I could have discussed more busts articles, like my 3B busts articles where I went 5-for-5 warning about Adalberto Mondesi, Kris Bryant, Yoán Moncada, Cavan Biggio, and Joey Wendle. But look, predicting busts is relatively easy, because entropy exists and things fall apart. Predicting sleepers, on the other hand, is where the money’s at. And it’s also a lot harder, which is my excuse for why most of my sleepers didn’t pan out.
Then again, there were some legitimate reasons that last year’s data didn’t carry over well to this year, and also I may have made some errors in the players I picked based on what I’ve learned from what affinity does and does not measure well. So this exercise hopefully helps me pick out better sleepers next year, and helps you to do the same. Anyway, onto the list!
Well, he did put up a similar season to Max Muncy! One of my biggest mistakes in analyzing Statcast comps, or data in general, is to look at what an old player did last year and assume that they can do it again. Well, in this case, I can blame it on the comps, but I always could have ignored them. Still, even with a modest decline, I was not expecting this.
In his age-36 season, despite being in a very hitter-friendly environment and loaded lineup, Donaldson’s game completely fell apart. It wasn’t just one problem, as he had the first single-digit walk rate in a decade, a career-high 27% strikeout rate, and a substantial drop in both barrel rate and hard-hit rate. His final line consisted of .222/.308/.374 with 15 HR and two SB in 546 PA, which was bad enough that he was cut at one point in my AL-only league. Heck, his teammate Matt Carpenter hit the same homer total in just 154 PA. Also, his Tim Anderson incident made him look like a total jerk (or more accurately, clarifying that he has been one for some time, and he could quickly be out of a job in 2023).
It’s quite possible that age has finally caught up to the leg-injury-prone former star, as many a good hitter doesn’t have continued success in their late thirties. That being said, despite 2023 being his age-37 season, I still think there’s a chance that—given his previous skills and a history of alternating good and bad years—he mildly rebounds for one last hurrah. Where he before was a top-200 pick, now he’s literally free at pick #435, so I’ll double down on the clearance price.
Verdict: MISS 0 for 1
He’s round, his Statcast is red, and he hopes you had a Merry Kirkmas. Alejandro definitely caught a lot of attention by midseason with a fantastic hot streak that brought him into the conversation as a top-three offensive catcher. Unfortunately, his power cooled off in the final months so he didn’t end there, but he still finished the season with a strong line of .285 with 14 HR in 541 AB. Not only that, but he managed to have a better walk rate (12%) than his strikeout rate (11%) as he cemented himself as hands-down the best batting average asset at the position.
While I’m obviously happy with the results, as he is now entering 2023 as a top 100 pick in NFBC, my greedy self hoped for more. Both his launch angle and barrel rate were half of what they were in 2021, making his offense closer to Yandy Díaz than many realize. Still, he was just 23 years old for the season, and I think the fact he did it once means he can raise the launch angle again and become a .290 20+ homer bat with the potential for more. I’m glad I ignored the playing time concerns and bet on the talent to shine through, though it took serious patience to endure him through the early season playing time shenanigans. This year, at least there won’t be any of that.
Verdict: HIT 1 for 2
The bottom fell out for him, and he became Max Kerplunk. The German outfielder had a career-worst year, hitting just .227/.317/.348 with nine HR and three SB before getting knocked out by a wrist injury. The tough thing that drove me crazy all season was that it seemed to me he was just unlucky. After all, his under-the-hood rates were solid, as his 15% K rate was a career-best%, his 7% barrel rate was above his career average, and his .266 xBA was actually a career-high. So, why did it all go so rancid?
Well, I think one culprit was the deadened ball, as Kepler had already been a low-BABIP player due to his propensity for non-barrelled flyballs. Others with this approach, like Trent Grisham and Lourdes Gurriel, also suffered. It seems Max tried to adjust by hitting more grounders with a career-high 46% ground ball rate, though this didn’t help his batted balls a bit as is typically expected. Call me stubborn, but I do think this was also bad luck, as there’s simply nothing in the underlying numbers to suggest such a dramatic collapse. I think he’s a solid bet with the new rules to hit .240+ with 15-20 HR and 5-10 SB, which makes him underrated provided he can keep a starting role. At pick #368 in NFBC, I’m in on the 29-year-old for 2023 all day, especially given how thin the outfield options get this year.
Verdict: MISS 1 for 3
Rowdy finally brought the bangarang. Tellez was a great value for drafters, arguably outproducing every one of his comps for this year (the comps are based on their 2021 data, but interesting nonetheless). A big element of his success was merely reliable playing time, as he amassed 599 PA and smacked 35 HR with a .219/.306/.461 line. I think that while the power’s great, it’s rather surprising that his batting average was so poor given his excellent quality of contact data and his 20% K rate, which is actually pretty good for a slugger.
Statcast seems to agree as they give him an xBA of .252, though it’s worth noting Tellez is no speedster so he likely loses some hits from that. Still, I love that he became more of an on-base threat with a career-best 31 O-Swing%, although I don’t like that it also led to a drop in Z-Swing%. His raw power (117 mph MaxEV) remains among the best in baseball, and his 13% barrel rate was a career-best. I think he’s not being talked about enough as a bargain yet again at his ADP of #179, as I wouldn’t be too surprised to see the 27-year-old have a season that is shockingly close to Pete Alonso. Before you call that crazy, look at their nearly identical batted ball and contact data. I’m just Tellez it like it is.
Verdict: HIT 2 for 4
You could look at a lot of what I wrote about Josh Donaldson and just copy+paste it onto here. Except for Longo, health was the bigger issue—though it certainly wasn’t the only issue. You could make a fair argument his production was better than J.D. pound for pound, as Longoria hit a decent .244/.315/.451 with 14 HR in 298 PA. Like, if only he could have doubled that PA total, that would be 28 HR and he’d be talked about around Matt Chapman. And if only I were 7 feet tall I’d probably be playing pro basketball.
The good news was that he still posted a strong barrel rate of 12%, keeping up the three-year trend of elevated double-digit barrel rates. The problem was that his K% ballooned to 27%, and on top of that his hard hit% and MaxEV substantially declined from last year. Still, the biggest reason was health, and Statcast can’t account for that, at least not yet. So perhaps I need to weigh not just age but recent injury history more in my player selection, since you can’t have a sleeper who plays just half the season. He’s basically undraftable now at pick #614, though I’d be happy to roll the dice with him again at that price if I was in a league that deep.
Verdict: MISS 2 for 5
You’d think that at pick #638, you literally had nothing to lose. And yet I still feel like I lost. He had plenty of opportunities this year, frankly much more than he deserved, but his game really fell apart after years of steady part-time production, and it’s not clear exactly why. Well hey, #3 comp Franmil Reyes did follow the same path. He was relied upon for a larger role and failed once again, with a .235 AVG and 12 HR and two SB in 379 AB. It’s more or less what most expected, just below what I had expected, for some reason.
Perhaps my issue here was trying to draw too much from a smaller-than-usual sample, as despite his six HR in 2021, he had a career-best barrel rate of 16%, but in just 233 AB. Not only that, it’s rather cherry-picked as the vast majority of his at-bats came against lefties, a minority of the pitching population. The homer total was better than last year, but his walk rate plummeted to sub-4% as his K rate skyrocketed to 31%, and he was down significantly across the board in all Statcast quality-of-contact metrics.
It’s possible he was dealing with an injury, as age 30 seems early to have such an all-around decline, but I wouldn’t bet on him being anything more than an AL-only streamer and deep league DFS play unless he reverses those trends.
Verdict: MISS 2 for 6
In hindsight, Adam Engel was a weird hill to die on. Look I had my reasons, mostly being that there aren’t many speedy hitters with comps this good, and Affinity doesn’t account for speed. Not only that, but he had improved both his contact% and barrel% for several consecutive years. But this year, Engel fell apart, making me look totally obtuse. After getting seven HR and seven SB in just 140 PA in 2021, in 2022 he hit just .224/.269/.310 with two HR and 12 SB in 260 PA. Gross. Okay, the 12 SBs I’ll take, but the rest is gross.
Much like Pinder, I really don’t know what so wrong. This was actually the lowest homer total, ISO, and barrel rate of his career, although his MaxEV and HardHit% were similar to previous seasons. His contact rate took a sizeable hit, and that one is unlikely to get better as O-Swing% usually falls off around age 30. So perhaps I got overly excited about drawing conclusions from small samples when Father Time was working against him.
Then again, he’s historically been injury-prone, and it wouldn’t surprise me to hear he was fighting through injuries to try to stay on the field and avoid relegation (which obviously didn’t work out for him). He’s a free agent and being completely undrafted entering this year, but I’d keep my eye on him if he shows something with the bat… He may be 30, but there’s not much separating him and Bubba Thompson. Well, other than age, hype, and the fact that I was already wrong on him once.
Verdict: MISS 2 for 7
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Shawn Palmer (@PalmerDesigns_ on Twitter)