10 Players Who Are Better Than Their Slumps (2022 Fantasy Baseball)
We all go through rough patches. Life doesn’t always go according to plan, and sometimes adversity compounds all at once. That’s OK, as long as you get back up.
Perhaps more than any other athletes, baseball players succumb to steep ebbs and flows throughout the season. Turns out it’s difficult to consistently hit a small ball hurled in your direction at maximum speed, and it’s not any easier routinely directing that ball to a precise location.
Not even superstars dominant all season without slip-ups. Juan Soto slugged .345 in May, but he’s once again an early first-rounder after slashing .329/.489/.589 the rest of the way. Before allowing five runs in his first nine other-wordly starts with the Dodgers, Max Scherzer surrendered 11 runs in back-to-back outings against the Padres.
Those aren’t the slumps of interest here. Although many of the following 10 players bounced back or performed well beyond a brief detour, the overall numbers still show their scars. In some cases, the early drafting market has erased any potential buy-low value by fully anticipating a rebound. Yet all are solid targets likely to move past a prolonged 2021 slump in 2022.
Note: All Average Draft Positions (ADPs) are courtesy of NFBC drafts as of January 5.
Francisco Lindor (SS – NYM)
Maybe we should have seen this coming. In his first season with the Mets, Lindor slugged .412 with a 102 wRC+ and .344 expected wOBA (xwOBA). All three numbers virtually mirror his .415 slugging, 104 wRC+, and .345 wOBA from the abbreviated 2020.
He still managed 20 home runs and 10 stolen bases in 125 games. Fantasy managers may not have noticed anything amiss if he hit better than .230.
Whether it was new kid in town jitters or just a regular nasty slump, Lindor entered May batting an abhorrent .194/.294/.294. From that point forward, he elevated his slash line to a far more reasonable .252/.340/.482 despite an oblique injury halting his momentum for a month. Since the Mets kept their prized acquisition parked in the No. 2 or 3 spot, he deposited 51 runs and 52 RBIs over those final 79 games.
Lindor is too good a hitter to hit .230 once more. However, don’t expect a full recovery to his .278 career average. The shortstop’s contact rate dipped below 80.0% (77.5) for the first time in his career, and he whiffed on more pitches than ever (10.5%) despite swinging at fewer offerings off the plate. Looking at his average from June onward, his .253 xBA in 2021, and his .258 average last year, all signs point to the .250-.260 range as the new baseline.
That’s good enough to support a top-50 fantasy season with a return to 30-plus home runs and 12-15 steals. Lindor averaged 701.5 plate appearances per season from 2016-19 and played all 60 games in 2020, so managers should trust the 28-year-old to stay healthy and compile major numbers in the heart of a revamped Mets lineup.
Luis Castillo (SP – CIN)
Castillo is clearly better than the pitcher who got shredded to a 7.22 ERA through May. He proved that by posting 2.73 ERA the rest of the way. Even so, should drafters pay for a return to full form? Despite concluding 2021 with a 3.96 ERA and 1.36 WHIP, he’s the 23rd starting pitcher off the NFBC board at pick No. 77.
This also wasn’t the first time Castillo malfunctioned to start a season. In 2018, he surrendered a 5.49 ERA through the All-Star break, allowing six home runs in each of the first three months. He’s typically worse out of the gate, ceding a career 4.58 ERA in April and 5.01 ERA in May. He enjoyed his best season on a start-by-start basis in 2020, which started in the summer.
Even if there’s nothing to this trend, potential investors must beware his inconsistency. The tables turned in 2019 when he followed a 2.29 first-half ERA with a 4.78 ERA in the second half. Prepare for some bumps (hopefully less defined than last year) along the way, and plan accordingly when assembling your staff. He’d make an enticing SP2 or 3 for a rotation anchored by Walker Buehler, but think twice about pairing him with Lucas Giolito and Robbie Ray.
Just don’t make the mistake of assuming Castillo is “fixed” and forgetting about his latest speed bump.
Michael Conforto (OF – FA)
Like Lindor, Conforto spent all summer doing damage control in Queens. He hit .252/.347/.445 with 11 home runs and a 118 wRC+ after the All-Star break, only a step or two behind his typical production. Unlike Lindor, that wasn’t nearly enough to even salvage a respectable season.
After hitting .322 — with help from a .412 BABIP far and beyond prior career norms — in 2020, Conforto limped into the All-Star break batting .202. He didn’t hit a single home run from May 2 to July 10, a stretch that included a five-week absence.
Conforto also went a dozen games without an extra-base hit before going on the IL with a hamstring injury. He doubled in his return on June 23, but then endured another extra-base-hit drought until going yard on July 12. The outfielder also contracted COVID before reporting to spring training, which agent Scott Boras cited to explain his struggles.
Conforto is a career .255/.356/.468 hitter with a career .352 wOBA. Despite everything going wrong in 2021, he still managed a .350 xwOBA, suggesting plain old bad luck joined forces with health woes to derail his age-28 campaign. His No. 181 ADP could skyrocket before Opening Day if Conforto finds a favorable landing spot, so he stands out as a tremendous buy-low opportunity.
Eduardo Rodriguez (SP – DET)
After missing all of the 2020 season due to myocarditis caused by COVID-19, Rodriguez returned to deliver a 3.32 FIP in 157.2 innings. As a result, the lefty netted a five-year, $77 million contract from the Tigers before the lockout.
He also had a 4.79 ERA and 1.39 WHIP.
It wasn’t just one rough patch that undid Rodriguez, who allowed five or six runs in six starts (two against Houston, two against Toronto). However, his worst stretch occurred from mid-May to mid-June. Over seven sullen starts, he served up 47 hits and 32 runs (all earned) over 33.2 innings. Only Matt Harvey had a higher BABIP than Rodriguez during this brutal window, and he failed to strand runners (LOB%) at far below his career 74.0% average.
Managers understandably cut the chord, letting leaguemates open to second chances receive a 3.70 ERA and 27.8% K rate over his final 18 starts. That's far more in line with Rodriguez's ability. Steamer projects a 3.82 ERA in 2022, which makes sense considering his 3.82 ERA in 2018 and 3.81 ERA in 2019. Last year's early-summer hit barrage also concealed a career-low 7.0% walk rate, and moving from the AL East to AL Central should soften his schedule and reduce his blow-up outings in 2022.
Eloy Jiménez (OF - CHW)
After witnessing several hitters (José Altuve, Javier Báez, J.D. Martinez, Kris Bryant, and Marcus Semien) erase the stench of a lost 2020, drafters should know better than to overrate a 55-game sample size. A ruptured pectoral tendon held out Jimenez until late July, and he went hitless in four of his first five games back. He turned the corner with seven homers and a 133 wRC+ in August before hitting .213/.288/.319 with 30 strikeouts over the final 25 games.
Jimenez only had one bad month, and that came after missing four months with a significant shoulder injury. Health is the only concern for the 25-year-old, who still boasts a career .506 slugging percentage and 13.2% barrel rate. The career .270 hitter shouldn't have much trouble offering 30-35 homers while broaching 100 RBIs in the heart of a stout White Sox lineup. His No. 62 ADP is a fair cost, though it doesn't leave much margin for error given Jimenez's health history and nearly guaranteed zero in the steals column.
Sean Manaea (SP - OAK)
See if you can spot a month that least matches the others:
Manaea mosied into August with a sparkling 3.01 ERA, fully earning managers' trust as a must-start pitcher. It jumped to 3.97 by the end of the month. Those disastrous five outings diminished, but hardly ruined a strong season from the Oakland southpaw. While the 3.91 ERA never fully recovered, he posted a personal-best 3.66 FIP and 3.68 SIERA (excluding five starts in 2019).
Following years of health woes and uneven strikeout totals, Manaea tallied 194 strikeouts in 179.1 innings. He can credit a noticeable spike in velocity on all of his pitches, including his sinker climbing from its usual 90 range to 92. That led to a career-high 12.3% swinging-strike rate.
Manaea will remain prone to start-by-start inconsistencies when his sinker doesn't drop enough, especially if he gets traded to a hitter's park, but he should once again be a solid fantasy SP3 or 4 who can improve last year's ERA with a lower walk rate and ample strikeouts.
Logan Gilbert (SP - SEA)
Nobody should sneeze at a 4.68 ERA and 1.17 WHIP from a rookie starter, especially not one with the same K-BB% (19.9) as Joe Musgrove. Gilbert will likely be a popular draft target, but the 24-year-old may have been everyone's favorite breakout selection had he authored an ERA closer to his 3.73 FIP and 3.87 SIERA.
Much of the discrepancy boils down to a three-start window in August in which Gilbert surrendered 25 hits and 19 runs. Fantasy managers have nightmares of falling into such a landmine, but the neophyte should have combusted on benches.
Gilbert coughed up five runs against the Blue Jays before getting pummeled for nine more by the Astros. You can't fault a newcomer too much for stumbling against the two best lineups in baseball last season. By then, most managers likely benched or dropped him before he gave up five more to a far less formidable Royals offense.
FanGraphs' Alex Chamberlain demonstrated how much the debuting hurler's perceived value dipped in such a short time:
six weeks later and confidence in logan gilbert has tanked
xFIP | SIERA as of...
7/9: 3.90 | 3.59
8/21: 3.94 | 3.67
six weeks, and gilbert goes from possibly overpriced in 2022 to probably underpriced. good thing we have another six more weeks for opinions to fluctuate wildly https://t.co/a82FExq084 pic.twitter.com/RAcFycKNZW
— Alex Chamberlain (@DolphHauldhagen) August 23, 2021
Alas, Gilbert ended the season on a strong note, garnering a 2.70 ERA in six September starts that commenced with two more matchups against Houston. The 6'6" righty also pitched past the fifth inning in each of his final four turns, a promising sign that Seattle won't limit his 2022 workload too severely. He's still going far later than Shane McClanahan and Alek Manoah, making Gilbert a fun mid-draft upside pick. The only problem? NFBC drafters may have to choose one of Rodriguez, Manaea, and Gilbert, as they're going side by side in the 145-150 range.
Eddie Rosario (OF - FA)
Rosario's value cratered to an all-time low last year. Non-tendered by Minnesota last offseason, he batted .254/.296/.389 before Cleveland sent him and cash to Atlanta for Pablo Sandoval, who was immediately released.
This story had a happy ending. He bounced back to bat .271/.330/.573 with his new club to close the season. Then he further restored his value by steering the Braves to a championship with a 1.073 postseason OPS.
EDDIE ROSARIO 3-RUN HOMER 💥
Braves back on top in the 4th!
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 24, 2021
The fairy-tale redemption story is a bummer for fantasy drafters who lost a chance to buy him for peanuts. On the high of his magical October, Rosario is going ahead of Conforto, Anthony Rizzo, Nelson Cruz, and other trustworthy hitters in early NFBC drafts. A No. 162 ADP, however, is still reasonable for a career .275/.309/.473 hitter who averages 24.7 homers per 150 games and quietly swiped 11 bags last year.
Of course, that depends on where he signs. As a corner outfielder with a low walk rate and poor glove, Rosario is far better in five-by-five fantasy leagues than real life. He should find playing time, especially assuming the National League adds the DH in 2022. Yet the game didn't think much of Rosario before his playoff heroics.
Matt Barnes (RP - BOS)
It truly pays to save your best for last. While Rosario etched his name into history books, Barnes didn't even make Boston's ALCS roster. That's a major downfall for a closer who earned an All-Star bid earlier that summer with a 2.61 ERA and MLB's third-highest strikeout rate (44.1%) behind Craig Kimbrel and Josh Hader.
Barnes' fall from grace was even swifter than his ascent. The righty got tagged for 10 runs in 4.1 innings from August 7 - 24. He lost the closer's job with his last save converted on August 4, and yet he still tied Kimbrel and Emmanuel Clase for 13th on the leaderboard with 24. Barnes also finished sixth in K-BB% (28.8%) and eighth in SIERA (2.54) among all qualified relievers. Give him the same overall numbers with the bad month occurring earlier, and he's probably getting drafted as a top-10 reliever.
As of now, Barnes should get a chance to reclaim the Red Sox's closer role in 2022. Some may like Garrett Whitlock as an alternative to seize the job, but he's working toward joining the starting rotation. Although Barnes gives up too many home runs to anticipate a low ERA, he has the potential to again offer an elite source of strikeouts and saves.
David Fletcher (2B/SS - LAA)
The typical drafter shouldn't bother with Fletcher, who has hit 12 home runs in 1,855 career plate appearances. However, the throwback singles machine is supposed to at least be good for a high batting average. He ended up at .262 after batting a putrid .184/.235/.228 from August onward.
Even during this slump, he had the highest contact rate and third-lowest strikeout rate (7.8%). He also had a .201 BABIP, far below his career .308 norm. Say what you will about a scrawny hitter who went the entire year without a single barrel, but Fletcher should still bounce back to the .280-.290 range.
Making his summer even stranger, Fletcher stole 10 bases during those two bleak months. He had previously never stolen more than eight bases in a season.
This creates a conundrum for deep-league drafters. Fletcher won't help anyone if he hits .270, but he'd make a sneaky value if pairing a high batting average with 15 steals. But beware, as eight of them came while he routinely batted leadoff in August before the Angels banished him to the ninth spot in September. On the other hand, just think how many runs Fletcher could score if he climbs back to the top of a lineup featuring Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Jared Walsh, and Anthony Rendon.
Whether you're new to fantasy baseball or a seasoned pro, our Fantasy Baseball 101: Strategy Tips & Advice page is for you. You can get started with our Sabermetrics Glossary or head to a more advanced strategy - like How to Make Custom Fantasy Baseball Rankings with Microsoft Excel - to learn more.