Potential National League busts
Inconsistency, World Series work could make for struggles for Cliff Lee
Move to pitcher-friendly Nationals Park may be big adjustment for Jayson Werth
Carlos Gonzalez hit only .289 with eight home runs on the road last season
No task is harder in fantasy draft preparation than predicting who won't live up to expectations. After tackling who we think might disappoint in the American League, we turn our attention to the biggest potential busts in the Senior Circuit, highlighted team-by-team around the league (in predicted order of finish):
The Phils are a tough one because most of the hitters are coming off down years by their previously lofty standards and no one should dare consider Roy Halladay a potential bust. Cliff Lee is more likely to be at risk to bust. Lee is a bit more inconsistent and does have the World Series hangover thing working against him, unlike Halladay.
Dishonorable mention: It is curious both Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley turned 32 in the offseason. Or maybe not so curious at all. Age 32 is the age of breakdown for players "up the middle" (catcher, shortstop, second base and center field). Those spots are rigorous roles better filled by players before or in their prime, not ones on the back end of it. It should be enough to slide this guys down a road or two from their prior draft position.
Uggla is a remarkable model of consistency and a loveable player for those of us fans who are vertically challenged. But he is 30 now and has gotten a big payday, and a first year in a new home tends to require an adjustment period.
Dishonorable mention: Tim Hudson is coming off a comeback player of the year campaign and is a favorite target of statheads that like to rap about BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play). See, Hudson's batting average on balls in play was strangely low for someone with his ERA, so the belief is he was a bit "lucky" last season. This writer tends to be more on Hudson's bandwagon than off it. Is it better to be lucky than good? Although, yours truly believes Hudson is lucky and good. Certain pitchers have low BABIPs because they know how to keep the ball off the barrel of the bat. Hudson is listed here only to give you an opposing viewpoint as a matter of balance.
The Marlins are another difficult team from which to call a bust. Stanton is the best limb to climb in that regard, although that is a weak limb. Stanton could be overvalued if your league tends to jock the next big thing before he is actually a big thing. Stanton could hit 35-plus homers in his first full season -- or he could go into a month-long slump and head to Triple-A.
Dishonorable mention: When in doubt, go with the closer caveat. Leo Nunez spent parts of last season out of the closer's role as the Marlins bullpen crumbled. It is not necessarily the fault of Nunez entirely, but a shaky supporting cast could leave him vulnerable again.
The Mets are an annual teamwide group of busts, so we figure to attack the players that actually overwhelmed us a year ago. There were some good reasons Pagan was a journeyman reserve outfielder for so long. If he goes too high on draft day, he likely have that Mets curse working against him.
Dishonorable mention: R.A. Dickey was inexplicably the Mets ace last year, when Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey or even rookie Jon Niese should have been. If someone drafts him among the top 75 starting pitchers because of last year's returns, they are overrating the journeyman knuckleballer who finally signed the first guaranteed contract of his career this winter.
How many times has a career overachiever gone into free agency with a few huge years and then gone in the tank? Too many. Werth heading from the Citizen Bandbox to the Nationals pitcher's park looks just too uncertain to perform at his prior levels.
Dishonorable mention: Livan Hernandez gave the Nats and fantasy owners plenty of mileage last year. He is hardly worth a late-round pick this time around, but he is a bust mention here because he could be on the fringe of even making the rotation, like he was a spring ago.
Axford was a blessing in disguise for the Brewers and fantasy owners last year. But we have seen it happen so many times with closers who come out of the woodwork one year and disappoint the next. The question is how valued is Axford? If people buy him as a top-15 closer, they are probably making a mistake, even if this team looks plenty capable of contending with a rebuilt rotation.
Dishonorable mention: Corey Hart and Casey McGehee each looked like the studs of their positions in stretches of the first half of last season. It is tough to consider them potential busts, though, because their second halves represented an appropriate performance correction. There is an aspect of fantasy baseball that can get them overrated, though. It is a long season and someone who dropped out of the race early might have missed much of the second half -- perhaps to turn focus to fantasy football. If that person missed the Hart and McGehee market corrections, they might be inclined to pick them too early this spring.
Carpenter tends to be more productive than his draft position because of his advanced age and injury history, but he does fall in the veteran version of the Verducci Effect. He jumped 42 1/3 innings from 2009 and he missed almost all of '08 and '07 after yet another Tommy John surgery. It takes guts to expect another major injury to an ace this potentially dominant, but Carpenter has been squarely in the risk pool his entire career.
Dishonorable mention: Jaime Garcia had a great first full season in the major leagues, especially for coming off Tommy John surgery, but Adam Wainwright's loss might be a cause for concern. Garcia had a huge innings jump. He went from fewer than 50 rehab innings in 2009 to over 163 high-quality, major-league innings a year ago. Garcia is tending to be a bit undervalued for his talent, but if he gets hurt again, he could be a bust nowhere where winds up being drafted.
Coco is one of the most underrated closers in baseball as a 40-save candidate year to year. But the presence of phenom Aroldis Chapman could toss a wrench into the operation. Coco usually retains his closer's job through slumps because he has been mostly on non-contenders throughout his career. Well, the expectations are higher than ever in Cincy now, and Chapman might prove to be the best arm in the bullpen. He could relegate Cordero to a setup role by midseason.
Dishonorable mention: Chapman being listed here is a function of the two-sided coin. Cordero just might hold that closer's role for the season and Chapman just might be stuck in the Pitch-22. It is more likely Chapman goes as a late-round pick, but if the hype gets amped up again in Spring Training, someone might be inclined to make Chapman the most overvalued middle reliever in fantasy.
Marmol was lights out with a modicum of pressure with a non-contender in Chicago. That was for a pitcher who has bounced from being a setup man to closer in recent years. Well, Marmol got paid this spring -- removing his contract-year status -- and veteran ex-closer Kerry Wood is working as his setup man. Marmol could fight another bout with wildness and Wood could be all-too tempting to slot back in as the closer in Chicago. Wood, after all, is perhaps the most loved Cubbie of our generation not named Sammy Sosa.
Dishonorable mention: Ryan Dempster has been one of the more reliable Cubs starters in the past three seasons, but that might have you missing the fact his ERA and WHIP have risen each of the past three seasons. Dempster seems safe and tends to be tempting to pick among the top 25 fantasy starters for that reason, but no SP is all that safe. Dempster's ceiling has been reached, especially since he turns 34 this season. You are likely better off going with a younger, more talented, higher-ceiling'd arm in his draft range.
Myers enjoyed a renaissance in Houston, but we have to go back to warning about veteran pitchers 30 and above -- not to mention the Verducci effect. Myers' innings almost tripled from the previous season. He remains a quality veteran front-line starter, but the risk for a breakdown remains as it has for his entire career.
Dishonorable mention: Carlos Lee has already shown plenty signs of wear last season as he watched his average drop .50 points after three consecutive seasons over .300. It could be a function of his age and perhaps the decline of the supporting cast around him. The latter figures to get a little worse before it gets better, and Lee isn't getting any younger. He could be this year's mid-round pick that drops almost completely off the map.
The Pirates are another team whose young players all carry the risk of bust, because there aren't many highly sought options here. Walker, though, was one that was far more impressive than many could have expected in his first season. A career .273 hitter in the minors, he flirted with .300 and showed more pop than he had in most of his career to date. Walker is merely the second Pirate in SI.com's Top 300 at No. 194. Andrew McCutchen has too much room to grow at No. 77.
Dishonorable mention: Pedro Alvarez is the third Pirate in the Top 300 at No. 204, but he was the second Pirate off the board in the SI.com mock draft, getting selected before the likes of established third basemen Michael Young, Mark Reynolds and Ian Stewart. Alvarez might be the best young hitter in this organization, but he still has the Reynolds-like wild strikeout issues and could require a stay back in Triple-A before he is truly ready to take off as a fantasy slugger.
After the breakthrough Gonzalez had a season ago, you won't find one person who dislikes this talent. The rub, though, is he is now getting selected in the top 10 of fantasy, perhaps even the top five. That sacred area is reserved for the consistent year-to-year presences. Two teams had given up on Gonzalez before he landed with the Rockies -- and his road splits are Dante Bichette-like. Gonzalez hit just .289 with eight homers, 41 RBI, 41 runs and 16 steals on the road. That would have made him a more reasonable .289-16-80-80-30 breakthrough, not a .336-34-117-111-26 freak of nature. That is thanks to his .380-26-76-70-10 numbers at home. He remains on tap for 81 games in Coors Field, though, because that is way the schedule is written. It will just be tough slugging like Barry Bonds at home every season.
Dishonorable mention: The Rockies are the only team with two players in the top 12 of SI.com's Top 300, so naturally we have to warn you about both of them, the second being Troy Tulowitzki. This is a 27-year old, no less. As gloriously fantastic as Tulo is, especially at his thin shortstop position, he is also frustratingly injury prone. He hasn't reached 600 at-bats since his rookie season and he will be drafted among players that have made a career of reaching that total every year for the better part of a decade.
Where do we begin with the potential Giants busts when you consider the postseason hangovers? Well, let's gloss over the pitchers for a second and go with the reigning NL Rookie of the Year. He is even named Buster. Sure, he is a great talent at a notoriously thin position, but catchers just don't tend to be this good so soon. A step back as a sophomore is a definite worry. Even a full step back will make him a top five at his position, but the rigors of catching a full 162-game season -- coming off an extra month of the postseason, too -- could catch up to him.
Dishonorable mention: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner are each likely to be a bit arm weary after their workloads last season, but let's give the bearded closer Brian Wilson the nod (or shake off?) here. Wilson is SI.com's top closer, but if pitchers are as volatile as money markets, then closers are the up-and-down stocks in them. Wilson could be overrated if he goes in the Round 5 closers usually begin to go in. This is a good year to wait longer than years past to call the first closer off the board.
If the Giants are a team to be wary of busts, the Dodgers are more of a locale for sleepers. Outfielder is a position that tends to be a bit overrated in the early rounds on draft day. It is easy to fall in love with the speed-and-power talents and forget most outfielders' scoring wind up bunched together in the middle. Kemp is one of the outfielders where talent hounds drool over the possibilities -- a la B.J. and Justin Upton. Kemp, though, could continue to be like the Uptons and leave us with unfulfilled promises.
Dishonorable mention: Years of injury woes have reduced Rafael Furcal, 33, to a second-five fantasy shortstop as opposed to a top five. Perhaps being past the age of 32 will make this the year he falls off entirely. The Dodgers have an über prospect at the position in Dee Gordon, and he could be ready to arrive midseason. A serious Furcal injury could speed that timetable up.
Bell told writers on reporting to spring training he wouldn't be surprised to see himself dealt by midseason. The Padres certainly are a team you might expect to suffer a letdown after their surprising season and the trade of Adrian Gonzalez to greener monsters in Fenway. Bell could be a candidate to challenge the Giants' Wilson as the No. 1 closer off the board, but he could be just as likely to be dealt to set up for a big-budget contender, where he might not be the closer, by midseason, too. That would hurt if you're the one that rings the closer Bell with him in the early rounds.
Dishonorable mention: Mat Latos is another ripe 23-year-old at risk by the Verducci Effect. The Padres tried to limit his innings a year ago amid a pennant race, but Latos still jumped an alarming 61 2/3 pro innings from 123 to 184 2/3 last season. How alarming is that innings jump? Well, that increase of more than 60 was more innings than Latos pitched in either of his first two pro seasons before the 123 in '09. He tossed just 56 1/3 in low Class A at age 19 in '07 and a combined 56 between low Class A and high Class at age 20 in '08. Latos is the Verducci Effect posterboy of 2011. It is not impossible for a young arm to overcome it as much as it is just risky.
Hudson is a Verducci Effect-lite candidate, too, but the concerns are more about how strikingly dominant he was in the second half last season with the D'backs. Hudson went a Pedro Martinez/Bob Gibson-like 6-1 with a 1.79 ERA in 79 2/3 innings after being dealt at the trade deadline last July. That was just his second full pro season after being a fifth-rounder in the '08 June draft. Hudson can be a very good ace for the D'backs, but his second-half '10 good? Highly unlikely. Hudson went with the third pick in Round 10 in SI.com's mock draft this February, which is almost five full rounds before the Braves' Tim Hudson went after a 17-win season. Clearly, expecting this much from a young pitcher on a non-contender can be expecting too much.
Dishonorable mention: We have to finish up with the closer caveat. If you are scoffing at anyone overrating the journeyman J.J. Putz back as a closer with the D'backs, check out these ridiculous projections for him by another website: 40 saves and a sub-3.00 ERA. Those numbers slot Putz as the fifth-rated closer at that once-venerable fantasy site. Putz as the fifth-best closer has to be a sick joke, especially with a D'backs bullpen that is coming off one of the worst seasons in baseball history.
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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