MLB: 4 bounce back candidates for 2022 per ZiPS projections

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 04: David Fletcher #22 of the Los Angeles Angels at bat during the first inning against the Texas Rangers at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 04, 2021 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 04: David Fletcher #22 of the Los Angeles Angels at bat during the first inning against the Texas Rangers at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 04, 2021 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images) /

Last season around MLB, there was a whole host of breakout candidates who seemingly came out of nowhere and produced at the highest level in baseball.

On the other side of that, there were a good amount of players who underperformed and are now falling under the “bounce back candidate” term.

Every year, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS Projections System is a highly used projections system all around the league, including in fantasy baseball. Using the ZiPS system, let’s see four players who could be due for a bounce back performance in 2022.

1. Los Angeles Angels infielder David Fletcher

David Fletcher has won over the hearts of fans all around MLB, but his performance last season is somewhat concerning. While the speedy infielder only missed five of the team’s games in 2021, he hit just .262 with an OPS+ of 71. Additionally, Fletcher finished in the 1st percentile in AVG Exit Velocity, HardHit%, Barrel% and was near the very bottom of the majors in BB% and BABIP.

In 2019, Fletcher seemed to figure things out and was able to carry his high-level of performance into the COVID-shortened 2020 season as well. In 2020, he posted a 122 wRC+ and a .319 batting average, gathering 1.5 fWAR in just 49 games. His wRC+ plummeted last year all the way down to 70, a career-low.

Fortunately for Fletcher and the Los Angeles Angels, he is projected by every major projection system to turn things around in the upcoming season. ZiPS, for instance, has him appearing in 156 games for the club, hitting .277 with an 87 wRC+ and 1.8 fWAR.

David Fletcher is an important cog in this Angels’ lineup, if he is able to turn things around in 2022, the Angels will have their top-of-the-line leadoff hitter back in action.

2. Kansas City Royals infielder Hunter Dozier

30-year-old Hunter Dozier looked to be a building block for the Royals as recently as 2019. In 139 games, Dozier hit 29 doubles, 10 triples, and 26 home runs with a .279 batting average and a 124 OPS+. Just two seasons later and his home runs, walks, batting average and OPS+ are all down.

Part of Dozier’s lack of production last season could be the fact that the Royals insist on trotting him out to third base every night on defense. He is by no means a third baseman, maybe more of a first baseman or corner outfielder.

In 144 games last season, the slugging “utility-man” posting a career-low -0.5 oWAR and -2.4 dWAR while finishing in the 10th percentile in K% and Whiff % per Statcast.

ZiPS projections have him bouncing back in 2022, hitting 20 home runs with a 100 wRC+ and 0.6 fWAR, better numbers all across the board than his performance last season.

3. Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Kevin Newman

Kevin Newman, much like David Fletcher, is just two seasons removed from a breakout season. In 2019, the versatile speedster hit 12 home runs and stole 16 bases in 130 games for the Pirates, posting a .308 batting average and 110 OPS+.

Amongst qualifying hitters last season, Newman posted the fourth lowest BABIP in MLB (.236) and was near the bottom of the league in batting average (.226) and HardHit% alongside Fletcher. When all was said and done last year, Newman’s wRC+ sat at 54, an astoundingly low number.

The one positive note about his performance last season, Newman was exceptional on defense, posting a 1.3 dWAR while making defensive appearances at both second base and shortstop.

ZiPS Projections have Newman turning things around in the upcoming season, hitting seven home runs with a .264 batting average, 81 wRC+ and 1.0 fWAR.

4. Boston Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.

The argument could be made (it’s barely even an argument, really) that Jackie Bradley Jr. was the number one worst player in MLB last season. Bradley’s first season in the National League after eight years in Boston was a complete disaster for the Brewers. He played in 134 games for the club, hitting six home runs with a .163 batting average and 34 OPS+.

Bradley has always been somewhat strikeout prone but last year he struck out in almost 31% of his plate appearances and walked in just 6.5% of them, a career low. His BABIP last season fell all the way down to .226 and he was ultimately worth -1.9 oWAR for the Brewers.

ZiPS projections have Bradley getting somewhat better in his return to Boston; hitting 10 home runs with a 76 wRC+ and bringing his strikeouts and walks back to his career-norms. In Bradley’s case, this is almost an “anything is better than 2021” situation.

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David Fletcher, Hunter Dozier, Kevin Newman, and Jackie Bradley Jr. were four of the worst players MLB had to offer last season. Fortunately for all parties involved, projection systems such as ZiPS have all four players improving in the upcoming season.