Everyone loves their Sleepers and Breakouts, but what about the guys who have done it before and simply didn’t last year? They were busts then, but now we can call many of them 2017 Fantasy Baseball Bounce-back Candidates, and you should love them too!
Why should we love them, you ask? Because, much like a breakout, this is where you can find the best value in drafts. And these guys have none of the hype a breakout does. Since these players did not meet expectations last year, their expectations has fallen, along with their ADP. This means you can draft guys that were first or second-round picks a year ago (and could be again as soon as this season) much, much later!
Also unlike a breakout, these guys have a track record of having done it before at the big-league level. So while they’re perhaps not as sexy as the shiny new rookies are, it’s this loss of luster that provides the chance to gain great value later in a draft. And getting the most value out of each pick is a huge part of how leagues are won.
Using ADP numbers from NFBC (expert/high stakes) drafts this season and last, I’ve compiled a list of those players that were drafted in the top-50 last year and who have fallen at least four rounds, assuming a ten-team league.
2017 Fantasy Baseball Bounce-back Candidates
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates (2016 ADP: 15; 2017 ADP: 67)
From 2012 to 2015, McCutchen hit at least 21 HR, scored 89 runs and had 83 RBI. Last year, he went 24-81-79. Not too far off, right? The major differences came in the AVG and SB departments, as he hit .256 in ’16, far worse than his .292 from the year before. He also continued a three-year trend of SB decline, dropping from 27 in 2013 to just six last season.
McCutchen battled nagging injuries to his thumb and knee in 2016, and his BABIP and other batted-ball rates suffered as a result. However, the news that he will move from center to right field this season should tax his body less and help keep him healthy. I think his average will jump back up to near .290, and while he may never steal 20 bags again now that he’s in his thirties, he should get to double digits.
Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox (2016 ADP: 23; 2017 ADP: 62)
Abreu burst onto the MLB scene with back-to-back 30 HR, 100 RBI, .290 AVG seasons. He struggled out of the gate last year however, batting just .242 with six home runs and 27 RBI. He seemed to bust out of the slump in June as he hit .306 with five homers and 21 RBI, but followed that up with a 32-game homerless streak which spanned from June to August.
Then this happened, and Abreu went on a tear with 14 HR and 44 RBI to go with a .338 AVG over the season’s final two months. He also scored 32 of his 67 runs.
Some will point to Abreu’s “declining” power since he got to the big leagues, but with his family issues behind him now, I think we may have yet to see his best season. Remember how we saw Robinson Cano rebound last year after he lost his paternal grandfather in 2015?
Jose Bautista, OF, Toronto Blue Jays (2016 ADP: 26; 2017 ADP: 116)
Injuries to his toe and knee limited Bautista to only 116 games last year. Now 36, his days of 40+ homers are likely behind him, but he still hit 22 in three quarters of a season in spite of those lingering ailments.
Seeing him return to 30 dingers this season is not out of the question. If that is the case, then he will be a steal in the 12th round. This is especially true if your league has a DL slot.
Zack Greinke, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks (2016 ADP: 28; 2017 ADP: 95)
It was almost a foregone conclusion that Greinke’s 1.66 ERA would regress from 2015. That season, he beat all ERA indicators by more than a run and moved from one the best pitcher’s parks to one of the worst. But no one saw a 4.00+ ERA on the horizon.
Like many others on this list, Greinke also battled injuries. Shoulder and oblique problems limited him to his lowest innings total since 2007. If he is healthy in 2017, he should also benefit from improved defense and pitch-framing, which means a bounce-back is probable.
Gerrit Cole, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates (2016 ADP: 36; 2017 ADP: 113)
Injuries are clearly the theme of this article. (This should give you a good clue as to how to identify potential bounce-backs in the future). Cole was perhaps the “most injured” of anyone on this list as his was of the ever scary elbow variety, and it forced him to the DL three separate times.
He had finally broken out in 2015 and become the ace everyone expected him to be. Minding the health caveat that applies to most other members of this list (and really everyone, no?), he too could return to form and be a huge steal in drafts.
Justin Upton, OF, Detroit Tigers (2016 ADP: 49; 2017 ADP: 83)
If you owned Justin Upton last season, you will perhaps be surprised to learn he tied his career high with 31 HR in 2016. So why is he a bounce-back candidate and why would his 2016 be surprising? Because he absolutely stunk for the first two months (3 HR, 11 RBI), and was better for the next three (averaging 5 HR and 16 RBI/month) before going absolutely berserk in the final month (13 HR and 28 RBI).
Upton has always been among the streakiest of ballplayers. But I believe changing leagues and playing under the “weight” of a huge free agent contract he signed prior to last season may be what caused his numbers to suffer early. Now that he’s a year into the contract and the American League, I think he will produce a lot more similarly to his second half last season and be worth a good bit more than a ninth-round pick.
BONUS: Carlos Gomez, OF, Texas Rangers (2016 ADP: 54; 2017 ADP: 155)
This is a bonus because I’ve cheated: Gomez was drafted just outside the top-50 last season. But the season before that, he was coming off back-to-back 23 HR/34 SB (or better) campaigns, and was a solid five category contributor being drafted in the top-20.
Then, of course the injuries hit, and he busted. HARD. You may remember a hip issue nixed a trade from the Brewers to the Mets and Gomez wound up in Houston at the deadline instead. He struggled there for a year or so before being outright released by the Astros.
Then Gomez signed with Texas on August 20. There, he proceeded to hit .284 with eight HR and five SB in the final month and a half. Now he should hit atop the potent Texas lineup again this season and is certainly motivated, as he only signed a one-year deal, hoping to capitalize a big year.
In the 16th round, why would you not take a chance on this former second-round talent? While he probably won’t repeat his 2013-2014 seasons, he could come reasonably close. That will mean big value for his owners this year. And if he busts again, cutting someone from the latter half of your draft is something everyone does anyway. Roll the dice; you have nothing to lose.
Honorable Mentions: Adrian Gonzalez, 1B (70, 164) Jason Heyward, OF (75, 253) Yasiel Puig, OF (87, 224) Hunter Pence, OF (116, 206)
Speaking of nothing to lose, these last four guys were drafted later than the top-50 last year, but have been stud performers in the past. Now they are being drafted so low that it costs practically nothing to take a chance on them. Similar to Gomez, if they don’t work out, you can simply cut them. But if they do produce, then you’ve struck gold!
Good luck in 2017 and happy drafting! Make sure you get a few of these 2017 Fantasy Baseball Bounce-back Candidates!