Affinity Plus One: Statcast Bust Hitters for 2024

Ben Pernick identifies 7 potential hitter busts using Statcast comps

I’m a fairly positive person, so I always prefer identifying sleepers to identifying busts. I mean, who likes cheering for players to fail? Okay, some of you do, and some of those players deserve it (Take that, Zack Plesac). Still, the reality is that we live in a universe of entropy, and despite our preseason optimism of all the breakouts that can happen, the reality is players underperform more often than they break out. Perhaps that’s why in every year, I’ve done this exercise besides last year, I’ve predicted busts more accurately than sleepers. Sure, sometimes injuries strike, but sometimes we get complacent and miss signs a “steady” player may actually be on a downhill track.

Sorry if your favorite player is on the list, but I swear I tried to keep this as objective as possible and also handpicked these names by avoiding attributes that tend to make the comps more accurate. Those factors are age/inexperience, high sprint speed/stolen bases, and playing for Colorado or Cincinnati (which is why I’m looking the other way on Matt McLain’s top comp being Garrett Cooper).

Most of the players I’m writing about here are Top 100 and all are top 200, unlike my sleepers who most of them were after pick 200. That’s because I think it’s more important to find players who you’re spending valuable draft capital on who may return negative value. So, let’s grit our teeth, channel our inner Freddy Mercury, and sing “Dum dum dum, another one writes the bust”.


Gunnar Henderson (3B/SS, Baltimore Orioles)  ADP: #30

Top Comps: Zack Gelof (.90), Dansby Swanson (.89), Brandon Drury (.88)


Maybe it’s time to Nerf Gunnar. Yes, of course, I considered just calling him Gunnerf or Gunnarf, but people might think I’m referencing “Narf” from Pinky & the Brain, and I don’t think Henderson is going to take over the world just yet. Now, these comps don’t seem so awful, do they? All three of these guys were valuable in fantasy leagues! Okay, but they definitely weren’t top-30 pick valuable. And two of them do more of the damage with the legs, whereas Gunnar is more of a support than a lead on the bases. Also, tied with Drury was Luke Maile, who I just grabbed in the 49th round of a 50-round draft and hold for this reason alone.

Gelof in particular is interesting because you may realize his 11% barrel rate is the same as Gunnar’s, with a 9% walk rate and 27% strikeout rate to Gunnar’s 9% walk rate and 26% strikeout rate. Stare at that long enough and you can convince yourself that Gelof is Gunnar with better wheels, and also maybe that everyone DOESN’T remember that awkward exchange you had back in high school. Whoops, pondered too much. But now the angel on my other shoulder will point out how this metric is only focused on results and ignores the fact that Henderson is not only two years younger but has superior raw power with a 114 mph MaxEV, which is fantastic for a player who was just 21 last year. In addition, Gelof only played a half season, but Henderson’s second-half numbers (well really numbers from June on) were awesome and his overall line was dragged down from a rough April and May.

Now, here I’m breaking one of my rules, which is not to use this on very young players since their development can change so much from year to year that it’s not so instructive to look at last year’s comps. Still, the fact is, at this ADP, you’re assuming that a lot of improvement happens, and that leaves only the downside if he merely stays the same. He still has platoon issues as he hasn’t yet figured out lefties, and his plate discipline thus far being pedestrian means that power is his only carrying tool, in a park that doesn’t boost power (as a lefty it plays neutral). I wrote this up before the oblique injury, but I tend to red flag oblique injuries as they’re tricky and sometimes can drag down production, but it’s hardly affected his ADP, which dropped only two ranks to 30. I think he can outhit his relatively mild projections and still not justify his lofty ADP, so the term “bust” here is relative, but I think he’s at a high risk of negative ROI.


Royce Lewis (3B, Minnesota Twins) ADP: #49

Top Comps: Spencer Torkelson (.88), Tyler O’Neill (.87), Max Kepler (.86)


This hype train is rolling nonstop and being driven by a steamrolls-Royce. But maybe, just maybe, we should pump the brakes. He’s obviously a super exciting prospect with the No. 1 overall pick pedigree, but let’s not forget entirely why just a year ago we were still skeptical. Yes, he hit a fantastic .309 with 15 home runs and 6 stolen bases in just 239 plate appearances, but I’ll be the nerdy guy in the boardroom who gets thrown out of the window for saying we’re being reckless by recommending Royce as a Top 50 pick.

Tork and O’Neill may seem like strange comps, and Kepler perhaps stranger, but it suggests something we’re ignoring: Royce’s plate skills are not so great. His 23% strikeout rate is below average, as is his 8% walk rate. But he hits the ball so hard! …Right? Well…his IPA rate of 27% and Hard-Contact rate of 28% were only slightly above average, actually, which may be why his xBA was only .269. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that every projection outside of ATC projects him for a batting average in the .260s (ATC says .271). Hey, I believe Tork, O’Neill, and Kepler can all also hit .260! Since Kepler and Tork are slow, let’s compare the projections for O’Neill: The BATX pegs Royce for .262/.320/.461 with 24 home runs and 16 stolen bases in 559 plate appearances, but O’Neill and his #214 ADP is given… .252/.328/.462 with 23 home runs and 15 stolen bases in 507 plate appearances. “But wait!” you say, “O’Neill won’t reach 500 PA because he’s so injury pro-…Oh no.”

Now, I know, Royce still had the playoffs to show off and he’s still young, but unlike Gunnar, he wasn’t 21, he was 24, which is closer to expected peak production, even with some slack given for years missed due to injuries. But about the injuries… it’s not being baked into his price, like, at all. Would you really take a 50/50 bet he reaches even 500 PA in 2024? And if we’re going by projections… even if he gets his projected 559 PA, even then he’s still not returning value at his ADP given the depth of third base.


Nolan Arenado (3B, St. Louis Cardinals): ADP: #96 

Top Comps: Yan Gomes (.83), Jonah Heim (.82), Esteury Ruiz (.82)


Given the slow decline and these terrifying comps, maybe it’s better to call him Nolan Werenado. Actually, take that back, that sounds less like a present-past tense reference and more like a werewolf tornado that would actually be pretty sweet and will probably be the next Sharknado sequel. I do believe, after being (somewhat but not entirely) wrong about predicting his decline on other occasions, I do believe that he’s one of those Bogaerts-types who maximizes the barrels and contact he does hit, perhaps in a way we can’t quite quantify. I considered him a good buy-low given his track record. But let’s explore why we should hold the grains of salt right now.

For one, especially since he left Coors’ friendly and lightheadedness-inducing confines, he’s no longer a lock for 40 homers, and now not even 30 homers. His approach of making lots of contact and hitting lots of flyballs simply doesn’t work as well in pitcher-friendly St. Louis, and he doesn’t have the raw power to muscle them out with a 7% career barrel rate. Hey, I know another player with similar contact skills, Nola’s same 110 mph max eV and a slightly superior 8% barrel rate… Jonah Heim. A fine player, but not a top-100 player, which is really something given he’s a catcher. It might be tempting to blame Arenado’s down year on back issues, but the numbers were more or less in line with a slight expected age-related decline, and as a 36-year-old I can attest to the fact that in your 30s, back problems rarely go away for good. Yan Gomes also had a solid 19% strikeout rate with an 8% barrel rate. I’ll admit, the Ruiz comp puzzles me more, as Ruiz’s barrel rate was really pretty bad, but it definitely makes me feel worse.

Although many experts disagree a warn of a cliff in drafts after Arenado is off the board, I think one reason I’m backing off Arenado in recent drafts is I like the alternatives as better bets to provide value. Ke’Bryan Hayes has the speed to provide floor and may finally tap into that power upside, and Paredes is 10 years younger and uses a similar but more extreme “volume into homers” approach, but one in particular I think is getting short shrift compared to Arenado. He has a lower strikeout rate, a similar (slightly better walk rate), accumulated the exact same high volume, plays on a high-octane octane offense, and is five years younger. But what’s more, he rates higher than Arenado in 2024 xBA (.294 vs Arenado’s .278) and also crushes him in IPA rate (30% to 28%) and hard-contact rate (32% to 29%). At a humble ADP of 158, come on down, Alec Bohm! Why buy the dip when you can just buy the Bohm-Bohm sauce? Goes great with Arenadonion rings. Yes, this will be the one that catches on.


Nick Castellanos (OF, Philadelphia Phillies), ADP: #102

Top Comps: Kyle Higashioka (.94), Josh Jung (.88), Yoán Moncada (.88)


I’m looking around for Wilson the volleyball, because come draft day, I’m keeping Cast Away. Sure, anyone could have two of their three strongly-correlated comp players, including the top comp, that are outside the top 300, right? Well, let’s look at the runners-up: Mitch Haniger, Brandon Drury, J.T. Realmuto, Garrett Cooper, Zack Gelof, and Matt Carpenter. Not great, Bob!

I give Castellanos credit for being a gritty accumulator who racked up five-tool goodness with his .272 AVG, 29 homers, 11 steals, and tons of runs produced in 671 plate appearances, but here’s the problem. It’s as fake as the definitely-not-Russian, very-authentic Texans who use the phrase “warm-water port” on Twitter. Statcast thinks so with his xBA of .259, whereas Pitcher List’s says .255. The power also overperformed his metrics, his IPA rate of 29% was merely good, and his hard-contact rate of 28% was merely above-average. That wouldn’t be a problem if not for his AUGH IT’S HIDEOUS PLATE DISCIPLINE strikeout rate of 28% and walk rate of 5%. Well, in any case, it’s Higashioka-esque.

Another issue is I think that beyond expected Luck Dragon-induced regression, he’s in more danger than drafters realize. His contact rate dropped to a career-low 67%, which combined with his typically aggressive swing rates, resulted in him hitting a career-worst 30% CSW rate and an even scarier whiff rate of 19%. A 19% swinging-strike rate! That was the worst in baseball among qualified hitters, worse than Luis Robert Jr. and Teoscar Hernández. In addition, Eno Sarris has written about O-contact rate falling off a cliff at age 31, and even if last year’s decline was the drop, I’d rather not bet with a guy who swings at 43% of balls off the plate. There is only downside and no viable upside since he’s not going to play half his games in Cincy this year. Sorry, Philly fans.


Anthony Santander (OF, Baltimore Orioles)  ADP: #125

Top Comps: Brandon Lowe (.85), Robbie Grossman (.83), Triston Casas (.81)


Now, I know here yet again one of the comps, Triston Casas, is quite good! So let’s see again who comes next on the list… Josh H. Smith, Trent Grisham, M.J. Melendez, Mike Yastrzemski– Oh dear. I’ll be forthright and say I haven’t been a Santander guy in years, as I think the “safety” is overrated as well as the contributions of a power-only bat with only 25-35 homer power. Santander hasn’t suffered as much as many other Orioles hitters due to the wall changes and will hit in a great lineup, but I could see a lot of the same things being said for Brandon Lowe (minus the platoon split).

But why is Santander getting so many comps of low-power hitters or low-average hitters? Maybe because he’s a bit of both. Pitcher List give his 2023 an xAVG of just .239, and more notably also massively outperformed his expected power with a .421 xSLG, over 50 points lower than his .472 actual mark. Granted, maybe I’m ignoring the fact that he’s taking the Isaac Paredes approach of hitting as many pulled flyballs as possible, with a 50% fly-ball rate and 46% pull rate, and he does have much more raw power than Paredes to work with. But unlike Paredes, he has poor pitch recognition and a notably higher strikeout rate, which would be fine if he was a real high-barrel slugger but less so with merely above-average quality of contact metrics.

I’m not saying he’s going to be so bad he’ll get benched. But I do think that given that his range of projections all predict him in a narrow range for 28-30 homers with a .248-.257 AVG, why are we shelling out a primo #125 pick for him?  Jorge Soler could easily crush those numbers and he’s going considerably later! With almost no stolen base contributions, I think you’re much better at addressing other needs like catcher or infield here, instead of my dreams being haunted by Robbie Grossman. I mean, I’m sure he’s a nice guy and all, but still.


Josh Naylor, 1B, Cleveland Guardians, ADP #126

Top Comps: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (.83), Edward Olivares (.81), Andy Ibáñez (.80)


Of all the comps I found, I found Naylor’s comps the most upsetting, since I’ve targeted Naylor in drafts this year and even called him a sleeper on my writeup of Cleveland Guardians sleepers. But I try to stay open and attempt to see this from a different pair of eyes, more pessimistic ones obviously. I mean, the Gurriel comp isn’t so bad as he had a decent year. But the other two? Yikes. And I know comps are self-referential but it’s not like Olivares or Ibanez themselves have other great comps.

Gurriel actually seems better in a lot of ways, aside from the fact that Naylor had a far superior batting average. It’s at least a little comforting that among his next closest comps are solid vets like Arenado (though that’s not great, as we discussed) and Gleyber Torres. Still, why is the machine mad with Naylor? Well, it could be in part due to the fact that while he had an excellent strikeout rate of 14%, his actual barrel rate and average eV were below-average. Barrels are still pretty prevalent among first basemen, so a lot is hinging on a hope of good luck in a batting average category that is notoriously fickle.

But what about his speed? I mean, affinity isn’t caring about this at all, but isn’t he basically another Christian Walker or Goldy? …Right? Not exactly. Naylor’s sprint speed of 26 m/s is actually just 15th percentile, and as much as I believe willingness to steal matters, I am fairly confident that Naylor won’t have another double-digit stolen base season in 2024. This is one case in which I don’t want to be right about this, but for fantasy leagues, you also need to consider not only the platoon risk but also the fact that he’s a poor bet to drive in runs effectively. I’m not saying avoid Naylor as I’m not, but maybe at least consider how Lourdes Gurriel offers much of the same and is available at an ADP of 225.


Thairo Estrada, 2B/SS, San Francisco Giants, ADP #136

Top Comps: Elias Díaz (.85), Christian Arroyo (.85), Corey Julks (.82)


Yes, I know I broke one of my rules in taking a speed guy, though I’d argue Estrada is less of a speed guy than a stolen base guy. I thought about including Ha-Seong Kim here, but he has such a higher SB ceiling that it carries his whole projection. Estrada is thought of as a player with good stolen base numbers and moderate pop, but these comps, two of whom were removed from starting roles (the runner-up being Alan Trejo is also bad).

One look at his Statcast sliders and it’s easy to see why since it’s like the first track on Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue”. No, it’s not “Kind of Blue”, it’s All Blue! His 86 mph average eV was just 4th percentile, and he vastly outperformed his Statcast expected numbers with an ugly .248 xBA and .371 xSLG. I also think the floor is lower than people realize, since while he avoids whiffs decently well, his terrible 38% O-Swing rate and 4% walk rate makes him vulnerable to bad contact and fewer opportunities to get on base and steal. It’s true that he’s 100th percentile in defensive range, but there’s no category for that.

Now, it’s true that his strikeout rate spiked in 2023, and most projections are calling for positive regressions and a perfectly solid double-digit homers (but a wide variance from 11 to 17) and .250-.260 AVG plus 15-25 stolen bases. And that very well could happen, but I do think it’s concerning that his xwOBA is actually in a two-year-decline, since his barrel rate dipped from 7% to 4% in 2022 before his strikeout rate did the next dip in 2023. I get that speed plays this late are all flawed, and Thairo has managed to mostly stay healthy, but I don’t think the bat is as safe as drafters think, and he won’t steal as many bases if he can’t get on the bases. So I’m steering clear, and not just because I always imagined him as Spyro with beefy dragon thighs.

Ben Pernick

I've been writing for Pitcher List since the beginning, and have been a fantasy baseball addict now for 20 years. I grew up as a Red Sox fan in New York, but now I declare allegiance only to my fantasy teams.

2 responses to “Affinity Plus One: Statcast Bust Hitters for 2024”

  1. Patrick Schuholz says:

    Naylor cannot run 26 MPH

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