Potential American League busts
Without contract to play for, Carl Crawford may suffer from lack of motivation
Matt Wieters may have makings of solid catcher more than an elite talent
Joakim Soria could struggle to get saves with poor Royals team this season
You want to know why fantasy baseball isn't easy, no matter how much you know, think you know or strive to know? It is because busts are the hardest to project.
Seeing Jacoby Ellsbury go from the No. 2 overall outfielder to scoring fewer points in a full season than Jose Bautista scored in one week was frustrating last year. No one saw that coming, nor could they. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is a liar, and probably a thief, too, laughing all the way to the bank to cash your league's winnings.
Jason Bay and Grady Sizemore: Junk and more junk; Kendry Morales: What was he thinking?!?
Those were some of the biggest busts of 2010 and each was a function of injury that couldn't have been projected. It makes touting potential busts the toughest job in fantasy.
It doesn't make it any less important.
Most of SI.com's fantasy baseball preview focuses on the players that probably just are not liked enough. This is one piece of draft content where the focus turns to players who are liked just a bit too much -- the all-overrated players.
This won't be throwing darts. Instead, we will focus this list of busts on players who just aren't worth their weight in fantasy -- and by weight we mean their draft position and not suggesting Pablo Sandoval won't hit his weight.
To serve you right by this, we have to attack some of the biggest names in fantasy. There is no such thing as a bust of a late-round pick. He was hardly costly anyway. It is the well-loved early rounders that get branded with the bust stigma at year's end, so we might as well try to attack some of the most beloved names.
Before we breakdown the cautionary tales in the National League, here are some potential 2011 busts in the AL, highlighted team-by-team around the league (in predicted order of finish):
Crawford tends to bounce in and out of the early rounds every other year. He is back in the elite zone after a rebound season in a contract year. He has gotten paid now and is heading to the friendly confines of Fenway Park. What is there not to love? Well, he could go the way Curtis Granderson did in New York last year.
Dishonorable mention: Clay Buchholz had such an outstanding first season, it will be tough for him to match it this time around. He will get picked before all but Jon Lester on the Red Sox staff, but he might get outperformed by any and all of the Red Sox starters -- yes, even (gulp) Daisuke Matsuzaka. See, we told you projecting busts takes some brass ones.
Yours truly has picked him every year since he passed 32. Despite coming off a down year, Jeter's name recognition will still get him picked before his actual value should slot him. There are just too many Jeter/Yankees lovers out there for him to perform to his draft position.
Dishonorable mention: Mariano Rivera isn't going to live forever, so there has to be a time he will break down. Also, the Yankees could be anticipating it by signing closer Rafael Soriano as insurance and being stubborn on keeping Joba Chamberlain as a reliever (for now, we are to assume).
This one hurt to type, because Price is so doggone awesome. But there is something called the [Tom] Verducci Effect: Pitchers who have an unusually large increase of innings from one year to the next (particularly young pitchers), tend to be at risk for breakdown. The A's Brett Anderson was a well-chronicled example of this last year. Well, Price jumped above 46 innings on his career-high total from 2009 to '10. That puts him in the danger zone, even if he could as easily win the AL Cy Young for each of the next five seasons. It is something to think about if you draft him as high as we rank him at SI.com: No. 7 among starting pitchers.
Dishonorable mention: Jeremy Hellickson could be the Price example of before '10. Price came in with unbelievable large expectations only to disappoint in his first go-around as a major-league starter. Hellickson showed plenty down the stretch to potentially be the No. 1 rookie starting pitcher on draft day. Rarely is the No. 1 fantasy rookie the same going out as coming in, a word of warning. It happens every year, regardless of how much you like the talent.
It is hard to find an Orioles player that is highly regarded in fantasy. Outfielder Nick Markakis is the first Oriole in SI.com's top 300 at No. 72. Brian Roberts in second at No. 85. Mark Reynolds is third at 110. All three are coming off down years and could be better than they were a year ago. Wieters, technically, has been a fantasy bust each of the past two seasons, and the incredible hype should still get him selected among the top 10 catchers. Here is the caveat on Wieters: Maybe he is just solid like a Kurt Suzuki, not spectacular like a Joe Mauer or Buster Posey.
Dishonorable mention: Vladimir Guerrero wasn't all he had been cracked up to be going into last year. Then he had a great first half and the luster was restored. He could drop back to his disappointing '09 levels -- or his second half of '10 levels -- as he gets lost in Baltimore.
This one is a bit too easy. He went from undrafted in many fantasy leagues to the No. 2 hitter to Albert Pujols. Bautista shouldn't be picked in the first three rounds of fantasy leagues, though. He could suffer the slides Aaron Hill and Adam Lind had a season ago.
Dishonorable mention: Brett Cecil was a 15-game winner last season for a non-contending Blue Jays club. He is young and talented, but there should be around 60 starting pitchers (mostly on better teams) you should consider before him.
One of last year's comeback players of the year -- in a contract year, mind you -- Konerko has been a Jekyll and Hyde fantasy pick, alternately good and bad. It will take a lot for him to be the fantasy MVP he was a year ago, especially now that he is going to be 35-years old and has signed what should be his last huge contract.
Dishonorable mention: Mark Buehrle doesn't tend to be universally loved, so he won't be the pick here. Instead, let's go with a closer in Matt Thornton, who is also a potential sleeper. If the White Sox select Chris Sale to close, Thornton could be fairly useless in a majority of fantasy leagues. Closer is one of the most common positions to go bust, because health and role can be so tenuous at this position.
We have Morneau ranked in the top 10 among fantasy first baseman, despite the fact he was useless at the end of last season and idle all winter due to his post-concussion syndrome. He could prove to be a sleeper if healthy, or a bust if not. Also, perhaps, he proves healthy and then takes another fastball to the noggin and is finished for his career. No one wants to see that happen to Morneau or anyone, but it is something to be cognizant of.
Dishonorable mention: This is a hard one, because Morneau and Mauer tend to be more overlooked than overrated, so let's go with a recent news item on Scott Baker, who is dealing with some unexpected elbow inflammation after offseason surgery. He will slot it down early in spring training but sore elbows can become reconstructed ones; see Joe Nathan '10.
Did you see above that we were going to try to speak poorly of some of the stars of fantasy? Well, V-Mart is clearly a top four fantasy backstop, if not a close No. 2 to Mauer. Catchers, like closers, tend to be a bit overrated because of position scarcity. V-Mart has gotten his last big contract. He moves from a great hitter's park to a tough pitcher's park. He is also 32, the age of breakdown for catchers and putting him on the back side of his career. Sure, he will get the added at-bats at DH, but there are warning signs here.
Dishonorable mention: The pick here will depend on the makeup of your league. Some might overvalue the young Austin Jackson or the veteran Jose Valverde. On average, they will probably be appropriately valued as nice fallback options at their positions. They are not the stars some might think they can be in '11 (at least not yet in the case of Jackson).
The Indians are more of a locale for sleepers than busts, if only because there are just so many Indians coming off bad years. Carmona is one of the few who had a year significantly better than the previous, but you should still wait to pick him until the late rounds at his position and in his situation with a non-contender.
Dishonorable mention: We have seen Chris Perez get picked in fantasy drafts a bit early because of his talent, but here is the closer caveat again. They are shaky fantasy picks because a lot has to go right for them to score for owners. Can you guarantee a lot is going to go right for the Indians this season? Or even on a-few-nights-a-week basis?
Everyone will hate this one, but name a highly-rated Royal to attack? Like the Indians, few Royals are coming off surprisingly good seasons that might have them overrated. So let's stick with the closer caveat. What if the Royals don't win a game in a given week? It sure makes it tough to save games, which is Soria's main asset to fantasy owners. Without Zack Greinke, the Royals are bad enough to be an underdog in every single game they play.
Dishonorable mention: We already attacked Soria, the top Royal in SI.com's Top 300. Few might even agree Alex Gordon even belongs as the third Royal (No. 297), so we are left to consider Billy Butler, who checks in at No. 104. What if Butler doesn't hit even .280 in a down year and that his power numbers top out at 15 homers? He would then be a bust ... and the Royals might just go 0-162.
The Angels have a slew of players who could be overvalued: Morales; Jered Weaver coming off a career year; Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu being a bit too past their prime years. But Haren will be the pick here. He was already a bust in the first half of last season and his value is riding a lot on him posting a high innings total. He is coming off a career-high 235 innings, though, and maybe at age 30 his shoulder or elbow might just say, "enough" -- if body parts could speak.
Dishonorable mention: It could be the anti-Brewster's Millions axiom: Any of the above instead of none of the above. Or it could be a reliance on the closer caveat and going with Fernando Rodney. He has hardly been steady as a full-season closer.
Just when you think you're out on Hamilton, he pulls the Godfather on you and pulls you back in with an AL MVP campaign. Hamilton's years of self-admitted drug and alcohol abuse have made him the oldest 29-year-old in baseball, so the potential for breakdown remains there. Heck, it might be the only reason he shouldn't be an early first-rounder.
Dishonorable mention: Any of the starting pitchers could suffer letdowns after their surprising seasons a year ago -- not to mention they have the postseason hangover working against them -- and Adrian Beltre has gone bust before after signing a big contract. But let's go with Neftali Feliz until the Rangers announce him as their closer. Feliz is a top-five fantasy option at closer, but he would be a risk if they stick with their plan to stretch him out as a starter this spring. It would be difficult for him to reach 180 innings, which he would have to do to make good on his draft position. Going from elite closer to 180-plus-inning starter just isn't something easy to do from one season to the next.
When everyone was looking at Anderson last spring, it was Cahill (who didn't even make the rotation out of spring training) who had the breakthrough season. Perhaps the script gets flipped back on us this year: Cahill suffers from the Verducci Effect and Anderson breaks through. It is entirely possible, if not a measure of Murphy's Law: What can go wrong will.
Dishonorable mention: Andrew Bailey is another one of the closer caveats, because of an injury question and the presence of a veteran closer slotted initially as a setup man in Brian Fuentes. The signing of Fuentes was a deft move by GM Billy Beane, or was it merely Bailey insurance?
King Felix isn't a Verducci Effect candidate, because he only added 11 innings to his career high from '09 to '10 (249 2/3), but he was up 49 innings from his '08 total to last season. This is one of the most painful to suggest, because he is smack dab in the elite, but every year a stud pitcher goes from riches to rags. It is the way it goes at the position. Maybe, just maybe, the curse strikes King Felix. One reason to like him a teensy bit less is that woeful lineup he will have supporting him -- or not supporting him much at all for that matter.
Dishonorable mention: Picking another potential bust from the Mariners is a bit cruel and unnecessary, like kicking road kill, but we have to do it. And we have to do it with the most beloved Mariner not a King in name: Ichiro Suzuki. The hit machine has to stop churning sometime, right?
Eric Mack writes bi-weekly for SI.com. You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice on Twitter @EricMackFantasy. Hit him up. He honestly has nothing better to do with his free time.
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