10 MLB Players Who Are Better Than Their Slumps (2023 Fantasy Baseball)
No matter how many numbers we digest and how accurate we think our rankings are, there will always be some level of opinion in fantasy baseball. “Value” is often relative, and relativity changes with the situation.
Take, for example, a slump. How do we define it? Is there a specific amount of time during which a player had to have a standardized decrease in production? And what constitutes the end of the said slump? How do we know that a player has exited and created a new uptrend or is still declining despite a recent pop?
During the offseason, we can only identify two sets of time. Again, they are subjective. One is the last month or so of the prior season, where we can note that other fantasy managers may have a sour taste because of how a player closed out the year. The other timeframe is the regular season itself. If we have career numbers against which we can compare the 2022 campaign, then we can argue a player was in a year-long slump.
The goal is to identify where the rest of the fantasy baseball community lands on a certain player, even if all sides are using some level of opinion to draw these conclusions.
10 Bounce-Back Candidates (2023 Fantasy Baseball)
Wander Franco (3B, DH, SS – TB) – Is it fair to call it a “slump” if a player missed half of the season because of injuries? Probably not, but it is important to mention Wander Franco after fantasy managers invested heavily in him as he entered his sophomore season. That’s certainly going to be the narrative as we look ahead to try to gauge where Franco fits into our draft plans. Over the course of two partial seasons — that add up to 153 games and nearly a full season in today’s league with predetermined rest days — Franco has solid, but not extraordinary numbers — a .282 batting average with 13 home runs. The allure of Franco has always been the promise of stardom, and that shine hasn’t faded even with him missing time in 2022. We won’t be the only ones expecting a rebound, and it’s still likely that we just witnessed one of his “down” years.
Reid Detmers (SP – LAA) – As an organization, the Los Angeles Angles are generally under scrutiny for failing to develop or build out their pitching staff — with the obvious exception of multi-dimensional superstar Shohei Ohtani. Reid Detmers is a homegrown left-handed starting pitcher with promise, and that’s exciting for any team, let alone said Angels. The only question is, “Will Detmers be a piece of the solution?” His 2022 campaign didn’t provide an answer but gave some insight into how it can happen. Through May, Detmers had allowed 23 earned runs in eight starts. Over his next twelve starts, however, Detmers limited opponents to a total of only 19 earned runs. Clearly, he turned a corner. Until September. To close out the year, Detmers regressed to allow 14 earned runs over five starts. The good news is that he didn’t give up a single home run over the span. If Detmers is actually going to continue progressing in the positive direction, then we can look at how he closed out the season and simply call it a “slump” and not a future projection.
Seranthony Dominguez (RP – PHI) – Over the course of the year, Seranthony Dominguez’s numbers look absolutely fine — a 3.00 ERA with a 3.09 FIP — and, compared to his other seasons, this is an acceptable landing spot. But, if we look more closely at where he started and ended 2022, we can paint a different picture. Dominguez was unhittable for almost the entire season, and he carried an outstanding 1.64 ERA and 2.27 FIP into September. He then pitched in eight more games to close out the regular season and imploded three times. His final numbers ballooned due to his nine earned runs in those eight appearances — compared to eight total since the start of the year — and the final resume is a lot less exciting. The key to Dominguez rebounding and outperforming his end-of-year slump is his former trajectory. He was on his way to a full, dominant season, and there’s a reason to believe that he can erase those few poor outings and get right back to where he was.
DJ LeMahieu (1B, 2B, 3B – NYY) – DJ LeMahieu has been an interesting fantasy baseball case forever. When he played for the Colorado Rockies, it was assumed that he benefited greatly from his home stadium and its hitter-friendly properties. He then signed with the New York Yankees, and while they also have a ballpark that favors offense, LeMahieu actually posted two-of-the-three highest batting averages of his career in back-to-back seasons. Then, his numbers crumbled. His batting average fell almost 100 points in just one year, and without power, his value dissipated. There is hope, however. What has also made LeMahieu so appealing in the past was his positional versatility, and that remains the case again as we enter the 2023 season. It’s fair to argue that LeMahieu was not going to sustain his high watermark, but he also should not have dipped as low as we just saw.
Aroldis Chapman (RP – KC) – It might be more accurate to call the end of last season a “flat-out disaster” instead of a “slump,” but the premise of the article still remains. Aroldis Chapman had a season to forget, but he still is better than his decline showed. Unfortunately for Chapman and future fantasy managers looking to draft him, there are issues everywhere. Currently, he is unsigned, which means that we don’t know what his role will be in April, even if we take a risk and play with the expectation that his closing pedigree will land him at the backend of a team’s bullpen. In addition to the uncertainty, the New York Yankees opted to leave Chapman off of their postseason roster in October. It doesn’t bode well for his ability to smoothly assimilate into his next team. Once again, this is conjecture, and if we set aside the narratives and only focus on what he could do on the baseball field, then we can see that there is value in at least tracking his progress over the coming weeks.
Gerrit Cole (SP – NYY) – Gerrit Cole’s name value generally carries weight in fantasy drafts, but he just completed a rather pedestrian 2022 season. His 3.50 ERA was the highest since 2017 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and it was driven largely by how he closed out the year. Cole had a 3.20 ERA through September 7th but then allowed at least two earned runs in each of his last five starts and at least four earned runs three times. He pitched much better in the playoffs but also had his production drift downward with each start — he allowed 1 ER, then 2 ER, and finally 3ER, consecutively. The career numbers are just too strong for this to be the beginning of the end for Cole, and he will continue to get every opportunity to thrive with the New York Yankees.
Mookie Betts (OF – LAD) – It’s definitely nitpicking to call out Mookie Betts as someone who was in a slump, but he fits the description perfectly, considering how he ended the year. Including four games in the playoffs, he hit just three total home runs since the start of September with a paltry .214 batting average. By comparison, he hit .269 with 35 home runs over the entirety of the regular season. It’s unlikely that Betts’ relative struggles down the stretch allow for a significant discount on draft day, but we should be on the lookout nonetheless. He is the embodiment of this article’s title.
Mike Clevinger (SP – CWS) – Mike Clevinger was an intriguing case entering 2022, and that hasn’t changed. He began the year trying to return from Tommy John surgery and then was quickly limited due to a knee injury. He eventually found his way onto the mound and put together a respectable campaign entering September — with an ERA of 3.59. He then allowed at least four earned runs four times and at least five earned run three times in his six September starts, pushing his season-ending ERA to 4.33. Clevinger had a chance to right the ship in the playoffs, but that proved to be a massive disaster. He allowed four earned runs in less than three innings in his first start and then didn’t record an out before giving up three earned runs. After all of this, Clevinger’s stock undoubtedly dipped, but the Chicago White Sox saw the value and became buyers, signing him to a one-year deal. We should look for similar bargains with Clevinger as he tries to return to his early-career form that led to a 2.96 ERA from 2017 through 2020.
Trey Mancini (1B, OF, DH – CHC) – With his recent signing with the Chicago Cubs, Trey Mancini is ready to play for his third different team in the span of one calendar year. Each organization hopes to have found a better version than the last, but it was Mancini’s time with the Houston Astros that causes concern. In 92 games with the Baltimore Orioles, Mancini hit a respectable .268. In 51 games with the Astros, that output dropped to a dismal .176. That’s a frightening decrease, but also one that should not be taken at face value. In addition to it being the massive outlier for a career .265 hitter — who had never before ended a full season with a batting average lower than .239 — Mancini’s games with the Astros also led to eight home runs in just 165 at-bats. That’s actually a slight uptick over his career average and is a nice sign that how he ended last season might not be how he begins a new year with a new team.
Josh Hader (RP – SD) – It wouldn’t be surprising if Josh Hader’s name finds his way into numerous articles this offseason. His 2022 journey was nothing short of wild, and we could choose to consider his whole season a “slump” or just the stretch of time during which he was traded from the Milwaukee Brewers to the San Diego Padres. Over those 13 games — from July 13th to August 28th — and for both teams, he allowed an absurd 22 earned runs in just nine total innings pitched. That equates to an ERA of 22.00, pushing his season numbers beyond repair. He did repair his value, however, as he had five scoreless appearances in the postseason, picking up four saves along the way. The fantasy baseball community probably won’t sleep on Hader, and neither should we.
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Mario Mergola is a featured writer at FantasyPros and BettingPros and the creator and content editor of Sporfolio. For more from Mario, check out his archive and follow him @MarioMergola.