Fantasy baseball preview: Players to avoid

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Fantasy baseball preview: Players to avoid
March 7, 2014, 9:00 am
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Hunter Pence may have another good season in 2014, but don't expect the same big numbers he put up last year. (USA Today Images)

Over the coming days we'll preview the fantasy baseball season by looking at ascending and descending players, guys to pluck late and to avoid, and unconventional strategies for building a winning team.

Today, we look at potential 2014 busts.

When choosing fantasy baseball sleepers and busts, we're identifying players who should either vastly outperform their average draft position or players who will fall well short of expectations. The quality of player that is actually a sleeper in fantasy baseball is higher than in fantasy football, simply because rosters are much deeper.

Here are some players to avoid reaching for, players who have bust written all over them:

OF/1B Michael Cuddyer (Col)
By all accounts a great guy, a great teammate. A productive right-handed bat, too. Just not a .331 hitter.

Cuddyer won the NL batting title in 2013 by hitting 54 points above his career average and 71 points better than he did in 2012. Some might call it the Coors Field effect, but then how do you explain Cuddyer's .260 batting average in 2012 with the Rockies?

Cuddyer can still be a productive player in 2013, but you'll find better, less expensive options in the outfield or at first base. Cuddyer had a .382 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) last season, which is 70 points above his career mark and a clear sign that luck was heavily involved in his career year. Typically, a BABIP that high will belong only to speedy players, superstars, or guys who hit a ton of line drives in a given year. None of those descriptions fit Cuddyer.

Averaging out the top fantasy sites, Cuddyer is the 30th-ranked outfielder on the board. But we'd take a number of guys ahead of him, including Austin Jackson, Curtis Granderson, Shane Victorino and Coco Crisp.

3B Chris Johnson (Atl)
The sabermetric community isn't fond of Johnson, who maintained a high batting average way longer last season than most expected. I guess you can't argue with the results, but don't expect them to be the same.

Johnson hit .321/.358/.457 thanks to an insane .394 BABIP, the highest in all of baseball. His defenders will say that he has the ability to sustain something close to that, but it's not true. Dexter Fowler had a .390 BABIP the year before and it fell to .323 this past season, despite all the speed he possesses. That's just one of many, many examples. Guys don't maintain marks that high year-in and year-out.

There are so many other third basemen, and Johnson is a one-dimensional player. Don't reach.

SP Ervin Santana (Free agent)
Santana tried to parlay a career year into a $100 million contract, but the market never developed. The top free-agent pitchers all waited for Masahiro Tanaka to sign before the dominoes began falling, and after they did Santana was still left without a team.

That is one of several worries. When Santana eventually signs, he won't have had a full spring training to get his arm in shape. And even if he did, he was a candidate to regress in 2014.

Santana is only two seasons removed from a 5.16 ERA and a league-leading 39 homers allowed. He also has never been a high-strikeout guy. You can find better options than Santana. Give me Jarrod Parker, Ivan Nova, Jon Niese, or Josh Johnson on the rebound instead.

OF Hunter Pence (SF)
Pence reestablished himself in 2013 and earned a $90 million contract by hitting .283/.339/.483 with 27 homers, 99 RBIs, 35 doubles and 22 steals. He also played in all 162 games, which is extremely valuable in the long fantasy season.

But Pence is a year-to-year player. His success is determined mostly by the eyes on his sharply hit ground balls. In 2011, he hit .324 with the Astros and Phillies, and if you recall, his typical base hit with the Phils was a groundball up the middle. Then in 2012, seemingly everything was hit directly at the shortstop. That is reflected in his BABIP.

It's also reflected on his batting average on ground balls. In 2011, Pence hit .352 on grounders. In 2013, he hit .287. In 2012, his down year with the Phils that resulted in a trade to San Francisco, he hit .202 on ground balls.

Pence could be very good again this season, but his draft value is much higher than it was at this time last year. Take him coming off a down year, not after a solid season. Especially given his ballpark -- there are few stadiums more pitcher-friendly than AT&T Park.

Other players we don't love: Dodgers OF Yasiel Puig, Mets SP Bartolo Colon, Diamondbacks SP Patrick Corbin, Yankees SP CC Sabathia, Giants OF Mike Morse, Orioles OF Nelson Cruz