Fantasy Baseball: Which unlucky players will turn it around in 2022?

As the regular season winds down, fantasy baseball content becomes a mix of advice for the final days of 2021, retrospective assessments of the current season, and a glimpse ahead to 2022.

This article will cover two of those three topics, as we dissect the unluckiest players from the 2021 season and assess their potential to improve next year. Some managers who had disappointing fantasy seasons may feel better by seeing a few of their players in this space.

ERA-FIP Discrepancies

The following pitchers have the largest gaps between their ERA and FIP.

Aaron Nola (4.48 ERA, 3.31 FIP)

Nola has been one of the most frustrating pitchers this season, producing a high ERA after being drafted as a fantasy ace. The right-hander has been hurt by a low strand rate (67.9 percent) while producing one of the best K-BB ratios (25.1 percent) of any qualified pitcher. Nola is an excellent bounce-back candidate for 2022, especially for those who can get him at the value of a No.2 mixed-league starter.

Nathan Eovaldi (3.58 ERA, 2.72 FIP)

After a slow start to the season, Eovaldi has consistently worked his ERA down to a helpful mark. His control skills have been outstanding this season (1.7 BB/9 rate), and he would have been much more successful if not for an unfortunate .326 BABIP. I expect Eovaldi to be undervalued in 2022 drafts.

Mike Minor (5.05 ERA, 4.28 FIP)

Minor has been mostly unplayable in the second half, but his overall FIP this season puts him in the area of streamer candidates. Like Nola, the southpaw has been hampered by a low strand rate (66.4 percent). Minor lacks the swing-and-miss skills (8.5 K/9 rate) to have a major bounce back next year but could climb back onto the mixed-league radar.

Corbin Burnes (2.34 ERA, 1.58 FIP)

My mind was blown when I realized that Burnes could be even better next season. The right-hander is on the shortlist of NL Cy Young candidates, and although he may fall short of winning the award, he has clearly become a fantasy ace. Burnes has the best K-BB ratio (30.4 percent) of any qualified pitcher, which is one of the best indicators of success. I doubt that there is room for the Brewers' ace to take a step forward next year, but he can be trusted to avoid regression.

Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Corbin Burnes
Could Corbin Burnes actually be better in 2022? (AP Photo/Phil Long)

Patrick Corbin (6.11 ERA, 5.56 FIP)

I won’t spend long on Corbin, as his FIP indicates that even with better luck he would have spent most of 2021 on fantasy waivers. The left-hander will need to show skill improvements next spring in order to be considered in mixed formats.

Dylan Cease (4.09 ERA, 3.55 FIP)

Cease completes our list of qualified pitchers with an ERA that is at least half a run higher than their FIP. The right-hander has a solid 12-7 record, an impressive 12.2 K/9 rate, and an acceptable 3.8 BB/9 rate. He has not been homer prone (1.15 HR/9 rate) but has been slightly unlucky on batted balls (.305 BABIP). Overall, there are many reasons to believe that Cease will be more valuable next season.

wOBA and xwOBA Gaps

Smart fantasy managers have learned that xwOBA is an excellent stat to use when evaluating hitters. Here are the players who have been the unluckiest in that area.

Matt Carpenter (.273 wOBA, .343 xwOBA)

Carpenter’s xwOBA suggests that he could still be a useful player, but multiple seasons of disappointing results have pushed the aging veteran to a reserve role. At this point in his career, Carpenter is unlikely to enjoy a bounce-back season.

Alex Kirilloff (.307 wOBA, .365 xwOBA)

Now we're talking! Kirilloff is exactly the type of player that I will target in 2022. A good-but-not-elite prospect, Kirilloff will likely be easy to draft after posting unremarkable results (.756 OPS) during an injury-impacted rookie campaign. Statcast likes the youngster to be one of the better hitters in baseball going forward, which is enough reason for me to target him in the final rounds of 2022 mixed-league drafts.

David Bote (.254 xOBA, .306 xwOBA)

Bote is putting the finishing touches on a miserable season that includes a .574 OPS and significant time lost to injury. The utilityman is better than his results this year, but he will likely enter 2022 in a part-time role and remain on mixed-league waiver wires.

Pat Valaika (.231 wOBA, .276 xwOBA)

Valaika is a carbon-copy to Bote but with even less playing time. Let’s move on.

Cody Bellinger (.232 wOBA, .278 xwOBA)

This is where things really get interesting. In my opinion, Bellinger was the biggest fantasy bust of 2021. Sure, there are players who missed most of the season due to injury, but those players were easy to take out of your lineup. Bellinger was active in most leagues for all of his 89 games played, producing depressing counting stats (9 HR, 34 RBI, 2 SB) and destroying a fantasy team’s batting average by hitting .159. His strikeout rate rose while his walk rate dropped.

A pair of lower-body injuries likely hindered his running speed while a shoulder injury from 2020 could have lingered and impacted his plate skills. And while Bellinger will surely be better next season, he has been incredibly inconsistent throughout his five-year career. With a career average of .257 and 25 or fewer homers in three campaigns, the slugger has not consistently proven to be a difference-maker at the dish. My personal plan is to make Bellinger someone else’s problem in all of my 2022 leagues.