Positive & Negative Regression Candidates (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
Accountability. That’s something the fantasy community, as well as meteorologists, often lack. After getting through five weeks of baseball, it makes sense to revisit some of the good and bad regression candidates. There have been some poor choices, as it appears that Reynaldo Lopez has turned a corner with his 14-strikeout game, and Miles Mikolas is still pitching terribly. On the flip side, Drew Pomeranz and Matthew Boyd appear to be very useful, Jesse Winker is displaying the power we thought he might have, and Brian Dozier is still mired in a deep slump. With that said, let’s try to weather the volatility that is early-season data and parse out who will regress to the mean.
Positive Regression Candidates
Jurickson Profar (2B/3B/SS/OF – OAK)
If you own Profar, you know how bad it’s been. He’s slashing .165/.223/.272 headed into Tuesday’s action. Similarly to Yasiel Puig, Profar is likely pressing with a new team that is expected to contend. The signs of pressing, per Eno Sarris of The Athletic, include swinging more and lower exit velocity. Profar’s 2019 metrics rate worse than his 2018 numbers in both categories, so he could certainly be pressing.
His average exit velocity is down almost two miles per hour from last year, currently sitting at a concerning 85.4. Despite swinging slightly less than last year, he is chasing as many balls off the plate than 201’8’s career high (32.9%) and seeing fewer strikes in the zone. Finally, he is also pulling the ball over 12 percent more of the time (52.3%). If he was a home run hitter, this would be fine and dandy, but his historical 1.2-1.3 GB/FB rate means he should be focusing on spraying the ball to all fields.
The good news is that Sarris found that hitters turned it around after a month with their new team, and I expect Profar to do the same. While I wrote in the offseason that we shouldn’t the same power numbers after moving from Globe Life Park in Arlington to The Coliseum, I anticipate a 10/10 season with a similar batting average and counting stats as last year. Check your waiver wire — there’s a great chance that he was dropped in 10 and 12-team leagues.
Mallex Smith (OF – SEA)
Another player adjusting to a new team, Smith has stumbled out of the gate, slashing .165/.255/.247 and striking out 30 percent of the time. Despite the tough start, he has already stolen eight bases, 20% of his 2018 total, in just 27 games. It’s safe to say that he is over his early ankle injury.
Smith has always had poor exit velocity and hard-hit rates, earning his average through his speed. His current 2.18 GB/FB rate is unsustainable, as is his lack of an infield hit so far this season (14% of his grounders went for infield hits last year). As a result, his .165 average should quickly rise and stabilize around the .260 range. His .366 BABIP from last year means he probably won’t hit near .300 again, but .260 is more than serviceable when the league average is around .248. He will have to dig his way out of the nine spot in the lineup, but this is a great time to buy low. Remember, he was going around pick 100, and don’t let your first-month biases get in the way of all the offseason research.
Kyle Schwarber (OF – CHC)
Having Schwarber in fantasy is like popping in a new video game. The first time you play, you have an amazing, memorable comeback and say, “Wow, this game is incredible!” You proceed to play it for a couple of months, never getting that feeling back. That’s what it’s like for Schwarber since his magnificent 2016 World Series.
There is good news, however. His plate discipline (zone percentage, swinging strike percentage, contact and swing rates) has improved across the board. As a result, I’m expecting the walk rate to normalize back to his previous levels, especially given the lower percentage of first-pitch strikes that he is seeing.
He is hitting the ball harder, on average, than last year, and his expected slugging percentage is 70 points higher than his current .400 rate. I’m expecting Schwarber to start pulling the ball more — his pull rate has dropped over seven percent from 2018 — and get his launch angle back to the 11.5 degrees from 2018. When these things happen, I’m expecting a rebound to 30 homers, a combined 160 runs and RBIs, and a .250 average, which is about what most expected on draft day.
Jameson Taillon (SP – PIT)
We will play a full-blown game with a negative regression candidate later, but I’ll give you a preview of what’s to come. Taillon’s 4.06 ERA looks out of sorts, and his SIERA — the best predictive measure of ERA — is 4.05. However, I am betting on Taillon’s ERA to regress to the mid threes given his insanely low 50% strand rate. His strikeout rate is down, but his walk rate is down even more, and he’s inducing grounders on half of his batted balls. He’s throwing his best pitch, his slider, more and his fastball less. All of his velocities are consistent with last year, and his swinging-strike rate has increased from 10.7 to 12.5% despite the reduced K rate. We can expect the strikeouts to stabilize.
In short, Taillon’s been unlucky so far this season, and you should look to buy low. Or you could even instead sell high for a top-12 pitcher who hasn’t had a good start (so, most of them).
Trent Thornton (SP – TOR)
Similar to Taillon, Thornton has been snake-bitten by some stats that should normalize. His HR/FB rate is 18.5%, but stabilized at 11% in the minors. His ground ball rate is also at a measly 33.8%, but he’s been a low-to-mid 40% ground-ball guy his entire minor league career. Finally, his 9.8% walk rate is well above what we’ve seen in the minors, so that should come down as he adjusts to the majors.
He throws a fastball or cutter 56% of the time, and those are currently his two worst pitches. I’m expecting the Blue Jays to see this and help him with his pitch sequencing and usage. The strikeout percentage may come down, but his 4.07 SIERA is more in line with what can we expect moving forward than his 5.08 ERA. Owned in just three percent of ESPN leagues, he should be on your radar for streamer help.
Negative Regression Candidates
Paul DeJong (SS – STL)
Headed into Tuesday, DeJong ranks 11th in wRC+ with a cool 166, in front of big-time names like Marcell Ozuna, Matt Chapman, and Javier Baez. But when we dig deeper, there are some flaws that should course correct. The 25-year-old has cut down his strikeout rate from 25.1 to 17.6 percent, but he only is walking 7.2 percent of the time. To put this in perspective, only Tim Anderson — whom I’ve already covered as a negative regression candidate — has a lower walk rate in the top 20 of wRC+.
DeJong’s hard-hit rate has also improved (hello juiced baseballs), per Baseball Savant, but it only ranks in the 63rd percentile. His exit velocity ranks in the 29th percentile, so his .391 BABIP is unsustainable with these rates. Based on these underlying metrics, his expected batting average of .307 is still impressive, but not quite as impressive as his current .342 average. Similarly, his expected wOBA is 30 points lower than his current .421. Now, we aren’t talking major regression, since these expected numbers are still good for the 90th percentile. Add it all up, and his .391 xwOBA is still great, but this makes for a prime opportunity to sell high on DeJong.
This piece is going to read eerily similar to our friend DeJong. Per FanGraphs, Andrus’s strikeout rate is up nearly three percent from last year, and he is only walking 7.8 percent of the time. His hard-hit rate is only in the 53rd percentile, and his average exit velocity ranks in the 70th percentile. These rates certainly don’t imply a .423 BABIP, so it should be no surprise that his expected batting average is 41 points lower than his current .365 average and that his expected slugging percentage is 101 points worse than his current .596 slugging.
What’s even worse for Andrus is that his 1.85 GB/FB ratio also doesn’t equate to hitting for power. Derek Van Riper and Eno Sarris of The Athletic frequently talk about how line-drive rate is finicky, and we should focus on GB/FB rates instead. Andrus has only one 20-homer season in his 11-year career, so expecting him to hit 20 again is a lot to ask, especially with this GB/FB rate. To elaborate, his 25% HR/FB rate is higher than his 24.1% fly-ball rate, which is simply unsustainable. He also has not hit an infield fly-ball yet, and while he has shown better-than-average skills at avoiding the dreaded pop-up, that is also unsustainable.
Of course, he is running again, so 10-15 homers, 25 steals, and good counting stats in the heart of the Texas order will likely happen. Just don’t expect him to be this good all season.
Trey Mancini (1B/OF – BAL)
Mancini ranks eighth in wRC+ heading into Tuesday, but like the others above, he will most likely drop over the coming days and weeks. If you haven’t noticed, there is a common trend of low walks, high BABIP, and solid-but-not-elite hard-hit rates in these negative regression candidates.
Mancini’s hard-hit rate ranks in the 57th percentile, and his average exit velocity ranks in the 41st. Based on these factors, we can expect Mancini’s average to drop 40 points (from .355 to .296) and his slugging percentage to decline around 50 points (from .618 to .556). His expected wOBA is nearly 50 points lower than his current .429 wOBA as well.
This year, he is seeing more fastballs, fewer breakers, and offspeed pitches about the same. Mancini is feasting on fastballs (6.4 pVAL) and curves (2.0), but once pitchers get back to throwing him offspeed junk — he accumulated a -3.8 pVAL on changeups last year — we can expect him to regress to the mean.
Chris Paddack (SP – SDP)
I hate pouring cold water on the new kid, but the data supports regression coming from the young phenom. Paddack is excelling at (or just getting lucky) in what Pitcher List defines as the Holy Trinity of luck. His .138 BABIP, 80.3% strand rate, and 7.4% HR/FB rate are all well above-average and should regress to the mean over time. Baseball Savant says that his Statcast numbers are excellent, highlighted by an expected batting average that sits in MLB’s top-six percent.
In honor of Taylor Swift’s new, very mainstream song, “Me!”, let’s play a game based off her lyrics. The game is called “One of These Things Is Not Like The Other.” Okay, probably need to shorten that a bit in the future. Anyway, which of these things does not belong?
These other metrics mean different things. All are still solid, if unspectacular. However, we can’t believe that Paddack will finish with a sub-3.00 ERA this year. Once the NL West sees him a few times, additional scouting reports should develop, and he will have to adjust back. I have no doubt that he will adjust back, but like all rookies, he will likely go through a rough patch. In addition to the luckiness, he is a Tommy John survivor and threw just 80 innings last year. Unless the Padres are still in contention, we can expect Paddack to max out at 130-140 innings. See if someone in your league thinks he will be a year-long guy and keep up these ratios.
Jake Arrieta (SP – PHI)
Arrieta is known for pitching on guile and grit, but he seems to be a ticking time bomb for fantasy purposes. His 3.46 ERA is half a run lower than last year, and his 51.8% ground-ball rate is consistent over the past few years. However, his K rate, dwindling since 2015, is all the way down to 18.6% this year. Ditto for his swinging-strike rate, currently sitting at 6.6 percent. His walk rate is also nearing double digits at 9.3 percent, a 1.4-percent increase from last year.
There is some good news, as he is throwing first-pitch strikes at a career-high rate and five-percent increase from last year. Hitters are actually hitting pitches off the plate six percent more often, which appears to be inducing weak contact and a suppressed .282 BABIP. He’s also throwing his curveball less, which is good considering it registered a -9.1 pVAL last year.
Arrieta may be past his knee injury, but it doesn’t appear that the strikeouts are coming back. Without elite command, as evidenced by his walk rate, he should come crashing back to earth.