Positive & Negative Regression Candidates (Fantasy Baseball)

May 15, 2018

It’s mid-May now, and while we’re starting to see some of the small sample size variation melt away in player’s early season stats, we still have to assess if what we’ve got now is representative of what we expect the player to do the rest of the season. In some cases, this may mean making a strong-buy on a player who started hot because you’ve now got enough information to lead you to believe there’s a real skill improvement. And yet for other players, this marks the point in time where there may be an opportunity to buy-low.

This week I’m going to focus on some player’s I’ve tried to make moves for via trade for one reason or another and in the process highlight what I’m seeing in their performance.

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Matt Olson (1B – OAK)
We’re now approximately 100 games into Matt Olson’s career and I believe that many owners have Matt Olson fatigue. He was so hyped this off-season that he couldn’t possibly live up to the expectations. There are three things to remember about Matt Olson: he hits a lot of balls in the air, he hits them hard, and he hits them far. Sure, he wasn’t going to continue homering at the extremely absurd 41% HR/FB rate from last season just as he isn’t going to continue only homering at a 10% rate this year. If anyone is selling Matt Olson, you’re buying. Let me show you with the launch angle charts I like to use.

He’s actually expanded the ideal launch angle zones to maximum extra-base hits and home runs. He’s definitely not hitting the ball with any less elite exit velocity (barrels) with almost 65% of all his air balls leaving his bat at 95+ mph. The only real difference in his small sample size profile to begin 2018 is that he’s only pulled 36% of these balls this year compared to 57% in his small sample from last year. You can also see that despite smoking the ball to center and the opposite fields that he’s yet to homer there yet. I emphasize the word yet. I failed in my bid to acquire Olson, but perhaps where I failed you can succeed. This is my number one recommendation for a positive regression candidate.

Gerrit Cole (SP – HOU)
I guess I finally got to the point where I no longer care how Gerrit Cole got all the extra spin on his four-seamer because I made a strong-buy offer for the young ace that was accepted.

I couldn’t mention this topic without also mentioning Trevor Bauer and his interview on the topic last week. Bauer’s passion for the topic and Cole’s data [shown above] will have to forever live in disharmony. What I do know is that there are less than 20 pitchers in MLB this year with his spin rate, velocity and swinging strike rate on the FF and they are all the nastiest relievers you’ve come to know and love. Kimbrel, Hader, Bettances, Chapman and one starting pitcher in Jacob deGrom. When you add to this the improved drop in Cole’s curveball and the change to where he’s throwing the fastball (up in the zone), well I think Cole is really safe from the regression monster at this point. If there’s no drop in his spin/velocity combination we’re going to be looking at one of the finest starting pitching seasons on record. The good news for you is you won’t have to guess if he hits a couple bad starts in there. With all the data we collect these days you’ll be able to see if any of the magic tapers off or if they were truly just slight bumps in the road.

Nomar Mazara (OF – TEX)
Noooooooooooooooomaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! Feels like ages since we’ve been able to scream that. First things first. Nomar probably isn’t the home run hitter he’s showing himself to be right now. Much like the aforementioned Olson’s 2017 season, Nomar is running hot through what I like to call a home run to fly ball excursion. For starters, he really doesn’t hit the ball in the air that frequently. As a fast-follow, he’s homered on 25% of the balls he’s hit in the air to center field. By way of comparison, J.D. Martinez has only homered on 13% of the air balls he’s hit to centerfield over the past three years and Mazara is in that same range. By the same token he’s homered on 36% of the flyballs he’s hit to the pull-field which would also outpace sluggers like J.D. Martinez.

Look, I like Mazara a lot as well. He’s a good hitter, just not this good a hitter. I have a feeling at the end of the year, with a batted ball profile like the one he totes around, he’ll probably be back near his career numbers, but let’s not forget, he is allowed to get better. He’s only 23. And while he might not yet own the skill of hitting baseballs like J.D. Martinez, it might be tucked away in there somewhere. Be prepared for a long powerless stretch from Mazara and perhaps swoop in just after it ends to scoop him up for a keeper team. Hitters like this I love to watch blossom through the age-24 and 25 seasons. He’s a negative regression candidate, but I’m still high on the youngster.

Yasmani Grandal (C – LAD)
Yasmani Grandal has always hit the ball in the air quite a bit, and always hit it really hard. The only part of the trifecta he was missing prior to this season was pulling the ball. That’s not so much the case anymore.

Grandal has fully embraced all aspects of the air ball revolution, likely in an attempt to fully cash-in on his impending free agency. However, all of that aside, what has really driven his value upward for me is the positive rebounds in both his walk and his strikeout rates. He now looks like a catcher who can carry a .270/.380/.500 line with ease which should keep him toward the top of the catching tiers for the 2018 season depending on his landing spot of course. I wouldn’t be afraid to make a strong-buy on Grandal this season yet and cash in on these positive changes. If anything he’s been a little unlucky on groundball BABIP to the opposite field.

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Jim Melichar is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Jim, check out his archive and follow him @JimMelichar7.

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