Affinity Pool: Statcast Bust Hitters for 2023 In Review

Ben Pernick reviews his 2023 Statcast Hitting Bust Predictions.

In the 2023 preseason, I used a rarely-used but very fun Statcast feature, the Player Affinity algorithm (also called player similarity) to identify Statcast Bust Hitters for 2023.  Normally, using this algorithm has helped me to identify potential busts more than sleepers, but this year seems to be an exception, as I had better-than-usual results on my sleeper picks, but worse results on my bust candidates, getting just less than half of my predictions correct. Let’s look it over and see what we can learn.


Matt Olson, 1B, Atlanta Braves (ADP: 47)

Top Comps: J.D. Martinez, Anthony Santander, Seth Brown, Willie Adames


Yeah, whoops. I realized not long after publishing this that Manny Machado, who I did not include, had far worse comps, so while I couldn’t fix it, I at least was right on my pessimistic Machado prediction. But Olson, wow. He had a career year with the Braves, socking a career-best 54 dingers with a .283 AVG, 127 R, 139 RBI, and for good measure, 1 SB. This landed him 6th on the player rater, so in case there was any doubt, and there shouldn’t have been, I was very, very, wrong on this one.

So how did I screw up? Well, for one, Affinity is self-referential, so perhaps the comps to JDM, Santander, Brown, and Adames were saying more so that those blokes deserved better and not that Olson deserved worse, though only Martinez made that come to fruition. Olson also showed last year a significant jump in MaxEV to a career-high 117 mph, well at least before he broke it again this year with a mind-boggling 119 MaxEV. It’s not so often you see someone boost their maxEV like that this many years into their career. I still don’t know if anyone expected this jump in his barrel rate and 5% jump in HardHit%. Picking a bust from a top 50 player is always tough, Matty O really made me take the L, son.

Verdict: MISS 0 for 1


Adley Rutschman, C, Baltimore Orioles (ADP: 69)

Top Comps: Jon Berti, Brandon Crawford, Jake Fraley, Dominic Smith


I liked Rutschman as a prospect, really, but the crux of my argument was simply that a top 100 pick, especially a cost of pick 69 was not so nice. The comps above were all pretty scarily bad players in 2022 to be compared to, and he certainly did better than that in his second go-around, hitting .277/.374/.435 with 20 homers, 80 R, 84 RBI, and 1 SB in 577 AB (687 PA). Those numbers may seem fairly impressive, until you compare them to the rest of the catcher pool and realize you could’ve had near-equal value much later, at least in batting average leagues, as he finished behind William Contreras and not that far ahead of Realmuto, Will Smith, Willson Contreras and more.

That said, I think that while you likely earned negative value from this pick, it’s too much of a reach to call it a bust. He finished as the 48th-ranked hitter overall according to the ESPN player rater, but the 143rd overall player. The run production and volume were his greatest assets, especially in OBP leagues, but Statcast did get it right that his home run power was not as much as projected, as his .158 ISO was a far cry from his .191 mark in 2022. Given how he improved his strikeout rate by nearly five points with an excellent 30% ideal plate appearance rate, he should be better next year, though I still think his early 2024 ADP of 49 is too steep given the improved quality of the catcher crop.

Verdict: MISS 0 for 2


Xander Bogaerts, SS, San Diego Padres (ADP: 91)

Top Comps: Victor Caratini, Ketel Marte, Brandon Crawford, Jake Fraley


I thought maybe this time I’d hit my shot predicting an off year, but it looks like I’ll end up with a Bogey. Bogaerts looked broken for most of the first half before a roaring finish, finishing with a .285 AVG, 19 HR, and 19 SB in San Diego, the latter of which was the highest SB total of his career. The switch from Fenway to Petco didn’t drain his bat as much as I expected despite once again outperforming his expected metrics, with a terrible 25% hard contact rate (222nd in MLB) and 24% ideal plate appearance rate (243rd).

It seems part of the success was due to an improved strikeout rate, as his 17% strikeout rate was the best in years and supported by a modest improvement in K% to 81%. He remains rather similar to Ketel Marte and Jake Fraley in terms of the kind of jack-of-all-trades value he provides, and I suppose he’s just one of those rare guys who can consistently defy Statcast, and someday we’ll learn how. That being said, he’s entering 2024 drafts as the 110th pick, so while not a bust, his perceived value took a small hit.

Verdict: MISS 0 for 3


Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins (ADP: 100)

Top Comps: Cal Raleigh, Jake Burger, Luke Voit, Eugenio Suarez


If only I placed bets on this, I could’ve made myself some bux. Buxton got hurt again of course, but his Affinity comps were correct in predicting he wouldn’t even be that good while healthy. He hit just .207/.294/.438 with 17 HR and just 9 SB in 304 AB, which was in fact worse production from everyone on this list besides Voit. His barrel rate was still excellent at the 90th percentile as well as his sprint speed, but with his strikeout rate worsening to 31%, the decline in HardHit rate to 45% hit him hard. For an idea of how bad he was, on the ESPN player rater he didn’t even rate as a top 100 outfielder. Ouch.

I think generally this is a good lesson to be very wary with players with high strikeout rates and low walk rates, even if they hit the ball hard since it’s a narrow precipice. Of course, in Buxton’s case, I factored in his injury history as well as the risk that the team would not give him the green light as much as a result of said injury history. At his 2024 ADP of 274, he’s at a price at which he’s a much smarter bet, and I might take a few shares given his upside.

Verdict: HIT 1 for 4


Rhys Hoskins, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies (ADP: 125)

Top Comps: Mike Yastrzemski, Mitch Haniger, Seth Brown, Ramon Laureano


Yeah, I’m not taking the W on this one, since we didn’t get any 2023 batted ball data on him. Call it a draw.

Verdict: N/A 1 for 4


Tyler Stephenson, C, Cincinnati Reds (ADP: 132)

Top Comps: Edmundo Sosa, Aaron Hicks, Andres Gimenez, Tommy Pham


Even the Great American Smallpark couldn’t save him. Stephenson hit a disappointing .243/.317/.378 with 13 HR in 517 PA. That’s good for, or rather not good for, an 85 wRC+, a full standard deviation below league average. I said all along that despite his large size, he simply didn’t either hit the ball hard enough or often enough to indicate a high batting average and even Cincy’s BABIP inflation couldn’t make up the gap. Simply due to volume, he did end up 19th among catchers, though I don’t think there’s a world in which someone would rather have had him over 20th-ranked Francisco Alvarez. Basically, his only carrying tool was volume.

When you look at his comps and ignore stolen bases, his numbers were, on a per-PA-basis, actually rather similar to Hicks, Sosa, and Gimenez, though note that this was compared to their 2022 batting selves, which were better for Gimenez and worse for the other two. With his strikeout rate of 26%, I don’t see a bounce-back coming, so even though his price has fallen to an ADP of 223 in early 2024 drafts, I’d much rather go for options falling behind him such as Elias Diaz, Jeffers, Langeliers, Jansen, and maybe even a suddenly svelte Alejandro Kirk.

Verdict: HIT 2 for 5


Jose Miranda, 3B, Minnesota Twins (ADP: 162)

Top Comps: Gio Urshela, Matt Vierling, Carson Kelly, Ketel Marte


He definitely wasn’t Carmen Miranda, because he went Chica Chica Bust Chic. I’m the king of current references. Affinity may have been the canary in the coal mine, and his stint in the majors didn’t last long, as he hit just .211/263/.303 with 3 HR in 152 PA before a combination of demotion and injuries kept him from returning for the rest of the season.  In the minors, he had a higher strikeout rate and still lacked power with just 3 HR and a .255 in 181 PA, so maybe he was still hurt or just had a ruined approach or confidence. I mean, with a showing like that, Lin-Manuel’s cousin really didn’t need a second act.

His top comp of Urshela (who hit just two home runs in 2023) was a fair warning that his approach, which featured a lack of hard-hit balls and barrels was not a way to major league success despite the gaudy minor league numbers. Carson Kelly matched his 2023 production the most closely. At a spring ADP of 587, I wonder if the hate has gone too far, as he’s still just 25, though the arrival of Lewis and Julien certainly muddies the water. I still think there’s a world where he has a Urshela-like solid back-end value for a few years, though his poor defense puts all the pressure on the bat.

Verdict: HIT 3 for 6


Austin Hays, OF, Baltimore Orioles (ADP: 282)

Top Comps: Elias Diaz, Frank Schwindel, Jackie Bradley Jr., Jonathan Schoop


While Hays wasn’t my only miss, he is the only player besides Olson on this list who actually was a value for his 2023 ADP, so I have that going for me, which is nice. Hays cooled off after a red-hot first half but still finished with a cromulent .275/.325/.444 with 16 HR and 5 SB in 566 PA, which landed him at #190 on the player rater. He managed to stay healthy, something that was elusive for him for his career, allowing him to make up for so-so power with a high-contact approach. Well, sort of, not really.

See, Hays actually posted the worst K rate of his career, surging to 25% strikeout rate from just 20% in 2022. His barrel rate, ISO, and hard-hit rate, while better than 2022, were in line with his 3-year average, so how did he have such a good season? Well, the one number that sticks out is .345, which was his 2023 BABIP. Yeah, I said it… he got lucky. While he’s a good defender, his Statcast metrics are neutral-to-poor across the board, without a single plus skill, and his xBA of .242 is the same as 2021 and 2022 combined. This may be an open secret, given his 2024 ADP actually fell to pick 291, and yet still I’m not letting Purple Hays get all in my brain.

Verdict: MISS 3 for 7


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.

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