Drafting a successful fantasy team in any format often comes with a bit of luck. Let's face it, even if you leave your draft room with what you believe to be a strong squad, just one week into the season a nightmare scenario can strike and suddenly you find yourself without the trio of Giancarlo Stanton, Trea Turner and Mike Clevinger. These things can (and did) happen.
Fantasy managers can't blame themselves when a horrific spate of injuries decimates their roster. However, if it's simply the case that you blindly drafted a bunch of players way sooner than you should have and they end up dragging your team stats to hell? Well, that's just like running upstairs when the guy with the machete is chasing you instead of simply running out the front door.
To that end, here's a list of my 10 nightmare players to be wary of in points leagues for the 2020 season. They're guaranteed to haunt your dreams, wearing striped sweaters and making terrible noises with those weird gloves on their hands. Heed my warning or the scream that wakes you up might be your own ...
One, two, Freddie's better than you
There are only two first basemen worthy of being selected in the first two rounds of points-league drafts: Cody Bellinger and Freddie Freeman. After that, there's no reason to reach too far for anyone else at the position. This includes Rizzo, whose ground ball rate rose to a career-high 42.9% last season. Add to that the injury risk of his being the league leader in HBP (27) and I'm a little concerned that we're more likely to see the start of a decline than a sudden return to a 30-plus HR season.
Points-league performance is driven by many factors, but a big one is a hitter's BB/K. While Alex Bregman and Carlos Santana were the only qualified hitters with as many walks as strikeouts last season, Olson's 0.37 BB/K directly resulted in 87 points being removed from his 2019 total. There's no doubt that when he did make contact, he crushed the ball (his 50.3% hard-hit rate was fourth overall), but if the baseballs revert to normal, his power numbers may well take a hit too.
Three, four, rather wait some more
I was wary of selecting Machado last season, fearing a post-contract-signing letdown, and indeed, his 2019 was not good. We're talking a career-worst 19.4% strikeout rate and a career-low .256 batting average. And with that long-term deal in place, Petco will be his home for a long time to come, which is why his 2019 splits (.219 in San Diego, .289 elsewhere) continue to give me pause. The calls are coming from inside the house!
Sometimes, it's not you but rather the circumstances in which you find yourself. It's still March and already the Yankees lineup is dealing with injuries to Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Giancarlo Stanton. The more depleted the supporting cast, the less likely Torres will be to repeat his 90-plus runs/RBIs 2019 season. Beyond that, while spring stats are usually just noise, this could be an instance where they may matter. In 10 games, Torres was hitting just .200 while also committing five errors at shortstop and fielding plenty of questions about his glove. My fear is that Torres may get in his own head about these miscues and never find his way out. I'll pass.
Five, six, there are better picks
Last season, Cruz had a solid 41 home runs in just 120 games, fueled in large part by a ridiculous 31.3% HR/FB rate. Imagine what he could do in 162 games! The problem is, though, that the signs of age are beginning to creep in. Cruz will turn 40 in July and took two trips to the IL last season due to wrist issues. Sure, when he hit the ball, he crushed it. Still, one must be wary of his 69.7% contact rate (his worst since 2009) and his soaring 25.1 % strikeout rate (his worst since 2007).
Certainly, the three-year, $24.5 million extension he recently signed should quell fears that Muncy won't be getting enough playing time to re-create his strong 2019 numbers. However, of the 60 hitters with a 3.2 WAR or higher last season, his .251 batting average ranks tied for 57th. His stats declined significantly in the second half of 2019, going from a .266 batting average and a 23.5% strikeout rate to .225/28.1%. Are we sure that pitchers haven't begun to figure him out?
Seven, eight, maybe take them late?
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water ... Suarez injured his throwing shoulder in a swimming pool accident in January, requiring surgery. Let's assume the best and that there is no lingering effect from the incident. Suarez saw his K-rate jump by 5.1 points to 28.5% in 2019. He also lofted fly balls at a similarly inflated rate (42.3%) compared to his prior two seasons. Players who succeeded last year after altering their swings to take advantage of the juiced baseball may find it hard to reacclimate if the balls return to normal this season.
Forget about the potential impact of the hangover from the cheating scandal that may follow the Astros all season long. Beyond that, we're talking about a player who, like many horror movie protagonists, shambles his way back to life year after year, though each time with diminishing returns. After playing 153 games in 2016, he then missed around 50 in back-to-back seasons before being able to suit up for only 75 games in 2019. Yes, he's only 25, but there's just too much available healthy talent at his position to risk wasting an early selection for what potentially could be only half a season's worth of stats.
Nine, ten, never draft again
His 38.4% strikeout rate was second highest in baseball among players with at least 250 PA. In other words, if he were to play a full season, you're essentially starting with a 200-point handicap. Multiple injuries held him to just 70 games last season, but I'm fully confident that regardless of the state of the spheres in use this time around, a 40-HR season is likely. It's just all the rest of the baggage that comes with it. His .368 BABIP is unsustainable and I think a return to the depths of a .200-.210 batting average looms too large for me to want any part of him.
Here's the thing with Grandal. His 2019 didn't look all that different from his 2018, or his 2017, for that matter. OK, he walked a bit more. That's good. But unlike many hitters, his flyball rate actually dropped a bit last season, even as his hard-hit rate reached a career-high 45.4%. My concern is that the wear and tear of catching regularly slashes his late-season performance down too much. He hit just .229 in the second half of 2019 (a 30-point decline from the first half) and has shown a similar swoon for pretty much his entire career. No thanks.