Szymborski’s 2022 Bust Candidates: Hitters

© Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, I ran down my favorite breakout candidates. Now it’s time for the darker side: the busts.

So what exactly is a bust? I don’t take it to mean that a player is awful or has no value. For me, a bust is a player who will step down a tier in performance or who is in a down cycle and has passed the window to get back to what they used to be. None of the players involved are literally without value, and some of them are still really good. But they’re all players I think will be well below their best, usually in a manner that makes me sad as a baseball fan.

Let’s start things off with a look at last year’s list of possible hitter busts and check how things worked out:

As you can see, I did much worse here than with the pitcher breakouts. I’m especially happy to have been wrong about Votto last year — my feeling was that there wasn’t another comeback left in him, but there was! I’m also quite pleased that Abreu didn’t slump back to league-average as I expected, staying a bit above instead, though well off his MVP performances. Lewis gets a pass since he was injured most of the year, and Grossman remained legitimately good, if below his 2020 rates.

Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

Two years ago, I wrote about Trout’s inevitable regression from baseball god to baseball mortal. Trout will almost certainly remain an awesome player in 2022, but I strongly suspect the days when there was an almost otherworldly character to his performance are now in the history books. In recent years, the time Trout has lost to varying injuries has increased, including a calf injury that cost him two-thirds of the 2021 season. He’s on the wrong side of 30 now, and repeated aches and pains have derailed many a superstar’s 30s.

Trout’s line looked just fine in his brief 2021, but there was a bit of trouble hiding at the edges. His impressive triple-slash was largely driven by a .456 BABIP, well above what even a superhuman like him generally does, and he showed some increasing contact issues. After little year-to-year variance in his contact numbers, last season his swing-and-miss rate increased by about 50% over its usual level, which is something that tends to be significant in fairly small samples.

He wouldn’t be a traditional bust, but given his status as quite possibly the best player most of us will ever see, him becoming just a normal superstar will feel almost devastating as a baseball fan. Unfortunately, I think there’s a good possibility that we’ve reached that point.

ZiPS Projection Percentiles – Mike Trout
Percentile BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ WAR
90% .334 .482 .761 347 84 116 27 5 37 98 93 15 233 8.1
80% .308 .456 .687 351 81 108 23 4 34 90 89 12 207 6.9
70% .292 .440 .640 353 79 103 21 3 32 85 87 11 191 6.1
60% .284 .429 .610 356 78 101 20 3 30 81 84 10 180 5.6
50% .274 .418 .581 358 77 98 19 2 29 78 82 9 170 5.0
40% .267 .412 .563 359 75 96 18 2 28 75 81 8 163 4.7
30% .255 .398 .529 361 72 92 17 2 26 72 79 7 151 4.1
20% .245 .387 .504 363 70 89 17 1 25 67 77 6 142 3.5
10% .221 .361 .444 367 67 81 14 1 22 60 73 5 119 2.4

Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers

Sadly, I don’t think the Yelich of old is coming back. ZiPS pegged him at 2.9 WAR using the playing time from the Depth Charts, and I think I’m actually taking the under on that. From 2017-19, Yelich was the fourth-best hitter in baseball against fastballs. Last year, he slugged under .400 against heaters and saw a large dip (3 mph) in his average exit velocity. Hitting the ball on the ground quite often, Yelich has essentially reverted back to the player he was pre-breakout, though without the value from being able to reliably cover center field. He’s off to a decent start so far, but I expect that he may be done as a star.

ZiPS Projection Percentiles – Christian Yelich
Percentile BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ WAR
90% .312 .426 .607 430 90 134 30 5 29 88 82 25 172 5.6
80% .297 .408 .565 434 87 129 27 4 27 82 78 20 156 4.7
70% .286 .395 .526 437 85 125 24 3 25 78 75 18 143 4.0
60% .277 .383 .509 440 83 122 24 3 24 75 72 16 136 3.4
50% .268 .374 .481 441 80 118 22 3 22 70 71 15 126 2.8
40% .260 .364 .458 443 78 115 21 2 21 66 69 13 118 2.3
30% .251 .353 .439 446 76 112 20 2 20 64 66 11 110 1.8
20% .239 .341 .412 447 75 107 19 2 18 60 65 9 100 1.1
10% .224 .324 .382 450 73 101 18 1 17 55 62 8 88 0.3

Austin Riley, Atlanta Braves

Riley’s a good player, but I don’t think his baseline expectation should be anywhere near the 2021 performance that saw him come in seventh in NL MVP voting. The power is real and I don’t think that a lack of homers will be the problem. No, where there’s likely some significant regression coming is in the batting average department. Riley hit .303 in 2021, but without the contact skills that generally come with breaking the .300 line, especially in such a low-BA environment. In terms of overall contact rate, he was below league average.

Of the players with 300 plate appearances in the majors in 2021, no one else exceeded their ZiPS-modeled BABIP (zBABIP) by more than Riley did:

zBABIP Overachievers, 2021
Player BABIP zBABIP Difference
Austin Riley .368 .309 .059
Randy Arozarena .363 .307 .056
Wil Myers .333 .289 .044
Javier Báez .352 .310 .042
Patrick Wisdom .318 .277 .041
Rafael Ortega .349 .309 .040
Yuli Gurriel .336 .296 .040
Brandon Nimmo .366 .327 .039
Trevor Larnach .338 .299 .039
Tyler O’Neill .366 .330 .036
Trea Turner .362 .329 .033
Kevin Kiermaier .345 .313 .032
Phil Gosselin .322 .291 .031
Bryce Harper .359 .328 .031
Giancarlo Stanton .324 .293 .031

ZiPS Projection Percentiles – Austin Riley
Percentile BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ WAR
90% .312 .381 .606 561 93 175 40 4 39 118 58 0 154 6.1
80% .297 .366 .563 563 89 167 36 3 36 110 56 0 139 5.0
70% .285 .353 .531 565 86 161 33 2 34 103 54 0 128 4.2
60% .277 .343 .508 567 84 157 31 2 32 100 52 0 120 3.5
50% .271 .337 .495 568 82 154 30 2 31 96 51 0 115 3.1
40% .263 .328 .470 570 79 150 29 1 29 91 49 0 106 2.5
30% .254 .318 .441 571 76 145 27 1 26 85 48 0 97 1.8
20% .243 .305 .414 573 73 139 24 1 24 79 46 0 87 1.0
10% .229 .288 .380 577 69 132 22 1 21 73 42 0 74 0.0

As I said above, Riley will continue to hit round-trippers, but I suspect that he’ll be more of a lower-BA slugger and not quite as competent an all-around player as he was in 2021.

Wil Myers, San Diego Padres

In the pantheon of Padres disappointments, Myers is fortunate in that he kind of gets to hide in the shadow of Eric Hosmer; he gets paid a lot less and has contributed a lot more. But that doesn’t mean that he’s not a problem for San Diego as a regular, given his relative lack of defensive value, and there were some warning signs in his numbers last year. After a surprise power outburst in the shortened 2020 season, during which he slugged 15 homers, Myers only bested that number by two over a full 162 last season. His velocity numbers all dropped off the table in 2021, while his contact numbers also declined.

Myers is a better player than Hosmer, but Hosmer may actually have more upside in that he still can hit the ball hard, though his approach results in him driving nearly everything into the ground like he’s a prototypical 1985 leadoff hitter. Without the power, the margin for error for Myers as a big leaguer is very slim; as soon as his bat slows just enough that he can’t punish a fastball, I think he’s done.

ZiPS Projection Percentiles – Wil Myers
Percentile BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ WAR
90% .282 .367 .525 419 61 118 30 3 22 75 57 16 143 3.3
80% .264 .344 .476 424 59 112 26 2 20 70 52 13 124 2.2
70% .256 .334 .451 426 57 109 25 2 18 65 50 11 114 1.7
60% .248 .326 .440 427 55 106 24 2 18 63 49 10 109 1.3
50% .242 .317 .424 429 54 104 23 2 17 60 47 9 103 1.0
40% .237 .311 .405 430 53 102 22 1 16 58 46 8 96 0.6
30% .230 .303 .387 431 52 99 21 1 15 56 45 7 89 0.1
20% .222 .292 .374 433 51 96 19 1 15 53 43 6 83 -0.2
10% .211 .280 .345 435 50 92 17 1 13 48 41 4 72 -0.9

Matt Chapman, Toronto Blue Jays

Matt Chapman is still a valuable player, as he’ll likely remain a defensive superstar for at least a few more years. But I’m not very confident about his bat bouncing back much from its 2021 levels, let alone to what he showed in 2018-19, when I think he was one of the 10 best players in baseball. Along with Cody Bellinger — who I didn’t include here since I’ve already written a couple of pieces about his decline — Chapman has had one of the biggest drop-offs in both average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage. Even in a better hitters’ park than the Whatever It’s Called This Year Coliseum, I think we’re going to see further erosion in his home run count, and I don’t think he’s enough of a contact hitter to pump up the batting average to compensate. ZiPS does not see his spike in walk rate as corresponding with an actual improvement in his plate discipline stats; I suspect that Chapman’s struggles caused him to swap hits for walks.

ZiPS Projection Percentiles – Matt Chapman
Percentile BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ WAR
90% .273 .373 .583 521 94 142 35 8 37 101 79 4 162 7.7
80% .256 .356 .535 523 90 134 30 7 34 92 77 3 145 6.5
70% .245 .343 .502 526 87 129 29 5 32 87 74 3 132 5.7
60% .236 .332 .476 529 85 125 27 5 30 84 71 2 122 4.9
50% .230 .324 .458 531 83 122 26 4 29 81 69 2 115 4.5
40% .224 .317 .442 532 82 119 24 4 28 77 68 2 109 4.0
30% .217 .309 .425 534 81 116 22 4 27 75 66 2 103 3.5
20% .207 .297 .401 536 78 111 21 4 25 70 64 1 93 2.8
10% .193 .279 .369 540 74 104 20 3 23 65 60 1 79 1.7

Frank Schwindel, Chicago Cubs

Schwindel was one of the best stories of the 2021 season. Most of us love a good rags-to-riches yarn, and Schwindel, a 29-year-old rookie, rose from being a future journeyman first baseman to a hitter with an OPS over 1.000 for the Chicago Cubs. He was legitimately excellent last season, and I don’t regret giving him a third-place vote in the NL Rookie of the Year race, one of two votes he received (Grant Brisbee of The Athletic was the other).

But all that aside, Schwindel’s résumé as a hitter is very, very short. Just two years before his 2021 debut, he was released after struggling for Triple-A Omaha. He went unclaimed on waivers, and when he signed with the Tigers, they put him down in Double-A, where he still didn’t hit, posting just a .700 OPS. Detroit only called him up to Toledo because Dustin Peterson hurt his elbow.

Two years later, he was enjoying his best minor league season, with a .992 OPS for Triple-A Las Vegas, when he was claimed on waivers by the Cubs. He got an opportunity because of the Anthony Rizzo trade almost by default, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I’d love if Schwindel was a starter for the Cubs for the next five years. But his breakout came at age 29, not 22, and one can’t ignore his minor league history. Here are the minor league translations I get for Schwindel prior to 2021.

Minor League Translations – Frank Schwindel
Year BA OBP SLG G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB DR
2013 .200 .228 .275 64 265 23 53 8 0 4 20 6 34 0 -1.5
2014 .244 .264 .386 118 472 46 115 26 1 13 51 12 101 0 -3.6
2015 .224 .243 .344 123 451 38 101 31 1 7 44 8 116 0 4.0
2016 .245 .269 .397 120 461 51 113 19 0 17 54 13 103 1 -4.6
2017 .296 .313 .463 133 533 63 158 38 0 17 71 12 97 0 4.4
2018 .241 .283 .407 134 519 57 125 33 1 17 65 26 73 2 2.6
2019 .240 .270 .385 102 387 42 93 17 0 13 45 14 70 0 0.7

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and Schwindel’s going to have to continue to play at this level for a while before I’m confident he’s more than just a heartwarming tale of underdog triumph.

ZiPS Projection Percentiles – Frank Schwindel
Percentile BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ WAR
90% .290 .333 .544 445 67 129 30 1 27 83 27 6 129 2.6
80% .282 .322 .510 447 64 126 28 1 24 79 25 4 118 1.9
70% .275 .314 .493 448 63 123 27 1 23 77 24 4 111 1.5
60% .272 .312 .482 448 62 122 26 1 22 74 24 2 108 1.3
50% .267 .305 .474 449 60 120 25 1 22 72 23 2 104 1.1
40% .265 .303 .463 449 60 119 24 1 21 70 23 2 101 0.9
30% .262 .299 .444 450 59 118 23 1 19 67 22 2 95 0.5
20% .256 .293 .424 450 57 115 22 0 18 63 22 2 89 0.1
10% .248 .282 .398 452 56 112 20 0 16 60 20 2 79 -0.4

Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals

Perez is a barrel of fun, a player who ignores all that plate discipline mumbo-jumbo and goes out there in full “grip it ‘n’ rip it” mode. He pounds the cover off of the ball, something he did a shocking 48 times in 2021. But he also isn’t young anymore and is defensively limited, and while hitting homers is a good tool to have if you can only select one, it leaves him with a rather small margin of error as he ages. His contact rate took a big dip in 2021 despite his overall success, and that kind of aggression, while a lot of fun, leaves significant downside risk. Like Myers above, Perez is an aging fastball hitter, and he arguably has less to fall back on when he loses just a little bat speed.

ZiPS Projection Percentiles – Salvador Perez
Percentile BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ WAR
90% .285 .326 .582 536 77 153 30 0 43 113 23 2 139 4.9
80% .276 .315 .555 537 73 148 27 0 41 107 22 1 130 4.2
70% .270 .308 .528 538 71 145 25 0 38 102 21 1 121 3.7
60% .264 .303 .511 538 68 142 25 0 36 97 21 1 116 3.3
50% .260 .300 .494 538 67 140 24 0 34 94 21 1 111 2.9
40% .256 .294 .490 539 66 138 24 0 34 92 20 1 108 2.7
30% .250 .289 .471 539 64 135 23 0 32 89 20 1 102 2.3
20% .244 .282 .452 540 62 132 22 0 30 84 19 0 95 1.8
10% .235 .272 .416 541 59 127 20 0 26 77 18 0 83 1.0

Gio Urshela, Minnesota Twins

I think the Twins are making a mistake in how they are using Urshela. His 2021 represented a massive drop-off from the prior two seasons, and there’s nothing obvious about his hitting profile that suggests it’s a fluke; both ZiPS and Statcast’s xStats saw his performance as perfectly consistent with his actual .267/.301/.419 line. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was a career-worst as well. Urshela’s best value, like that of players such as Jonathan Villar, is his ability to play a number of positions passably well. I remain unconvinced that Urshela isn’t actually the third-best realistic option at third for the Twins, behind both Luis Arraez and Jose Miranda. ZiPS is the most optimistic about Urshela, but I’m on the side of Steamer on this one.

ZiPS Projection Percentiles – Gio Urshela
Percentile BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ WAR
90% .308 .352 .541 438 61 135 35 2 21 75 28 2 140 3.8
80% .298 .341 .513 439 59 131 33 2 19 68 27 2 130 3.2
70% .290 .331 .483 441 58 128 32 1 17 66 25 1 120 2.6
60% .286 .326 .469 441 56 126 31 1 16 63 25 1 115 2.3
50% .281 .320 .452 442 55 124 29 1 15 60 24 1 109 2.0
40% .278 .318 .450 442 54 123 29 1 15 59 24 1 108 1.9
30% .273 .311 .433 443 53 121 27 1 14 56 23 1 102 1.5
20% .266 .305 .418 443 51 118 26 1 13 54 23 1 96 1.2
10% .259 .297 .392 444 50 115 23 0 12 50 22 1 87 0.6





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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ianhammmember
9 months ago

Never had a share of Trout on any of my teams. Looks like I’ll never have an “in his prime” Trout ever

BlueJaysBlackboard
9 months ago
Reply to  ianhamm

My girlfriend still makes fun of me like 5 years later because my draft was early in the morning, and I woke her up just to tell her I’d scored Trout with the first pick. It actually made me a little bit sad this year when he was almost still there for me at #16, thus signifying his mortality.

sogoodlooking
9 months ago
Reply to  ianhamm

Was I the only commenter who thought the Angels’ extension for Trout was foolish, simply in baseball (as opposed to commercial or sentimental) terms? I get that the alternatives were wretched, and we’re also talking about the Angels, who didn’t–before Ohtani’s ascension to baseball godhood–have much else going for them, but the chances of the contract being awful are fairly high. Too high, with $425 million at issue.

cartermember
9 months ago
Reply to  sogoodlooking

If season ended today he would have the best wrc of his career