potential pitchers who may be poised to break your heart. We’ll go from top to bottom based on the current Fantasy Pros Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR).
Tyler Glasnow (SP – TB)
Tyler Glasnow has largely been a two-pitch pitcher throughout his career, boasting an elite fastball/curveball combination. Still, he has below average command that often leads to high walk totals, and limited innings pitched. Believers will look at Glasnow’s 4.08 ERA last year and point to a 2.75 xFIP as reasons for why he’s still the same pitcher that dominated in 2019. However, the span of that domination lasted just 12 games started, and Glasnow is still a pitcher with a career 4.443 ERA who has never accumulated more than 13 starts in a season. Moreover, he still lacks a viable third pitch to throw more than five percent of the time. Despite this, he is still being drafted as a top-20 pitcher.
— Fantasy Sports Radio (@SiriusXMFantasy) March 2, 2021
Dinelson Lamet (SP – SD)
There is no denying that Dinelson Lamet was electric in 2020 with a 2.09 ERA and 12.13 K/9. However, those numbers were only across 12 starts. Lamet has a track record for inducing whiffs, but his below-average GB% (36.9%) and poor command make him a volatile starter. Biceps soreness and PRP injections in his elbow hardly inspire confidence that he will exceed 2020’s 12 starts, let alone the 14 he made in 2019. Like Glasnow, Lamet lacks a strong third pitch, and one could argue that his four-seamer (2.8 PVal) and sinker-curve (0.8 pVal) are both below average as well. Truly, Lamet’s saving grace is arguably the best slider in baseball (19.7 pVal), but that is a lot to bank on if we are to draft him as a top-30 starting pitcher, where his ADP should hold if spring reports remain positive.
Reports very positive from Dinelson Lamet's sim outing today. He threw 20-25 pitches, including a handful of sliders (the first time he's used it vs. hitters since his injury). Fastball sat 95-96, hit 98.
He looked "like Lamet," one onlooker said.
— AJ Cassavell (@AJCassavell) March 7, 2021
Zack Wheeler (SP -NYM)
Zack Wheeler put together a shiny 2.92 ERA in 2020, but a look under the hood revealed a 3.76 xFIP. Most concerning would be Wheeler’s K/9 which declined sharply from 8.98 in 2019 to a pedestrian 6.72 in 2020. After an injury-plagued beginning to his career, Wheeler has been a model of durability, making 29 starts in 2018 and 31 in 2019, plus being one of the few starters to go 70+ IP in 2020. However, Wheeler will only be worth the investment as a top-30 starter if his strikeout rate returns to pre-2020 levels. M0nitor his spring performance carefully.
There's the Zack Wheeler Slider we've been waiting for.
Here's to hoping he can be consistent with it. pic.twitter.com/LtTlOLGWNB
— Nick Pollack (@PitcherList) March 7, 2021
Max Fried (SP – ATL)
Max Fried was brilliant in his 11 starts last year, producing a 2.25 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. However, beneath that sparkling ERA is a far more concerning 4.32 SIERA. Fried averaged an 8.72 K/9 across his 41 starts in 2019 and 2020, but that rate dropped from 9.40 to 8.04 last season. Fried will need to take bigger steps forward in the strikeout department to mitigate regression on his batted-ball luck from 2020. Fried is currently being drafted as a top-25 pitcher, but his ADP requires a lot of batted ball luck to justify it.
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