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Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
Stars consistently rise and fall in professional sports, and Major League Baseball is no different.
In a 162-game regular season (under normal circumstances), slumps and injuries come and go. Some young players rise through the farm system to make an immediate impact in the bigs, while others experience breakout campaigns after years of relative anonymity.
However, the following players will fail to live up to the hype this year, whether due to unreasonable expectations, outlier seasons, sample sizes, potential signs of regression and even fantasy drafting.
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John Bazemore/Associated Press
Mike Soroka was one of the best pitchers in baseball last year. He went 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 29 starts while finishing sixth in the National League Cy Young Award voting.
The Canadian’s success primarily stems from his ability to mix pitches and keep the ball in the yard. The 22-year-old led all NL starters by allowing only 0.7 homers per nine innings in 2019.
However, Soroka does not generate a lot of swings and misses. He ranked in the 28th percentile in whiffs, per Baseball Savant, and he also was below-average when it came to opponents’ hard-hit percentage.
Soroka’s command is pristine, and he also has the benefit of a dominant changeup, which is rare for someone his age. Opponents hit only .133 against that pitch last year, and it also generated the highest whiff rate and (by far) lowest average exit velocity.
Soroka also generated a ground-ball rate of nearly 53 percent last year, which bodes extremely well given his lack of velocity. But given the numbers and his age (22), he’s likely due for some growing pains.
This is not so much an indictment of Soroka as it is a caution against immediately labeling him an ace. Most pitchers don’t reach their peak until close to 30, while Soroka is just getting his career started.
Let’s wait to see how Soroka develops, and whether some of the hard contact will lead to some tougher results this season.
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Frank Franklin II/Associated Press
The Toronto Blue Jays need their sons of former major leaguers to excel for them to be competitive in 2020.
Bo Bichette is among the most important players on the Blue Jays. The 22-year-old became an instant star in Toronto, slashing .311/.358/.571 with 11 homers, 18 doubles and a 144 OPS+ in 46 games last season.
But while Bichette might be the future in Toronto, the hype is exceeding the product for now.
Yes, Bichette excelled after he got called up in 2019. He has tremendous tools, whether at the dish, in the field or on the bases. But is he ready to carry the mantle for the franchise?
Remember, MLB fans gassed Vladimir Guerrero Jr. ahead of his MLB debut this past season, only for Guerrero to seemingly underwhelm despite putting together a fairly respectable rookie campaign.
Fans should temper expectations when it comes to Bichette. He hit only .237 with a .305 wOBA against breaking balls last season. Bichette also posted minus-4 outs above average (OAA), per Baseball Savant.
Young players often struggle hitting a curveball and getting acclimated to defensive shifting and general adjustments at the big league level. But these things are still worth mentioning as Bichette looks to improve on his rookie campaign.
Bichette is undoubtedly capable of being the next superstar shortstop. But he should be allowed the ups and downs most major leaguers endure before being anointed the “next big thing” like Vladdy Jr.
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Julio Cortez/Associated Press
Will Smith set Hollywood on fire when he made his MLB debut in late May last year.
The 2016 first-round pick had a pair of hits in his first game with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he became a hero when he hit a walk-off homer against the Philadelphia Phillies a few days later.
Smith bounced between Triple-A and the majors last year, but he consistently seemed to dazzle with the Dodgers. He had a 1.256 OPS in six games in June and a 1.621 OPS in four games the following month.
It initially seemed like Smith was bound for stardom. He hit eight homers and posted a 1.002 OPS in 24 games in August, seemingly delivering big hits for the Dodgers at a moment’s notice.
However, Smith’s season turned in a hurry. He posted a .582 OPS in his final 17 games of the regular season. Things got even worse in the postseason, as Smith had only one hit in 16 plate appearances during an NLDS loss to the Washington Nationals.
There is no denying Smith’s potential, both at the plate and behind the dish. He is a fairly disciplined and powerful threat in the batter’s box, and he also ranked respectably in terms of framing metrics, especially for a rookie catcher. However, his September stats suggest he may go through some growing pains in 2020.
Smith could eventually develop into one of the best backstops in the league. But for now, he is merely another name in a loaded Dodgers lineup.
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Gregory Bull/Associated Press
Keston Hiura has basically been the Milwaukee Brewers’ best prospect since they selected him ninth overall in the 2017 MLB draft.
Hiura product finally had the opportunity to make an impact in the bigs in 2019, and he seized that chance. The UC Irvine product slashed .303/.368/.570, clubbing 19 homers and stealing nine bases in only 84 games.
However, there are reasons to expect regression from Hiura in 2020.
The 23-year-old ranked in the 97th percentile in hard-hit percentage and 92nd percentile in barrel percentage, but he also ranked in the 5th percentile in strikeout rate and whiff percentage. Hiura performed well above his .264 xBA, and NL pitchers have now had the opportunity to scout him.
From a fantasy perspective, Hiura is severely overrated. He is currently being drafted over the likes of DJ LeMahieu, Yoan Moncada, Max Muncy and Jeff McNeil, per FantasyPros.
Hiura is also a liability with the glove. In fact, he was the worst defensive second baseman in baseball by outs above average.
Hiura has the potential to be a legitimate run-producer. However, he needs to improve his contact rate and must also show substantial improvement at second base.
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Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
Texas Rangers left-hander Mike Minor had one of his best individual seasons in 2019, posting a 3.59 ERA and 200 strikeouts in 208.1 innings of work. He also led the American League in WAR.
Texas kept Minor past the trade deadline and will now hope he can be an effective part of a three-headed monster alongside Corey Kluber and Lance Lynn. But Rangers fans should be wary of a letdown.
Minor has given up at least 25 homers in each of the past two seasons. Additionally, his 1.238 WHIP was his worst mark since 2014.
Many advanced metrics reflect well on Minor. He ranked in the top 10 percent in hard-hit percentage and was in the 99th percentile with respect to fastball spin.
Minor also has a fantastic changeup that is naturally deceptive since it is only a few ticks slower than his fastball.
Still, there are questions about Minor’s breaking stuff, not to mention his longevity. The 32-year-old has a history of shoulder issues, and he’s coming off a year with a ton of mileage.
It would not be a surprise to see Minor take a big step back in 2020.
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Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
Marcus Semien set career highs in basically every major hitting category last year, and he hit 33 home runs to go along with an .892 OPS while playing all 162 games for the first time in his career. His outstanding play helped the Oakland A’s win 97 games, and he finished third in the AL MVP voting.
However, his 2019 campaign looks like a massive outlier.
Before last season, Semien had never posted an OPS+ above 100. In 2019, that number climbed to a whopping 138.
Semien seemed to have success in spite of mediocre advanced metrics. He ranked in the 40th percentile in terms of average exit velocity and 45th percentile in hard-hit percentage. Although he fared well in terms of whiffs and strikeout percentage, the relative lack of hard contact screams regression in 2020.
Semien is also a confounding defender.
By FanGraphs’ defensive metrics, he is one of the better shortstops in the league. However, he was far more lackluster in terms of outs above average, and was worth a whopping minus-8 runs ranging to his left. Perhaps that isn’t a surprise, considering A’s third baseman Matt Chapman—one of the best defenders in the game—gobbles up everything on that side of the infield.
Regardless, Semien’s 2019 campaign should be considered an exception, not the new norm.
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Louis DeLuca/Associated Press
Andrew Benintendi burst onto the scene in 2017, hitting 20 homers and stealing 20 bases while finishing second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. He was even better for a lethal Boston Red Sox lineup in 2018, posting an .830 OPS and 123 OPS+ in his sophomore campaign.
But there were more concerning signs in 2019.
Benintendi’s walk rate fell, while his strikeout rate climbed to a career-high 22.8 percent. He also posted underwhelming advanced metrics.
However, Benintendi’s purported combination of power, speed and upside continues to make him overvalued, particularly in fantasy baseball. He’s currently being drafted over the likes of Michael Conforto, Michael Brantley, Max Kepler and Kyle Schwarber, per FantasyPros.
Moving Benintendi down in the order might get him going. He struggled in the leadoff spot last year, posting a below-average league split OPS and slugging only .412 from that hole.
While Benintendi has the reputation of a toolsy player, he has yet to emerge as the next potential star in Boston. He has plenty to prove as the Red Sox look to maintain a high-powered lineup without Mookie Betts.
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Matt York/Associated Press
Tim Anderson’s star burned exceedingly bright in 2019. The Chicago White Sox shortstop won the AL batting title after hitting .335, and he had 18 homers and 17 stolen bases while posting a career-high 129 OPS+.
But like Semien, Anderson’s 2019 campaign is a big outlier.
Anderson had mostly struggled at the plate prior to his breakout campaign last year. He came into 2019 having posted back-to-back seasons with a sub-.700 OPS. He also had a strikeout rate well over 25 percent.
While everything seemed to come together for the fiery shortstop last year, he benefited from some luck, as he had a .399 BABIP.
In addition, Anderson’s advanced numbers were largely lackluster. He ranked below the 30th percentile in both average exit velocity and barrels, and he was at or below the 45th percentile in hard-hit percentage and xwOBA.
Anderson is just entering the prime of his baseball career. However, the career numbers and analytics from last season were underwhelming, and he’s a mediocre defender, too.
Until Anderson strings quality seasons together, there is no reason he should be held in such high esteem.
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David J. Phillip/Associated Press
Carlos Correa has an established track record of success and is one of the best shortstops in baseball. He ranks fourth in fWAR among shortstops between 2015 and 2019 and won the AL Rookie of the Year in 2015.
However, the 2012 No. 1 overall pick has been unable to stay healthy throughout his big league career. Correa played in only 75 games last year, and he has not played in more than 110 games since 2016.
Moreover, Correa has been overwhelmed when it has mattered most. He has a mediocre .782 career OPS in October and has struck out 55 times in 211 plate appearances.
The 2019 playoffs were especially atrocious for Correa, as he had only 13 hits in 74 plate appearances.
Correa should be the best shortstop in the bigs. He has unprecedented power at the shortstop position, with tremendous range and an absolute cannon for an arm.
Correa’s 129 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) is the best of any shortstop since 2015. He also ranked in the top 10 in terms of outs above average at the position, and he won’t turn 26 until September.
But Correa needs to stay on the field and perform well in the playoffs, which he hasn’t done for the Astros.
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Matt York/Associated Press
Trevor Bauer’s stellar 2018 campaign seems to be skewing how he’s regarded.
Bauer went 12-6 with a 2.21 ERA and AL-best 2.44 FIP that year as a member of the Cleveland Indians. He struck out 11.3 hitters per nine innings and allowed an AL-low 0.5 homers per nine.
Last year, he had a 3.79 ERA with Cleveland and gave up 22 homers, resulting in a 4.15 FIP. Nevertheless, the Reds traded top prospect Taylor Trammell as part of a three-team deal to acquire Bauer in July.
The results were not pretty.
Bauer had a whopping 6.39 ERA and gave up 12 homers in 10 starts in Cincinnati. The 29-year-old also had a 71 ERA+.
Moreover, Bauer seems to find a lot of barrels. He ranked in the 22nd percentile in terms of barreled balls last year and the 38th percentile in hard-hit percentage.
Bauer’s 2018 was so impressive because he had a tremendous strikeout rate and kept the ball in the yard, with a fly ball rate below 20 percent. But last year, that fly ball rate skyrocketed to 28.2 percent, with a ground ball rate below 40 percent.
The 29-year-old still seems to be considered among the elite pitchers in baseball. Bauer is currently being drafted ahead of guys like Jose Berrios, Brandon Woodruff, Soroka and teammate Sonny Gray in fantasy leagues, per FantasyPros.
If leaguewide homer rates are similar in 2020, Bauer is likely to struggle again, and his 2018 season will feel like a lifetime ago.