This will be my third “busts” article this month, and this is by far the least pleasant to write. First basemen are generally strong offensive performers and the position feels particularly strong right now. There are enough good ones that it is hard to find many true bust candidates—guys who are being drafted high and won’t be worth the price. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find a couple of names who are concerning, perhaps a bit riskier. Given the depth at 1B, passing on that risk in favor of another position early and filling first later is likely a stronger play.
José Abreu (CWS)
2021 Stats (659 PA): .261 AVG, 86 R, 117 RBI, 30 HR, 1 SB
Abreu was fifth on the Razzball Player Rater in 2021 and has the sixth best ADP among 1B at NFBC, so at first glance, he merely has to repeat his 2021 to be a perfectly acceptable value. But color me skeptical that he can repeat that performance. While the surface 5×5 numbers look great, Abreu’s contact didn’t fully support those results, particularly his power, as he had a .455 xSLG vs. his .481 actual SLG.
That stems in part from a big decline in the quality of his contact. In 2020, out of 142 qualified hitters, Abreu’s 9.9% rate of barrels per plate appearance ranked ninth in all of MLB. In 2021, that number was down to 6.7% and ranked 54th out of 132 qualified hitters. Part of that is an increase in walk rate—walking more means fewer opportunities to hit the ball hard, and it would be unfair to punish him for walking more. But walks don’t help as much as hard-hit balls, particularly in 5×5, and the 2.4 percentage point increase in walk rate doesn’t make up for the 3.2 percentage point drop in barrels.
The other, seemingly obvious explanation for why his power would decrease is his age. Abreu turns 35 in just about a month, and it isn’t crazy to think his best days are behind him. Another drop in contact quality will bring those homers down and bring the average down. He’ll likely still hit in the heart of a great lineup, so runs and RBI will still be part of the package, but if I am taking a 1B this early, I want some upside. At his current price, there are better options than paying for a 35-year-old to defy the aging curve just to return fair value.
Jared Walsh (LAA)
2021 Stats (585 PA): ..277 AVG, 70 R, 98 RBI, 29 HR, 2 SB
Let me get this out of the way first: I like Walsh. I think he is a good hitter. I’ll likely have him on rosters where he qualifies in the OF (18 games and 17 starts in 2021). But in NFBC, where he doesn’t have OF eligibility, he is going as the eighth 1B off the board (ninth if you include D.J. LeMahieu, but he isn’t being drafted as a 1B), And that is just too high for a guy who doesn’t separate himself from the rest of the 1B pack in a meaningful way.
On top of that, Walsh saw a big jump in his strikeout rate, from 13.9% in 2020 to 26.0% in 2021 and needed a .335 BABIP to help make up for it. That gives me at least a little pause. Not so much that I am putting Walsh on a do-not-draft list, but plenty to prefer passing on him at 1B in favor of waiting on someone like Cron, Votto, Josh Bell, Anthony Rizzo, or Rhys Hoskins, who are all less expensive and any of whom could easily outperform Walsh.
Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire adapted by Shawn Palmer (@SPDesigns__ on Instagram)