Burning Questions: Which Hitters Will Be Busts This Year?
Ah, spring training. Where the grass is fresh, the weather is perfect, and every player on every roster is overrated and you're an idiot for liking him.
Here at numberFire, we don't like adhere to that policy (Mike Trout for President, Miggy Pop for Secretary of Swat). However, we still have to dish out a heaping, soppy dose of reality sometimes and give y'all da bidnizz about who's going to end up being a bust this year.
Now, we love hearing ourselves write (huh?), but we also want to hear who you all think is going to go all Josh Hamilton on the baseball world this year. If you have a thought on this topic, simply shoot us a tweet to @numberFire. Without further ado, let's see who's hype has gotten a little too big for his britches.
Dan Weigel's Thoughts:
My bust hitter for 2014 is Cardinals' catcher and 2013 MVP candidate Yadier Molina. Yadi is regarded as the best defensive catcher in the game, but truly became a star when his offensive contributions began to rival his defensive contributions.
Molina had a slash line of .319/.359/.477 last year, which was good for an elite 134 wRC+ and a value of 5.6 WAR, but I don't believe he will repeat that level of contribution in 2014. Yadi's defense will allow him to remain extremely valuable to the Cardinals (Tony La Russa said he would start Molina even if he hit .000), but he likely will not contend for another MVP award.
One will notice that Yadi posted nearly identical seasons in 2012 and 2013, but while his traditional statistics were similar, his peripheral statistics suggest that he was the beneficiary of some good fortune. The best example is with BABIP. In 2012, Yadi hit .315 with a BABIP of .316, then followed that up with a .319 AVG and a .338 BABIP in 2013. His career BABIP is .298, which suggests that some regression in AVG is likely.
Yadi also regressed with plate discipline in 2013. Though he has never taken walks at a high rate, Molina's 5.5% mark in 2013 matched the lowest of his career and is significantly lower than his 8.0% mark in 2012. With an expected drop in batting average, Molina will have to increase his walk rate to maintain a high OBP.
It should also be noted that Yadi hit 10 fewer home runs in 2013, but also hit 16 more doubles. Maybe he just had some bad luck and hit a lot of long doubles to deep parts of the ballpark, but maybe this is a result of a legitimate loss of power. It seems odd that his power would decline so sharply from his age-29 season to his age-30 season, so I think that the drop in home run power is somewhat of an aberration. Somewhere around 15 home runs would seem appropriate for 2014, but this likely increase does not outweigh the forecasted regression in other areas.
Bradley Wilson's Thoughts:
It's with a heavy heart that I go with Jean Segura as my bust hitter for 2014. Segura was fabulous in 2013, batting .294/.329/.423 and playing defense at shortstop that measured as very good to elite, depending on which statistic you use. But there are a lot of red flags in Segura's 2013 performance at the plate. If he repeats his excellent defensive season, Segura can take quite an offensive hit and still be valuable, so he's unlikely to be a bust as a two-way player. But that offensive hit might be pretty big.
Segura already has issues with selectivity - he swung at too many pitches outside of the strike zone last year, and while he didn't miss often, it also takes an extreme talent (Vlad Guerrerro) to actually hit those lousy pitches hard, and that isn't Jean. He did hit for some solid power numbers last year, but that looks to be the element of his game most likely to vanish completely. Of his 12 home runs in 2013, three quarters of them qualified as "just enough" home runs on the Hit Tracker, and his speed-off-the-bat and mean length of home run measurements aren't going to change anybody's mind.
Segura is also an extreme ground ball hitter, which doesn't exactly bode well for more long balls next year (especially when you consider ground ball hitters are at a league-wide disadvantage right now because of the increasing percentage of ground ball pitchers).
So, with no walks and a big drop off in power, Segura needs to bat at least his .294 from last season to maintain an above-average offensive profile. Given that batting average is a volatile stat anyway, this makes Segura a good candidate for an offensive bust. But Jean seems unlikely even to repeat his .294.
Segura batted .326 in balls in play a season ago. That's higher than normal, but not so high that you have to just immediately dismiss it as a fluke and move on - there are plenty of outlier hitters who can maintain that kind of batting average. But Segura doesn't seem to be one of them. He only had an 18 percent line drive rate last season, firmly league average, and he doesn't have elite running speed. So if that stays constant - and Segura's minor league batting numbers do nothing to indicate it won't - we'll likely see a minor dip in batting average from Segura. That hurts his OBP and SLG, and stops him from maximizing his good wheels.
All in all, this sounds like a .270/.310/.390 kind of line to me. And while that's not exactly a crash and burn, Segura is hyped enough that people might think of it as a bust. Hopefully, if he hits that way, he and his team will recognize that his defense and base running still makes him an average (read: valuable) player. And if he gets booed out of Milwaukee, I guess I'll just have to take him on my team. What a shame.
Jim Sannes's Thoughts:
The Yasiel Puig choo choo train of awesomeness last year was a lot of fun. It also gave the world more excuses to listen to Vin Scully, so I'm more than okay with what was a truly magical season.
Unfortunately, it seems like that's exactly what it was: magic. Puig's raw stats were drool-inspiring. He finished with a slash of .319/.391/.534, a stupid-good wOBA of .398, 19 home runs and a 4.0 WAR in just 432 plate appearances. That's enough to merit Puig's fantasy average draft position, which is about 24 right now. But the odds that he is able to come close to duplicating those numbers are slim.
Like Dan, I'll turn to Puig's BABIP. Because of his speed, Puig will naturally have a higher BABIP than most players. That doesn't mean he should have the third-highest BABIP in the league. The players that ranked ahead of Puig in BABIP (Chris Johnson and my boo Joe Mauer) both had line-drive percentages at or above 27.0. Puig's was a measly 19.1. So, unless this dude is Usain Bolt on 'roids with a cheetah attached to his jet engine, he's going to have a tasty little regression in store this year.
Another concern for Puig is his plate discipline. Last year, he swung at 38.9 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone. While he's no A.J. Pierzynski who swung at 49.6 percent (!!!) of pitches outside of the zone, Puig's total was still the 16th highest of players with at least 400 PAs.
It's not that I don't think Puig will be a good players. ZiPS projections have him at a 3.8 WAR, and that seems about right to me. That would make him a very good player. I just don't think he'll live up to the expectations that many have placed in front of him.
JJ Zachariason's Thoughts:
I don't think you could have a bust article without mentioning the man who won the NL batting title at the age of 34, years after failing to hit even the .290 mark in a single season.
To a baseball fanatic with a love for stats, regression for Michael Cuddyer is obvious: His .331 average last year was .47 points higher than he had ever seen, and his BABIP was about as high as the aforementioned Puig. And while I'm one to not always fall in love with how well a player hit on balls in play, at least the guys in front of him (well, aside from Jim's bust, Puig) in BABIP hit line drives, while some of the guys below him have a good bit of speed. Michael Cuddyer was, well, lucky in 2013.
The question - at least I don't think - isn't whether or not he'll regress. If you think Cuddyer is going to hit .330 again, I'd love to join your fantasy baseball league. The question is "how far"? How far will Cuddyer's numbers dip?
Well, we do know a few things about him to help answer that question. Cuddyer has a career 18.8% line drive rate, 47.0% ground ball rate, and he hits fly balls 34.2% of the time. Though his line drive percentage has risen to a little over 20.0% since joining the Rockies, Cuddyer's 2013 batted ball profile is much like his career totals. That's why it was so surprising (lucky) to see his BABIP so high.
It's not to say that he's a bad hitter though. He's had an above-average wOBA in four of his last five seasons, as well as a better than average wRC+ in seven of his last eight. While his defense is atrocious, we're not concerned with that here: Michael Cuddyer can ball at the plate, for the most part.
But even so, I'd expect to see numbers that are closer to his first season in Colorado than his second. ZiPS has him pegged at a .290 average and .361 wOBA this year, which I think is probably an optimistic view of what could happen. He'll be good, but he won't be 2013 Michael Cuddyer good.