Ranking Shohei Ohtani and MLB's Most Overhyped Players for the 2021 Season

Martin FennFeatured Columnist IApril 4, 2021

Ranking Shohei Ohtani and MLB's Most Overhyped Players for the 2021 Season

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Isn't it terrific to have baseball back again?

    Fans were precluded from attending games in 2020, but they are back in limited capacities to start the 2021 season. No matter, a crowd of 10,000 can still fill a stadium with noise.

    Plus, limited capacities make it easy to hear the more vocal fans. Are they going after your favorite player?

    Bleacher Report's Zachary Rymer ranked some of his most overhyped players ahead of spring training in February, but the goalposts have shifted a bit since then as new storylines have developed.

    So, let's take another stab at stopping some hype trains. It is hard to quantify just how much buzz a player might be getting, but these rankings might make reference to other player rankings lists. Still, it is hard not to preface this as a matter of opinion.

7. Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Gleyber Torres wasted little time becoming a fan favorite in the Bronx. The New York Yankees shortstop finished third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2018 and clubbed 38 homers to go with an .871 OPS in 2019.

    The 2020 season proved more challenging, as Torres hit just .243 with a .724 OPS and had nagging injuries throughout the season. But let's take 2020 out of the equation for a second. A lot of stars struggled.

    The reality is Torres has outperformed his expected hitting numbers. He had a .455 expected slugging (xSLG) in 2018 and .487 in 2019. But his actual slugging percentages were .480 and .535, respectively. Torres also ranked just above the 60th percentile in expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) in 2018 and 2019. 

    Now, about the 2019 home run total. Over a third of those came against...ah yes, the Baltimore Orioles. Torres should not necessarily be punished for raking against a team in his own division. Yet it is worth noting the O's staff ranked last in FanGraphs WAR (fWAR) in 2019.

    Lastly, there's the defense. There's no hiding Torres is a lackluster defensive shortstop, as he ranked in the bottom 25 percent in outs above average in each of his first three seasons. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman previously said he felt second base was a more ideal position.

    Torres prompted excitement by hitting five homers this spring, and he still has terrific upside and could benefit from better health. Still, is he a top 50 player? I'm not convinced just yet.

6. Luis Robert, Chicago White Sox

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Luis Robert has legitimate five-tool ability. He won a Gold Glove and stole nine bases in 2020 in addition to hitting 11 homers. 

    This is not some foolish denial of Robert's upside. Rather, it's a reflection of the work he still has to do, especially in the batter's box. 

    The 23-year-old ranked in the bottom 2 percent of all qualified hitters in whiff rate and bottom 6 percent in strikeout rate. He also ranked in just the 34th percentile in average exit velocity and was in the 56th percentile in hard-hit rate.

    However, he also had the seventh-highest max exit velocity.

    The Chicago White Sox center fielder had a 39.6 percent chase rate in 2020. That's higher than Chicago Cubs shortstop Javier Baez (38.6 percent), who is one of the more notable free swingers in the game.

    Unless Robert can show more discipline in the box, he isn't likely to see many fastballs in the hitting zone. Pitchers seemed to make the necessary adjustments to the young star last September, when Robert hit just .136 with a .409 OPS and 32 strikeouts in 94 plate appearances.

    Robert is going to be a star, but does he deserve to be ranked as the 52nd-best player in baseball in 2021? Not until he shows better discipline at the dish.

5. Carlos Correa, Houston Astros

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa is not only one of the most polarizing players in baseball but also one of the hardest to evaluate.

    His talent is undeniable. He is a 6'4" shortstop with excellent range and a cannon for an arm. He mashes at the plate when he has it going well, hitting with power to all fields. But Correa has also endured his fair share of struggles, with injuries also playing a role.

    The 26-year-old last had a full, healthy season in 2016, when he played 153 games. He has not played more than 110 games in a season since then, and injuries clearly bothered him during a 2018 campaign in which he hit just .239 with a 99 OPS+. He played just 75 games in 2019 and then struggled to a .709 OPS in 2020.

    Correa is one of the many shortstops in a class still loaded with talent even after Francisco Lindor's extension with the New York Mets. He called the Astros' six-year, $120 million extension offer "really low," and the two sides could be headed for a split. 

    It makes sense for Correa to bet on himself, especially after the huge extensions Lindor and Fernando Tatis Jr. signed. He will be the youngest free-agent shortstop in the class and has the tools to be the best player at the position.

    But it might be tough for teams to throw huge money at Correa should the durability issues flare up again.

4. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays

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    Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

    It's hard not to love Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s hitting upside, but the hype is still outweighing the results.

    Vladdy has not been disappointing, but he has hardly been spectacular, and he had a sub-.800 OPS in each of his first two seasons.

    The 22-year-old attracted buzz ahead of camp when he reported he had lost 42 pounds since last July. He then hit .421 with a 1.247 OPS in spring training.

    Guerrero ranked in the 93rd percentile in both average exit velocity and hard-hit rate in 2020, and he seems to be showing signs of a big leap early on. This has to be the breakout season then, right? Well, maybe, but let's pump the brakes a bit.

    Guerrero has had a ground-ball rate above 50 percent in each of the past two seasons and actually saw an increase in that department in 2020.

    Those exit velocities are not going to mean much if Guerrero keeps pounding the ball into the ground. Just ask Kyle Schwarber, who had a 51.2 percent ground-ball rate this past season and batted just .188 despite ranking in the 95th percentile in average exit velocity. Granted, Guerrero is not as big of a swing-and-miss guy as Schwarber, but you get the idea.

    Guerrero could be a superstar if he could start lifting the ball. Until he does that more consistently, however, he will just be a "good" hitter rather than a guy who could have one of the most dangerous bats in baseball.

3. Tyler Glasnow, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Mark Brown/Getty Images

    Tyler Glasnow has the pure stuff to win a Cy Young Award some day.

    The Tampa Bay Rays right-hander has a four-seam fastball that averaged 96.9 mph in 2020. He can paint it on both sides of the plate or elevate it above the hands. He complements that lively fastball with one of the best curveballs in baseball. 

    His curve generated an enormous 52.8 percent whiff rate in 2020, the second-highest whiff rate of any pitch in baseball last season, per Sarah Langs, trailing only Devin Williams' changeup. It also ranked just outside the top 25 pitches in xwOBA against (.162).

    However, I'm not totally sold on Glasnow, who is generating some Cy Young buzz and even has the fourth-best odds (+850) for the award.

    The 27-year-old made just 12 starts in 2019 because of a forearm issue. He was mostly healthy in 2020, striking out 91 opponents in 57.1 innings. But he had some command issues, giving up 11 homers and leading baseball with seven wild pitches.

    Glasnow also seemed to run out of gas in October, as he had a 6.38 ERA in the playoffs, including a 9.64 ERA in the World Series.

    Pitchers will face the challenge of a complicated ramp-up after a shortened 2020 season, and Glasnow's past injury issues and shaky finish last fall give me just a bit of pause as to how he will hold up over a 162-game season.

2. Trevor Bauer, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Los Angeles Dodgers fans should probably be thrilled Trevor Bauer is on this list. I ranked him as the most overhyped player ahead of 2020, and he promptly went out and won a Cy Young.

    But I'm running it back with Bauer in 2021, especially after the three-year, $102 million deal he signed with the Dodgers this offseason.

    The reigning NL Cy Young winner has been worth more than $40 million in a single season just once (2018), per FanGraphs' Dollars metric. In fact, he has not cracked $30 million in any other season. He was on pace for well over $40 million in 2020 but might find it difficult to repeat that success in 2021.

    Then there's the elephant in the room: spin rates. Bauer has made past statements about foreign substances like pine tar increasing spin rates, saying in February 2020 he hadn't found "any other way" to increase spin than using said substances.

    Well, Bauer added close to 400 revolutions per minute (RPM) to his four-seam fastball in 2020 and added a significant number of RPMs to his breaking stuff. The jumps in spin rate suggest it is possible he was doctoring the ball given past comments.

    Only, pitchers could be playing with fire if they try to doctor the ball this season. Major League Baseball is trying to keep a closer eye on the use of foreign substances on baseballs in 2021. 

    Does this mean Bauer will have far less success? Not necessarily, but it does open the door for skepticism.

1. Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Listen, I get it. The thought of Shohei Ohtani being an MVP candidate and two-way star who helps hit and pitch the Los Angeles Angels to October is pretty awesome.

    But I'm just not sure how realistic it is.

    The 26-year-old is getting some AL MVP love (+2000) following a huge spring in which he hit .552 with five homers and showed tremendous velocity and strikeout stuff on the bump. Yet, Ohtani's career trajectory suggests fans need to tone it down a bit, especially when it comes to his role as a starting pitcher. 

    He had a 3.31 ERA in 10 starts in 2018 before undergoing Tommy John surgery that October. He missed all of 2019 as a pitcher and made just two starts in 2020 before again being shut down with a flexor strain

    Although he displayed good stuff in spring training, Ohtani still gave up 15 hits and 14 runs. What is even more troubling is the blister that caused him issues in a March 29 outing against the Dodgers. The right-hander said it's a non-issue, but it could be something to monitor given how annoying blisters can be in terms of grip and command.

    Even if Ohtani thrives at the plate, I have serious doubts about his ability to be healthy and effective on the mound and thus am not sure he can live up to this two-way, world-beater aura.

    But I hope I'm dead wrong, both for his sake and the sake of the sport.

                      

    All stats obtained via Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant or FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted. All odds obtained via DraftKings.

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