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Learning From Fantasy Baseball Mistakes

October 8, 2018
We have reached our final two articles of the fantasy baseball season as we recap where we went wrong and where we were right. Since the season is still fresh in our minds, we can identify why we were right or wrong and what it means for the future. I like to end on a high note, so we will look at where I was wrong this season now and finish with where I was right.

Where I Was Wrong:

2018 Breakout Stars -- I whiffed on all my potential breakout stars, which included Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Luis Castillo, St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Luke Weaver and Cleveland Indians outfielder Bradley Zimmer. 

Castillo pitched 15 games in 2017 and finished with a 3.12 ERA and an impressive 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings. I wrote in March a full season should allow the right-hander to pitch around 180 innings and strike out 190 hitters, which would be perfect for a player being drafted as the 51st pitcher. 

Despite making 31 starts this year, Castillo pitched just 169.2 innings and struck out 165. The 25-year-old had an ERA of 5.85 at the end of June, which made him fantasy irrelevant. It should be noted Castillo allowed more than three runs just twice during his last 14 starts to finish the season with a 4.30 ERA. I love Castillo's talent, but I may have been one year too soon on a full breakout.

As for Weaver, he averaged 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 2017. Throughout a full season in the big leagues, I thought he would be able to make a big contribution in that department for fantasy owners. Unfortunately, every category took a major step back. The righty didn't even average nine strikeouts per nine innings and his WHIP rose from 1.26 to 1.49. Weaver was used out of the bullpen at times due to his struggles. We will have to go back to the drawing board and figure out what kind of pitcher Weaver will be in 2019.

Zimmer was extremely disappointing, as injuries and ineffectiveness limited him to just 42 games between the big leagues and minors. However, he just wasn't good when he was healthy. The player who stole 18 bases during 101 major-league games in 2017 and had seasons with 44 and 38 steals in the minors was not a threat to steal at all this season. The only saving grace is Zimmer was an extreme late-round draft flier, as I noted in March. He was an easy player to drop and move on from.

Detroit Tigers First Baseman Miguel Cabrera and San Francisco Giants Starting Pitcher Jeff Samardzija As Bounce-Back Candidates -- Cabrera has been one of the best right-handed hitters in the history of baseball, but he showed signs of slowing down in 2017. He finished the season with a .249 batting average and just 16 home runs. However, there were other indications he wasn't slipping as much as we thought, as his hard hit rate was right at his career average. 

Cabrera looked to be on his way to having a strong 2018 season, as he hit .299 with an .843 OPS. Unfortunately, injuries have started to creep up on Cabrera, and it happened again in 2018. The veteran played just 38 games. Cabrera was being drafted as the 12th first baseman, so I still think drafting him was the right move. To see him start the season strong was refreshing as well, but there was injury risk and that's exactly what happened. 

As for Samardzija, the appeal of drafting him was because of his durability, and of course he was finally hit by the injury bug. The veteran pitched 200-plus innings in five straight seasons from 2013-2017, a run that included multiple seasons with 200 strikeouts. Samardzija pitched just 44.2 innings this year and was extremely ineffective when he was able to pitch.

Lessons Learned:

As I have mentioned many times, it's hard to predict when a young player will finally reach their talent level, if they ever do. I probably need to see a bigger sample size before fully endorsing a player, but I often use where a player is being drafted to negate some risk in case I'm wrong. I don't regret Castillo, and I'm sure I will be back on that train in 2019. But I will have to reevaluate my fondness for Weaver and Zimmer. 

When it comes to bounce-back candidates, I trust veteran players too much and their long track record, which I need to reconsider. It has worked at times, but it has also backfired. Cabrera was showing signs that age was catching up, but I overlooked it because he has been one of the best hitters in the history of baseball. If Cabrera was 30 years old it would be a different story, but entering a season at the age of 35, the risk of injury has to be taken seriously. 

Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox