There are far more candidates for the bounce-back article this year, as the shortened season created small-sample data that is less trustworthy. Additionally, the abbreviated campaign gave no time for injured players to get back into top form and have success across part of the season. Finally, many players personally dealt with COVID-19 and never lived up to expectations.
Here are some premium players who deserve the benefit of the doubt in 2021 drafts.
Christian Yelich (OF, MIL)
A top-three pick in most 2020 drafts, Yelich saw his year-over-year batting average drop 124 points en route to producing just 22 RBIs and four steals. The most alarming change was his strikeout rate, which jumped by more than 10 percent, and his hard-contact rate, which fell by a similar amount. He also gave back some of the fly ball improvements he made in 2019. Yelich’s walk rate improved, as he chased fewer pitches, but his overall contact percentage dropped as well. Overall, this looks like a textbook slump, and he didn’t have time to break out of it. His current ADP near the Round 1-2 turn feels like an appropriate gamble to make on someone who hit .327 with 80 homers and 52 steals across 2018-19.
Gleyber Torres (SS, NYY)
The good news is that Torres dramatically improved his control over the strike zone last year, posting career-best marks in strikeout rate (17.5 percent) and walk rate (13.8 percent). But he did less damage when making contact, experiencing a massive drop in hard contact rate and producing ground balls at a higher rate than ever before. Still just 24 years old, this talented youngster deserves a free pass on two bad months. Part of arguably baseball’s most potent lineup, Torres should produce plenty of homers, RBIs, and runs scored, while possibly being ready to make a major jump in the batting average category.
J.D. Martinez (OF, BOS)
Martinez has expressed multiple reasons to explain his disappointing 2020 season (.680 OPS). He complained during the campaign that the league’s temporary restrictions on in-game video use (thanks, Houston Astros) impacted his ability to prepare for plate appearances. And recently, Martinez admitted that he lost his focus during the COVID-19 shutdown and was not properly prepared for the start of the season. Just 33 years old, the slugger is far from washed up, and his three-year averages from 2017-19 (41 HR, 113 RBIs, 98 R, .313 BA) are the stuff that fantasy championships are made of. He’s a gift at his ADP of pick 85.
Eugenio Suarez (3B, CIN)
Fantasy managers who overrate the batting average category will avoid Suarez after he hit .202 last season. But the diminished batting mark can be mostly explained by a remarkable 98-point year-over-year BABIP drop. The slugger ranked 15th in baseball in homers during a down year in 2020 and trails only Pete Alonso in total round-trippers since the outset of 2019. Drafting Suarez at his pick-72 ADP will get you a respectable batting average and one of baseball’s most powerful players.
Yordan Alvarez (OF, HOU)
Alvarez had knee problems as soon as he showed up for Spring Training last February and wound up playing in just two games before undergoing season-ending surgery. Still just 23 years old, the heavyset slugger now has a cloudy long-term future. But Alvarez has undeniable plate skills (1.067 OPS in 2019) and should rank among the league leaders in homers per plate appearance. The ultimate boom-or-bust pick, Alvarez makes sense in 10-team leagues, where he can be easily replaced from the waiver wire.
Javier Baez (SS, CHC)
Baez is the perfect example of what happens when players with low walk rates experience bad luck. The free-swinger dealt with a year-over-year 83-point BABIP drop, and because he can’t find other ways to get on base, he wound up with an embarrassing .238 OBP. But Baez still produced eight homers and three steals across 59 games, which is only slightly off his typical pace. The guess here is that the 28-year-old will see a few more balls drop in for hits this year, which will enable him to return to being one of the top-10 shortstops.
Matt Olson (1B, OAK)
Olson continued his powerful ways last season (14 homers, 42 RBIs) but produced a lowly .195 average that left a bad taste in the mouths of his fantasy managers. A year-over-year 73-point BABIP drop was the main culprit in Olson’s struggles, but he also must take the blame for a contact rate that fell from 75 percent in 2019 to 68 percent last year. I’m not confident that Olson’s batting average will fully rebound, but his power is enough to make him a good option at his current ADP of pick 93.
Craig Kimbrel (RP, CHC)
The ultimate Kimbrel apologist, here I go, one more time.
The right-hander is still just 32 years old, and a couple years ago he was on a Hall of Fame pathway. His 2019 season was felled by not signing a contract until June and then dealing with a knee issue. And last year, he dealt with a mechanical flaw in August that cost him the closer’s role. But Kimbrel allowed nary a run and just three baserunners while striking out 13 across 7.1 September innings. With an ADP of 166, he could be one of this year’s best mid-round picks.