Baseball is naturally a game of ups and downs and for most, the game usually deals out many more downs than ups. The innate necessity for resilience and continual adjustment is part of what makes the sport so great. That is unless you are a fantasy manager who used an early draft pick on a well-known star only to have him trudge through a full year slump and drastically underachieve all prior expectations. Getting burned on a pick like that can be tough to forget; but with the new year still young and in the aforementioned spirit of resilience, let’s examine a handful of last season’s disappointments who aren’t likely to burn you twice.
After consecutive Silver Slugger Awards in 2019 and 2020, Lamahieu’s offensive production plummeted in 2021. Surely no one expected a repeat of the league-best .364 batting average and AL-best 1.011 OPS he posted in the 2020 shortened season but the three-time All-Star’s batting average dropped almost a full .100 points (.268) and his OPS .300 points last season. At 33 years old, Lamahieu’s best years are likely behind him; but the fact remains that he’s still a major piece of the Yankees future and he’s been far too consistent over the course of his career for me to believe that there’s nothing left in the tank.
Chapman was an All-Star and top ten MVP candidate in 2019 when he hit 36 home runs and posted a .249 batting average. 2021 was unkind to the young star, however, and he finished the season with a .210 average and a staggering 38% strikeout rate. Chapman did still manage to hit 27 home runs, which is proof that the pop is still there. He’s only going into his 6th season at 28 years old, so his potential for a bounce-back year is at an all-time high.
Frazier’s career has been plagued by injuries from the beginning so it may seem crazy to see a guy who hasn’t appeared in more than 70 games in a single season on a list like this. However, in his first four big league seasons, Frazier was a consistent performer when healthy. He hit .265 in 2018 and .267 in each of the following two seasons while also increasing his OPS year over year through that stretch. Each year the Yankees seemed hopeful that Frazier would finally catch a break and stay healthy but they lost patience and released him in November after his numbers fell through the floor in yet another injury-filled 2021 (.186/.317/.317). The Cubs are in the beginning of a rebuilding phase and decided to roll the dice on the 27-year-old, signing him to a one-year deal heading into the 2022 season. Chicago will have no choice other than to give Frazier every chance possible so if he can stay healthy he could be a fantasy steal this season.
Soler got off to an extremely slow start last season, batting .192 and striking out 97 times in 94 games in Kansas City; but when a trade deadline deal sent him to Atlanta, the change of scenery seemed to breathe new life into the Cuban slugger’s bat. In 55 regular season games for the Braves, he slashed .269/.358/.524, crushed 14 home runs, and kept his strikeout rate below 20%. “Soler Power” continued the hot streak by pounding three clutch World Series home runs, carrying Atlanta to their first title in 26 years and earning the World Series MVP Award along the way. Soler’s 2021 numbers as a whole are still poor, but the fantastic second half and iconic World Series performance have my hopes high for him in 2022.
Call me crazy for predicting a comeback for a 34-year-old pitcher six years removed from his best season but Keuchel’s performance in ’21 was so far out of the norm that 2022 will almost certainly be better. The long ball was his Achilles heel last year, as he finished the year with a 39.7% hard hit rate (career-worst) and 1.39 HR/9. Prior to that, however, the former Cy Young Award winner had posted an ERA below four in six out of seven seasons, highlighted by a 1.99 ERA in 2020. Though it was a shortened season his 0.3 HR/9 led the American League that year and showed he still has plenty to offer. Perhaps what makes Keuchel’s case for bouncing back so compelling is that unlike most starting pitchers today, he has never relied on velocity to get outs. Though he technically has a five-pitch arsenal, he relies heavily on his sinker, changeup, and cutter to attack batters on both sides of the plate. The pitch effectiveness obviously wasn’t there last year, but Keuchel is likely a few small offseason adjustments away from another strong season.
Yelich’s sudden drop-off is one of the great baseball mysteries today. After winning the MVP in 2018 and runner-up in 2019, Yelich has gone ice cold. The most concerning piece of Yelich’s under-performance is the absolute disappearance of power. After hitting 80 home runs between 2018-19, he only hit 12 in 2020 and then somehow managed to hit even fewer across roughly twice as many games in 2021. Maybe Yelich’s woes continue and he’s destined to be lumped in with the likes of Chris Davis at the end of his career. The optimist in me doubts that, however, as it would be hard for him to do much worse than he has over the past few seasons. So given his incredible ceiling, a bounce-back seems imminent.
There are plenty more pitchers that could have made this list but Darvish especially stands out. After finishing 2020 second in Cy Young votes, the Cubs shipped Darvish and his catching partner, Victor Caratini, to San Diego. Keeping the tandem together seemed like it would help Darvish continue his dominance and he did get off to a good start. He earned an All-Star spot for a decent first half but fell apart down the stretch, posting an ERA near 7.00 in the second half and finishing the season with an ERA of 4.22. Darvish is now 35 years old so there is cause for speculation here, but the primary reason behind predicting success for him in 2022 is his track record of slow starts. He struggled in his first year in Chicago and admitted that it took time for him to mentally adapt to his new environment. If history repeats itself, Darvish could be in for a great year.
You’ve been waiting to see his name on the list, now he’s here. Lindor seems to be one of the most obvious comeback candidates, as has been one of the best (arguably THE best) shortstop in the league since his 2015 Rookie of the Year season. In the following four seasons, he accumulated four All-Star Game invitations, two Silver Slugger Awards, and two Gold Gloves. 2020 was a bit of a down year for the superstar, but a 10 year, $341 million dollar contract with the Mets heading into 2021 made it perfectly clear that expectations were still sky-high. Lindor turned out to be one of many disappointments in Queens last season, however, turning in a .230/.322/.412 slash line. The Mets might be cursed, but there is no way the baseball gods can continue to frown upon “Mr. Smile” himself. Expect to see Lindor back near the top of the fantasy rankings in 2022.
d’Arnaud was a Silver Slugger Award winner in the 2020 shortened season. Some would call it a fluke as he had only batted above .250 in two other seasons prior and his average dropped over .100 points in 2021. The backstop’s season was plagued with injuries, however, and he only appeared in 60 games. He simply wasn’t given much of an opportunity to stay hot last season, so if he’s able to stay healthy I like his chances of rebounding in 2022.
Simmons is widely known as a defense-first shortstop whose offensive production has generally been adequate at best. Posting a .223 batting average and a .558 OPS in 2021 was far from adequate, however. Last season’s 15% strikeout rate was also the highest of his career. Regardless of where Simmons lands this year, I don’t expect him to ever be an offensive powerhouse. His consistently high contact rate means the hits are bound to follow eventually, however, and depending on the lineup around him the RBIs could as well.
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