Lucas Zenobi’s Sleepers and Busts for 2021

The strange 2020 season is leaving many sleepers and busts in its wake.

It is especially hard to figure out where players are drafted too early or too late this year. The shortened 2020 season has left the big, unanswerable question of how we are to handle the 2020 performances of some players. Let these sleepers and busts serve as a small guide of where you may find your other league-mates sleeping or reaching.


Sleeper: Jesse Winker (Cincinatti Reds – ADP: 249.2)


The fact that Jesse Winker is being taken as the 73rd outfielder off the board is astonishing. He has not had below an .830 OPS in his entire major league career, and on top of that, he is coming off of his best season so far. In 2020, he slashed .255/.388/.544. Plate discipline is always a strong part of Winker’s game, and while his strikeout rate spiked a little last year, he also had his best walk rate. This walk rate was in the top 9% of the league. Beyond that, his Exit Velocity, Hard Hit rate, xwOBA, xSLG, and Barrel rate were all in the 88th percentile of the league or higher. Winker makes incredibly solid and loud contact as a lefty in a home park that favors left-handed batters. With that being said, I don’t believe that we have seen the best from Winker in terms of power output. If he keeps up his power pace from his 2020 season over a full season, he would hit 36 homers.

The only concern for Winker is that he has struggled against left-handed pitching. He did put up an exceptional .265/.390/.500 slash against left-handers in 2020, albeit in a small sample size. I can’t see anybody else that may replace him against southpaws in the lineup. Shogo Akiyama is another Reds outfielder, but he also bats left-handed. If Winker performs as I expect him to, I’m not sure the splits will matter.


Sleeper: Ke’Bryan Hayes (Pittsburgh Pirates – ADP: 144.8)


The lauded prospect, Ke’Bryan Hayes, was called up by the Pirates in 2020 and exceeded his already lofty prospect pedigree. He slashed an otherworldly .376/.442/.682 in his short, 24-game stint in the majors. Let’s get a few things out of the way. The .376 average with a .450 BABIP will obviously come down. His Statcast xBA was .294, and even though that’s not .376, you’ll take .294 for the 19th third baseman off the board. The surprising aspect of his 2020 output was the power production. Hayes never really hit for a ton of power in the minors, but he was on pace for over 33 homers in a full season. The contact looked loud and supportive of that power output. Do I expect Hayes to hit over 30 homers in 2021? Not really, but I could easily see 20+ homers. He could easily steal 10-20 bases on top of that. The concern for Hayes is that he is in such a bad lineup that he will likely be the only player drafted from his team in most leagues. While this will hurt his runs and RBI output, it also means that the Pirates will probably play him almost every day. There is no one waiting in the wings to steal playing time from Hayes, and with a prospect as highly regarded as Hayes combined with his 2020 performance, expect the Pirates to be all in on Hayes in 2021. You should be too.


Sleeper: German Marquez (Colorado Rockies – ADP: 180.8)


Every year, I push German Marquez as a pitcher that everyone should be on the lookout for in drafts or on the waiver wire. This year is no different, except for the fact that I don’t have to defend a poor performance from the previous season this time. Marquez had a 3.75 ERA with a 1.26 WHIP in over 81 innings in 2020. For the 52nd pitcher off the board, you’ll take that all the time. As always, the huge knock on Marquez is his hitter-haven home park, Coors Field. At a bare minimum, if you start him on the road and sit him at home, you’re getting a top-10 ace for about half of his games. This time you don’t even have to use a mid-round pick on it!

Marquez is who Marquez is, meaning that he didn’t change drastically last year. The only two notes are that he significantly reduced his HR/FB rate to a level that is wholly unsustainable. Before you hit the eject button, he also drastically underperformed as a strikeout pitcher. His swinging-strike rate sat where it always does at borderline elite levels, but his K/9 certainly did not reflect it. I could see the regressions of these two aspects of Marquez’s game cancelling each other out, and you’re left with a really solid pitcher that is not getting drafted as such.


Bust: Walker Buehler (Los Angeles Dodgers – ADP: 18.0)


Why must we draft Walker Buehler in the second/third round year after year? I don’t doubt his skills in the slightest. He has posted ace-caliber ERAs in the majors consistently, and he has a solid lineup backing him to give him a bunch of wins. Why, then, am I calling him a bust? The answer is simple, and it is workload. Yes, Buehler pitched over 182 innings in 2019 that averaged out to about six innings per game. That’s great, and if that is what I expected from him in 2021, you could probably justify drafting him 18th overall. However, Buehler pitched six innings once in 2020, and it was exactly six innings. He averaged four and a half innings per game, and that will not fly for a pitcher you’re drafting in the second round. I understand that 2020 was a strange season all around, but there were other aces that pitched normal workloads on a per-game basis in 2020. I’m not sure why you would want to risk it in the second round when there are other pitchers in the same range or even later that perform practically the same as Buehler but without the workload concerns.


Bust: Trevor Bauer (Los Angeles Dodgers – ADP: 13.8)


This is definitely going to come off as a hot take, since Trevor Bauer is coming off of a Cy Young-winning season, and I completely see a scenario where this looks foolish in a year. With that being said, I think there are a lot of question marks with Bauer, and when drafting in fantasy baseball, question marks are not great. Bauer was insistent that he signs with a team that lets him pitch every fourth day. Presumably, the Dodgers will are in agreement to try that experiment out if they agreed to a deal with him. Basically, Bauer claims that the daily measurements that he takes on himself show that he recovers and is at peak performance every fourth day. That’s all well and good, but who is to say that after he begins pitching every fourth day that his recovery time increases, and he suddenly doesn’t fully recover every fourth day? That is a massive variable that I don’t believe is accounted for in his experiment. If this turns out to be the case, you may think that he’ll just pitch every fifth day as normal, and you’ll get ace-caliber production as normal. Well, yes and no. If and when this experiment fails in the scenario outlined above, he could get injured or just have fatigue that will cause either an IL stint or a slump.

Beyond that, Bauer is constantly retooling his mechanics, and while this approach his worked for him at various points in his career to amazing success, he could also retool in a negative way that yields some disastrous results. The point is that Trevor Bauer is not a constant, and I don’t think that you can ever be 100% sure of what you’re getting with him. That’s probably why he is so fun to watch. Not to mention, he will be in the same division as Manny Machado, and we all know how Bauer pitches against Machado. (The last sentence is a bit of a joke that doesn’t heavily play into why I’m considering Bauer a bust.)


Bust: Cavan Biggio (Toronto Blue Jays – ADP: 58.6)


I’m going to assume that Cavan Biggio’s elevated ADP is due to second base being a shallow position. There isn’t really any other reason why he should be drafted this early. Let’s start with batting average. He is a career .240 hitter over his two major league seasons, and his xBA over those seasons is even worse at .229. He makes incredibly soft contact on top of that. His Exit Velocity, Hard Hit rate, and Barrel rate are all in the bottom 27th percentile of the league or worse. The only things you are getting from Biggio are great plate discipline and some steals. Of the eight homers he hit in 2020, his average home run distance was 379 feet with his longest being 401 feet! I’m not exaggerating when I say that the only thing that you can rely on Biggio for is plate discipline.

Photos by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire/Ian D’Andrea/flickr | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)

Lucas Zenobi

Lucas Zenobi is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and a life-long Pittsburgh Pirates fan. His other interests include film, music, and any and all things Pittsburgh.

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