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Using xwRC+ to Identify Fantasy Baseball Busts in 2022

In my most recent article for Fantrax, I discussed my model creation for xwRC+. I developed this tool to identify which hitters were lucky and which were unlucky last season. This provides a way to identify breakouts and busts for future seasons. If you missed that article, you can check it out here! To recap, xwRC+ is calculated from the following inputs:

  • Launch Angle
  • Barrel %
  • Out of Zone Swing %
  • Sweet Spot %
  • Whiff %

The last article discussed three hitters that underperformed their xwRC+ in 2021. I am looking at those hitters to breakout in 2021. This article looks at 3 players who outperformed their xwRC+ in 2021. I think it is likely these three players will be busts in 2022!

Things look bleak now but there will be baseball in 2022! Why not get a head start and jump in a Fantrax Classic Draft contest? Get a jump on the season with a Best Ball league or maybe a Draft and Hold. Or put some green on the line with a new season-long league to try and conquer. There’s no better time than now to get your baseball on!

Finding Busts for 2022

Brandon Nimmo

Nimmo only played in 92 games in 2021. In those 92 games, he posted a career-best .290 average and a phenomenal 137 wRC+. In fact, over the last 4 seasons Nimmo has averaged a 137 wRC+. However, he has been unable to stay on the field and xwRC+ believes he is due for serious regression. Although he is not going very high in fantasy drafts, Nimmo is a player primed to bust in 2022.

2021 wRC+ 2021 xwRC+
137 96

Brandon Nimmo only posted a 4% barrel rate last season. Despite this, he slugged .437. In fact, Nimmo has never posted a barrel rate over 7.7% and that was during a shortened 2020. Most likely Nimmo will experience regression in his slugging percentage if he is able to stay healthy for a full season.

In addition to this, Nimmo posted a .366 BABIP last year. His exit velocity and sweet spot numbers hover around league average. Although Nimmo has carried high BABIPs throughout his career, a .366 is unsustainable. Nimmo ranked 48th in baseball for batting average on ground balls. He also ranked 11th in batting average on line drives despite posting a hard-hit percentage on those balls that would rank him 286/311. Nimmo will experience some batted ball regression in 2022.

Nimmo does not necessarily fit the category of a bust. He is going as OF80 according to NFBC ADP data. I included him in this category because likely there are fantasy managers out there thinking they can get a steal in Nimmo extremely late. Not only does Nimmo struggle to stay healthy but also the numbers he has been putting up are unsustainable. There is a high chance his wRC+ comes crashing down in 2022.

José Abreu

Coming off an MVP Award in 2020, Abreu had a solid 2021. He posted a 0.261/0.351/0.481 triple slash. His counting stats were well above average and although not MVP level, Abreu was still a solid fantasy player. However, in addition to being 35 years old I am concerned about drafting Abreu in 2022. His fantasy price is currently 1B6 and as seen in the table below, xwRC+ is calling for regression in 2022.

2021 wRC+ 2021 xwRC+
126 105

I am most concerned about Abreu’s sudden decline inability to hit fastballs. Throughout his career, Abreu has demolished fastballs. The lowest xBA in a season before 2021 was 0.300 and his lowest actual batting average was 0.288. He slugged over .500 on fastballs every year of his career. As the images from Baseball Savant show below, the wheels appeared to fall off against the fastball in 2021. A dramatic dip in xBA, xSLG, and Whiff % on that pitch are all immediate red flags. Fastballs are the pitch hitters tend to see the most. An inability to hit fastballs the way Abreu used to would instantly drop his value and could lead to him being a bust in 2022.

Jose Abreu xBA

José Abreu also saw a decline in his sweet spot percentage last year. The 31.2% he posted last year was his lowest since he made his debut back in 2015. In addition, his whiff % was well above league average. He ranked in the 29th percentile in this category for 2021.

Although I do not think Abreu will be abysmal in 2022, I do believe there is some validity to the xwRC+ from 2021. He is getting older and it seems that he is losing some of his bat control causing a decline in sweet spot percentage and an increase in whiffs. Pitchers are taking advantage and throwing him more fastballs that he struggled to handle last season. I think that Abreu is a fine player for 2022, but with an ADP of 1B6 I think it is more likely that he is a bust than somebody who returns his value.

Starling Marte

Marte had a career season in 2021. He hit 0.310/0.383/0.458 across 120 games. The stat that was most impressive and is boosting his fantasy value to new heights was the stolen bases. Marte went 47/52 on the bases which ties a career-high. He is currently going on average as OF9 in fantasy drafts with a minimum pick of 8th overall. Likely people are paying up for his career-high 134 wRC+ which could make him a bust in 2022. However, as you can see in the table below, the model projects him to come back to earth in 2022.

2021 wRC+ 2021 xwRC+
134 112

During his incredible 2021, Marte undoubtedly got lucky in several categories. When looking at his player page, his BABIP instantly stands out. Marte posted a 0.372 BABIP last season. While he has consistently run high BABIPs in the past, 0.372 is his highest since 2016. Marte’s swing profile remained relatively consistent with his career norms so a sudden spike in BABIP seems unsustainable. He posted a line drive percentage of 21.1%. This below his career average of 21.3%. Despite ranking 218th on hard-hit percentage on these line drives, Marte ranked 36th in average and 49th in slugging on these hits. His speed no doubt helps, but these levels of overperforming are unsustainable. This BABIP will likely come back down to around 0.320 next season.

Another concern with Marte is he posted a BB% of 8.2% last season. This is way above his career average of 5.3%. Marte swung slightly less on pitches out of the zone but was still well above league average in that category. 8.2% is likely high so it would not surprise me if his walks decreased. This combined with my concern over his average leads me to the table below. This table shows Marte’s stolen base attempts per time he has reached base (excluding reaching on fielder’s choice and errors).

Times On Base18210617817779189
SB Attemps592547311252
On Base/Attempt3.0847457634.243.7872340435.7096774196.5833333333.634615385

In 2021 Marte was attempting stolen bases at his highest rate since 2016. This is great and likely shows that Marte was finally feeling healthy. However, he has been injury prone and just turned 33. Not too often do 33-year-olds steal 47 bases. Let’s assume that Marte’s SB attempt rate decreases to around 4.5 instead of the 3.9 he was going at last season. Let’s also assume that Marte’s walk rate drops toward his career average and is only 6.5% next season. While we are at it, let’s knock his BABIP down to .320 instead of the crazy .372 he had. If Marte manages 530 PA next season with those rates, Marte’s stolen base attempts would decrease to 38. Thus, he will only get your team around 30 steals compared to the 47 he had last year.

30 stolen bases is still extremely valuable in fantasy. The xwRC+ model does not believe that Marte is going to be a total bust, however; it still projects him to have an above average 112 wRC+. Where Marte is being drafted, anything less than 30 stolen bases and a 120 wRC+ would likely be disappointing. He is going above players like Teoscar Hernandez, Aaron Judge, and Yordan Alvarez. All three are elite outfielders. The stolen bases are nice, but fantasy managers need to be prepared for Marte to potentially bust.

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