Predicting MLB's Biggest Busts in 2018

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2018

Predicting MLB's Biggest Busts in 2018

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    As advanced stats become more prevalent across the MLB landscape, gauging potential bust candidates has become a bit easier

    Statistics like batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and fielder independent pitching (FIP) take luck out of the equation and often serve as red flags for impending regression.

    Those are not the only stats we looked at to identify the biggest potential busts of the 2018 season. Things like projected role on the team, new home ballpark and other factors were also taken into account.

    With that said, ahead is a look at the 10 biggest bust candidates for the 2018 season.

RP Ryan Buchter, Oakland Athletics

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Oakland Athletics took on $5 million worth of Brandon Moss' contract and traded a pair of controllable starting pitchers in Jesse Hahn and Heath Fillmyer to acquire lefty reliever Ryan Buchter from the Kansas City Royals.

    On the surface, he's posted similarly excellent numbers the past two seasons:

    • 2016: 67 G, 20 HLD, 2.86 ERA
    • 2017: 71 G, 20 HLD, 2.89 ERA

    However, the peripheral numbers paint a decidedly different picture:

    His team control through the 2021 season is enticing, but he'll need to do a better job keeping the ball in the yard if he's going to be the primary lefty setup man the A's are hoping they acquired.

3B Tim Beckham, Baltimore Orioles

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Nearly a decade after going No. 1 overall in the 2008 draft, Tim Beckham finally made his presence known at the MLB level.

    The 28-year-old was thrust into a starting role with Matt Duffy sidelined, and he responded with a 97 OPS+ and 12 home runs in 345 plate appearances with the Tampa Bay Rays.

    That was enough for the Rays to sell high, and he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles at the deadline for right-hander Tobias Myers.

    A .306/.348/.523 line with 13 doubles and 10 home runs in 50 games following the trade was enough to turn more than a few heads, and the question now is whether his breakthrough was for real.

    Beckham will get the first crack at the everyday third base job with Manny Machado shifting over to shortstop.

    However, his .365 BABIP last season is going to be tough to replicate, and with top prospect Ryan Mountcastle potentially pushing for a big league job by midseason, Beckham could be forced into a utility role.

SP Jose Urena, Miami Marlins

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Jose Urena was out of minor league options and squarely on the roster bubble at this time last year.

    He ended up breaking camp with a bullpen job before eventually joining the rotation May 7 with six shutout innings of one-hit ball against the New York Mets.

    All told, he finished the season 14-7 over 28 starts and six relief appearances, working 169.2 innings and ranking among the NL leaders in ERA (3.82, 13th) and batting average against (.238, 12th).

    Those numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt, though.

    His .249 BABIP was the fifth-lowest mark among all qualified starters, and his 5.20 FIP gave him the biggest gap between ERA and FIP in that same group.

    There's not a bigger regression candidate in either league among pitchers.

2B Scooter Gennett, Cincinnati Reds

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    There weren't many bigger shocks in 2017 than Scooter Gennett's 27 home runs.

    The 27-year-old was claimed off waivers by the Cincinnati Reds after four seasons in Milwaukee, during which time he hit a grand total of 35 home runs in 1,637 plate appearances.

    Plenty of players have seen an uptick in home run production recently thanks to buying into a more fly ball-centric approach.

    In Gennett's case, his fly-ball rate was roughly the same (34.5 to 37.6 percent), and he can instead credit a massive jump in his HR/FB ratio (10.5 to 20.8 percent) for his power surge.

    That unsustainable increase, coupled with a career-high .339 BABIP and the impending arrival of top prospect Nick Senzel crowding the infield situation, makes a steep drop-off in production likely for Gennett.

SP Andrew Cashner, Baltimore Orioles

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    In an effort to shore up a starting rotation that ranked last in the majors with a 5.70 ERA last season, the Baltimore Orioles signed Andrew Cashner to a two-year, $16 million deal that includes a $10 million option for 2020.

    By old-school standards, Cashner enjoyed a terrific season with the Texas Rangers last year.

    The 31-year-old went 11-11 with a 3.40 ERAninth in ALwhile topping 150 innings for just the third time in his eight-year career.

    However, his success was heavily reliant on luck and the defense playing behind him.

    His FIP (4.61, 47th) and strikeout rate (4.6 K/9, 57th) both ranked near the bottom among the 58 qualified starters leaguewide, and his 86.6 percent contract rate was the highest among that group.

    The Orioles have a strong defensive infield, but all signs point to considerable regression. He profiles more as a back-of-the-rotation starter based on his peripherals. 

RF Nick Williams, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Derik Hamilton/Associated Press

    Nick Williams' future depends heavily on how much value the Philadelphia Phillies place on defense and on-base ability—two areas that have become a focal point around the majors in recent seasons.

    The 24-year-old has clear run-production potential after he posted a 113 OPS+ with 14 doubles, 12 home runs and 55 RBI in 343 plate appearances as a rookie.

    However, his 5.8 percent walk rate and brutal defensive metrics (-13 DRS, -9.6 UZR/150) limited him to being a 0.1 WAR player.

    Odubel Herrera and Rhys Hoskins are locked into two spots in the outfield.

    If Aaron Altherr returns to the form he showed in the first half last year (.886 OPS, 14 HR) or the team decides to give top prospect Scott Kingery a look in the outfield to get his bat into the lineup, Williams could find himself relegated to a backup role.

CF Tommy Pham, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Undergoing "vision-saving surgery" played a major role in Tommy Pham's unexpected breakout season for the St. Louis Cardinals.

    While it's a great story and clearly a factor in his future production, it still doesn't preclude him from looking like a major regression candidate.

    Pham, 30, hit .306/.411/.520 with 22 doubles, 23 home runs and 25 stolen bases to finish 11th in NL MVP voting—surprising, to say the least, considering he started the season at Triple-A.

    However, those numbers came with a .368 BABIP (fourth among qualified hitters) and a 27.7 percent HR/FB ratio that belies his physical tools.

    He's a terrific defensive outfielder (11 DRS, 12.9 UZR/150), and his 13.4 percent walk rate is a good indication that his strong on-base numbers are for real. However, expecting him to be the best player on the roster and an MVP candidate will be asking too much in 2018.

SP Ervin Santana, Minnesota Twins

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Even before he underwent surgery on his right middle finger last month, Ervin Santana looked like a prime candidate for a significant step backward.

    The 35-year-old was a key component in the Minnesota Twins' surprise run to a postseason spot last year, going 16-8 with a 3.28 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. He tossed five complete games and three shutouts en route to a seventh-place finish in AL Cy Young voting.

    At the same time, his 4.46 FIP and .245 BABIP both point to a fair amount of regression to come.

    It's also worth mentioning how dominant he was over the first two months last season, which went a long way in propping up his overall numbers:

    • April-May: 11 GS, 7-2, 1.75 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, .140 BAA
    • June-Sept: 22 GS, 9-6, 4.15 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, .267 BAA

    The Twins added Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn to the starting staff this offseason, and those two will be counted on to help make up for some inevitable regression from last year's staff ace.

RF Avisail Garcia, Chicago White Sox

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Avisail Garcia looked like a potential non-tender candidate last offseason after he hit .245/.307/.385 for an 89 OPS+ and 0.8 WAR in 2016.

    Instead, the rebuilding Chicago White Sox gave him one more chance, and he rewarded their faith with a career year.

    The 26-year-old hit .330/.380/.506 with 27 doubles, 18 home runs and 80 RBI on his way to a 4.5 WAR and a spot on the AL All-Star team.

    While those numbers provide some excitement for his future upside, there's no overlooking a .392 BABIP—first among all qualified hitters by a wide margin.

    His batting average could legitimately drop by 80 to 100 points as a result of his luck evening out.

    That would leave him as a below-average offensive contributor and leave the White Sox with a tough decision on his long-term future with free agency awaiting after the 2019 season.

1B Eric Hosmer, San Diego Padres

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    In an offseason where long-term deals were hard to come by, Eric Hosmer still managed to cash in with an eight-year, $144 million pact from the San Diego Padres.

    With that will come some major expectations.

    The 28-year-old is coming off a terrific season, but he's struggled to find any level of consistency over the course of his MLB career.

    • 2014: 99 OPS+, .270/.318/.398, 0.8 WAR
    • 2015: 122 OPS+, .297/.363/.459, 3.6 WAR
    • 2016: 102 OPS+, .266/.328/.433, 1.0 WAR
    • 2017: 132 OPS+, .318/.385/.498, 4.0 WAR

    Which Hosmer will show up in his Padres debut?

    A career-high .351 BABIP looks like a red flag that regression could be coming, and the move to Petco Park won't do his offensive game any favors.

    This one has as much to do with expectations as it does production, leaving Hosmer with a lot of bust potential.

              

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.