Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
Sometimes I wish that real baseball could be a little more like MLB: The Show, and you could have the option to turn off injuries. In this alternate universe, how many homers would Stanton have had in the last four seasons, 175? 200? At one time Stanton flirted with the top three of fantasy drafts, and you could have talked yourself into taking him at number one if you were feeling frisky (or had a severe fish allergy). Unfortunately, his stock is tumbling, mostly due to injuries depriving him (and us) of being able to suit up for a full season.
Since 2011, Stanton has only logged more than 125 games once. Sure, he’s been the victim of some freak injuries like taking a heater to the face, or breaking his hand after monstrously swinging too hard. However, he has also suffered injuries to his groin, hip, oblique, and knee, which have all caused him to miss time. It’s really hard to rely on someone when you know multiple trips to the DL are likely in the immediate future.
In addition to the injuries, Stanton has seen a steady uptick in his strikeout totals. In each of the last two seasons his strikeout rate has knocked on the door of 30 percent, and he carried a 15 percent swinging-strike rate to boot (over five percentage points higher than league average). He is still capable of absolute lasers of the Moonraker variety, as evidenced by pretty much any exit velocity leader board you browse, but if he’s not hitting homers, he’s not really hitting. Relying on an inflated BABIP is not a great way to consistently hit for average, and last season as his BABIP dropped to around league average, his batting average plummeted as well. Even his slugging percentage took a huge hit last season, as his .489 mark was the lowest since 2013, and the second lowest rate of his career.
I really want Stanton to be healthy and good. He’s one of the most breathtaking hitters to watch step into the box. And he’s definitely capable of a bounce-back, for sure. He’s only 27 years old. That said, he’s still being drafted as the eighth best outfielder this season, mostly on potential and name value. I’m rooting for Stanton to be awesome again, but it probably won’t be while he’s on my roster. —Mark Barry
Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
It’s not often I make my opinion known publicly and openly hope I’m wrong. McCutchen has been one of the modern game’s great ambassadors, serving as the face of a resuscitated Pirates franchise and, more importantly, one of the most successful and visible African-American voices in the league. I’d love for him to return to form, I just don’t see it for fantasy purposes.
The reasoning is pretty straightforward: I think he’s done stealing bases. McCutchen’s stolen base total has steadily dwindled from 27 to six over the past four campaigns. He’s never been a particularly efficient base stealer, but he was thrown out more times than he was successful in 2016. Admittedly, some of last season’s reduced stolen total is a function of his career-worst .336 on-base percentage, a number I expect him to better in 2017. There are other warning signs, though. He was awful at hit advancement in 2016 and the players worse than him are a veritable who’s who of base cloggers. This, like the other components of baserunning value, is necessarily measured in small samples and therefore subject to substantial year-to-year variation, but I think it’s instructive in this case. Taking the extra base was a skill Cutch exhibited at an elite level in 2012 and 2013 before declining to league average by 2015 and falling of a cliff in 2016. The numbers pretty clearly suggest he’s lost a step or two.
The bat speed is down a tick too; McCutchen hit a career worst .280 against fourseamers last season. Even if we ignore that and assume his batting average bounces back to something close to PECOTA’s .292 projection, the path to top-20 value at the position with marginal speed is tricky in today’s game. Carlos Beltran or Carlos Gonzalez did it in 2016. I don’t think Cutch can match the power of the former or the maxed out contextual stats of the latter.
Jay Bruce, New York Mets
Jay Bruce had a bounce back year in 2016, posting his best numbers since 2013. He missed the 30/100 club by just one RBI, finishing 23rd in home runs with 33, and 26th in RBIs with 99. He hit .250, up 30 points from 2014-2015 and back in range with what he's normally done throughout his career. His 111 wRC+ was his best since 2013, a few points below his 117 wRC+ that year.
I am not fully buying into him yet for 2017 though, and have some concerns about his ability to repeat those numbers. For one, Bruce is hitting just .231/.295/.440 with a 94 wRC+ over the last three seasons, which spans just under 1,800 PA. Some of that is injury related, but Bruce will turn 30 this year and I'm not sure how confident I should be with him being productive again to 2016's level. Part of what worries me is that Bruce went into a horrible slump after being traded to the Mets where his bat and hips looked slow and he didn't produce at all, hitting .219/.294/.391 with the Mets. I just don’t know how he’s going to hold up physically in 2017.
Secondly, Bruce is likely getting a large park downgrade. Great American Ballpark is one of the best parks in baseball for home runs, and barring a late spring trade to another team, Bruce will be playing his home games at Citi Field, a more neutral environment. Bruce's Statcast derived expected HR total from 2016, which takes into account the exit velocities and angles of his batted balls, was 28, five less than his actual HR total of 33 (via xStats.org). That might be some evidence for Great American Ball Park boosting his home run total.
I think he'll probably hit around 25 home runs again, but I am worried about everything else. He's been a below average on base guy in recent years, even in his 2016 rebound season, and probably won't score a lot of runs. He isn't much of a stolen base threat, and his batting average is .230 over the last three seasons combined, which ranks 220 out of 235 qualified hitters. If you have a hunch about him being productive again, go for it, but I'm not comfortable investing in Bruce this year unless I can get him late in drafts.
Andrew Benintendi, Boston Red Sox
I'm a big fan of Benintendi's long-term abilities, but he's being overvalued heading into 2017. Fantasy Pros has Benintendi's ADP at 38th overall among outfielders, meaning he's expected to serve as an OF3 in most leagues. I agree he has that *upside*, but take a more critical look at Benintendi's track record. He has just 151 games of MiLB experience, and fewer than 100 games (including MLB) experience above High-A. It's true that's because he raked in the minors, but Benintendi also typically needed an adjustment period whenever he jumped up levels.
That's all well and good, but what happens if he needs such an adjustment period in Boston? The Red Sox have two reasonable alternatives to Benintendi in Brock Holt and Chris Young, and potentially a third in Blake Swihart. They're not going to have the sort of uber-deep lineup that lets them bury a guy like Benintendi as they did last season. There's a good chance that prolonged struggles force Benintendi down to Triple-A, or at the very least to a platoon role.
I don't want to be overly dramatic here; I'm very confident Benintendi will at least hit right-handed pitching well, and his glove will help keep him in the lineup. But you might want to factor in closer to 400 PA than 600, and I don't think he's a player who'll hit .300 right out of the gate. Guys like Marcel Ozuna, Hunter Pence, Nomar Mazara and Joc Pederson are all being drafted after Benintendi right now. For 2017 alone, that ain't right. —Ben Carsley
Carlos Beltran, Houston Astros
Unlike some of my other calls on players to target or avoid heading into 2017, this one doesn’t involve any breakdowns of batted ball outcomes and what they might mean going forward. No need. Roto owners should avoid Carlos Beltran in 2017 because he’s old. That’s it, just simple age-based prejudice. I know, I’m the worst.
There are no red flags in Beltran’s stat line from 2016. He hit .295/.337/.513 with 29 home runs, 93 RBI, 73 runs, and one stolen base in 151 games. If that 151 games played total seems out of place for a player in his late thirties with a reputation for being injury prone, note that the soon-to-be forty-year-old has played at least 133 games in five of the last six seasons. He hit well last year, and he stayed in the lineup, too. He was good.
If you look really hard, you’ll see that his walk rate declined a bit last year, from 8.2 percent in 2014 and 8.5 percent in 2015 to 5.9 percent in 2016. But his strikeout rate and BABIP were right around his established levels over the last few years. Like I said, there’s no smoking gun here, no stat or pair of stats that show that his bat is slowing down or that he just can’t drive a ball like he used to. I just don’t think he’ll put up a line anywhere near as good as his 2016 one in his age-40 season. —Scooter Hotz