Mistakes of 2022 Fantasy Drafts

The biggest errors were fueled by preventable risks.

The 2022 draft was tough to navigate for fantasy managers. Some got two All-Star seasons in one from Aaron Judge, while others could only watch as Josh Hader annihilated their ratios. Let’s dive into the biggest mistakes of the draft and how to avoid them in 2023.


1. Betting Against the Injury Bug


The saying “the best ability is availability” is especially pertinent during a grueling 162-game MLB season. For many oft-injured players, 2022 represented an opportunity to prove they could stay healthy over an entire season. But injury-prone stars Luis Robert and Byron Buxton in particular did little to assuage the fears of those who were optimistic on draft day.

After playing in 56 of the 60 games of the truncated 2020 season and finishing second to Kyle Lewis in the American League Rookie of the Year voting, Robert missed the majority of 2021 due to a torn hip flexor. Despite only appearing in 68 games, Robert posted a .338 average, .946 OPS, chipped in six steals (in seven attempts), and looked even better post-injury. These numbers fueled a gaudy Round 2 or 3 2022 draft ranking often ahead of fellow outfielders Aaron Judge and Yordan Alvarez   but Robert failed to deliver. He always seemed to be on the injury report with wrist issues and various soft-tissue ailments, and this time they hampered his production. In 98 games, Robert put up decent counting stats (12 home runs and 11 steals), but his slugging percentage (.426) and OPS (.746) regressed to his rookie-season levels.

After Buxton showed out in 2021, the Twins handed him a seven-year, $100 million deal. But despite hitting 19 home runs in 61 games (on pace for 50 over a full season, per FanGraphs), maintaining a .306 batting average, and stealing nine bases (in 10 attempts), Buxton came into 2022 only having crossed the 100-game plateau once in his career (2017). Considering his five-category upside, his ADP of Round 5 or 6 was a tolerable risk, but Buxton again failed to eclipse 100 games due to injuries. While he hit 28 home runs in his 92 games, he ran less than ever (six steals on six attempts) and eventually needed season-ending arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.

This is certainly not an era of Iron Men, but the 100-game threshold is an important one for players to eclipse. Other annual injury risks such as Mike Trout and George Springer missed time. But Trout (who appeared in 36 games in 2021) crushed 40 home runs in 119 games and Springer (who appeared in 78 games in 2021) played in 133 games, his most since 2018. A healthy Buxton and Robert would duel for AL Central crowns and MVP titles for the next decade, but despite glimpses of their stratospheric upside, that will never happen if they cannot stay on the field.


2. Failing to Balance Safety and Upside


The inherent risk of missing on early picks dwarfs that of late picks. Reaching for an inconsistent-but-talented player in the early rounds means passing on an opportunity to acquire sure-fire production. Instead of simply drafting based on upside, successful managers tend to avoid risk early and lean more toward risk as the draft goes on.

Avoiding risk does not mean completely avoiding upside. Consistent superstar production with MVP upside can be found in stalwarts such as José Ramírez, Gerrit Cole, and Freddie Freeman in the first few rounds of drafts. Avoiding the temptation to reach early for oft-injured, inconsistent, or unproven players frequently yields positive results. In addition, drafting safely in the early rounds is more likely to produce above-average results than to tank a team. For example, in 2022, first-round teammates Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette each had what was perceived as a down season, yet both still contributed 90-plus RBIs and hit 32 and 24 home runs, respectively. It may be obvious now, but choosing Lucas Giolito in Round 2 or 3 was a major risk despite his strikeout upside. In seasons in which he started 10 or more games, Giolito had never finished a season with an ERA below 3.19, and in 2022 he had the second-worst season by ERA (4.90) of his career.

Turning up one’s risk tolerance as the draft went along was key to acing 2022’s draft. Unproven-yet-talented batters like AL Rookie of the Year Julio Rodríguez, World Series MVP Jeremy Peña, and American League batting champion Luis Arraez were consistently drafted after the first 150 picks (Arraez went undrafted in many leagues). Many fantasy championship rosters featured young, talented starting pitchers such as Shane McClanahan and American League Cy Young runner-up Dylan Cease, both of whom typically lasted as late as Round 10. Other breakouts like Kyle Wright and Cal Quantrill (Cleveland), who won 21 and 15 games respectively, were basically free. While many of these may have seemed like risky selections at the time, their low cost and starting opportunities made their upsides immensely attractive.

It is just as crucial to draft safely early as it is to draft riskily late. While chasing upside in the later rounds can win a league, chasing upside in the early rounds can lose it, too. Drafting a base of consistent production and targeting riskier players later produced better results for fantasy managers in 2022.


3. Relying on One Closer


As more teams continue to embrace some form of a closer-by-committee, it felt critical to select a high-end closer early in drafts. But in 2022, many formerly dominant closers scuffled, highlighted by former Relievers of the Year Josh Hader and Aroldis Chapman.

Hader had long been building his case for best reliever in the league, winning NL Reliever of the Year on the Brewers in 2018, 2019, and 2021. His consistent dominance made him a popular selection as early as Round 4 of fantasy drafts, but he uncharacteristically stumbled despite recording 36 saves. The peak of his struggles came in a July game against the Giants in which he recorded just one out while giving up three home runs, including a walk-off grand slam. Between the Brewers and Padres, Hader wound up with a 5.22 ERA and 1.28 WHIP, getting worse even after the Padres bought low on him. He finished the season strongly enough to contribute to the Padres’ playoff run but had already detonated fantasy managers’ ratios.

Chapman had demonstrated his brilliance out of the bullpen for over a decade, which fantasy managers rewarded by selecting him in the first 10 rounds of drafts, but he too had a horrible 2022 season. Amidst injury and poor performance, he completed just 36.1 innings with career worsts of a 4.46 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. Like fantasy managers, the Yankees lost all confidence in Chapman to contribute as they left him off their postseason roster after a missed workout. It was a remarkable downfall for one of the greatest closers ever at his peak and one that landed him a meager one-year, $3.75 million deal with the Royals this offseason.

Fantasy managers who invested in Hader and Chapman expected to receive a high number of saves and low ratios, as well as enough stability in the bullpen to allow them to focus on solidifying other areas. While Hader provided saves, he did so with crooked ratios, and Chapman was a net negative in nearly every aspect. In a season where certain closers ascended to the top tier Emmanuel Clase and Edwin Díaz chief among them others proved how risky it is to rely so heavily on one player to anchor a fantasy bullpen.

One could attribute these players’ down seasons to any one of various red flags, but in truth, many players put together their worst seasons out of nowhere. The Tigers’ prized six-year, $140 million shortstop, Javier Báez, often selected in Rounds 7 or 8, flirted with the Mendoza line for most of the season and committed an MLB-worst 26 errors. Nick Castellanos was a popular Round 3 pick, but the Phillies’ five-year, $100 million man hit his fewest home runs since 2014 (13) and had the lowest OPS of his career (.694).

The 2022 fantasy baseball draft was littered with pitfalls, some preventable and some unpreventable. But whether due to underperformance or injury, it is important to analyze the busts of 2022 in preparation for 2023.


Images courtesy of Pixabay | Adapted by Aaron Polcare (@bearydoesgfx on Twitter)

Mitch Goulson

Mitch Goulson started following baseball after the 2011 World Series. Sadly for him, his favorite team got swept in the World Series the very next year. Since then, he has played fantasy baseball regularly in an attempt to distract himself from the Tigers' ineptitude.

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