Positive and Negative Regression Candidates (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
Since this article has a parody video in it (just wait until the end), I figured I would also do a parody from Alanis Morissette about Luke Weaver’s injury after his resurgence, and the weather in the Midwest on Memorial Day:
“It’s like rainnn/on a holiday/it’s the forearm tightness/that casts a doomsday…”
Maybe songwriting is my second calling.
Positive Regression Candidates
Marcell Ozuna (OF – STL)
A month into the season, Ozuna seemed to be proving everybody wrong about his shoulder injury and overall motivation, hitting seven homers between April 8-17. He has slowed down considerably since then, jacking just six homers. More noticeably, his .230 average (.198 in May) and .316 on-base percentage leave much to be desired. Are there signs that Ozuna’s shoulder injury is creeping back up, or that he’s becoming fatigued?
Pish-posh, don’t be so silly. Ozuna sports a top-15 barrel rate in all of baseball at 11.2 percent. His expected slugging (.584) and hard hit (51.8%) percentages both rank in the top five percent, and his average exit velocity and xwOBA are not far behind.
Ozuna is, per Baseball Savant, seeing fewer pitches in the zone compared to last year, and he is making slightly less contact on them. He is also chasing more balls and making less contact overall. The trouble seems to be coming against breaking and offspeed pitches; he has not gotten a hit against an offspeed pitch yet this year and is batting just .155 against breaking pitches.
Even with some of those negatives, I’m still not concerned. His plate discipline percentages look very similar to his breakout 2017 campaign, and he certainly has positive regression coming against those secondary pitches. I still expect Ozuna to end the season with a batting average of at least .270 with 35 homers and an above-average walk rate.
Eloy Jimenez (OF – CHW)
You’ve got to feel for Jimenez, whose grandmother passed away earlier this season. His rookie season also hasn’t gone according to plan on the field, as he went on the IL with an ankle sprain in April. With a 32.5% K rate and 4.4% BB rate, Jimenez is not doing himself any favors at the plate. Currently hitting .213/.254/.398, some fantasy players are deeply regretting drafting Jimenez. Heck, even FanGraphs’ Justin Mason and Paul Sporer were planning on getting him after pick 200 during this weekend’s NFBC Second Chance drafts.
Since coming off the IL on May 20, he’s belted three homers. I’m expecting even more positive regression given his tremendous talent. Let’s start with the metrics above. In the minors, Jimenez struck out between 13-22% of the time, so his historical plate discipline lends himself to striking out at a league-average rate. Much like Ozuna, he is not seeing a lot of pitches in the zone, is making contact at a less-than-ideal rate, and is chasing more pitches than you’d like to see. Going forward, after distancing himself from the emotional and physical pain he’s been through, I expect him to get back to the prospect we touted so highly.
I leave you with this — remember Ronald Acuna Jr. last year? He played well below expectations once he was called up, then went on the IL in June and had a slow July before destroying baseballs and pitchers’ hearts in the last two months of the season. I’m expecting the same from Jimenez, but in a more expedited fashion, and with less stolen bases. THE BAT is expecting a 97-point jump in slugging percentage and a 62-point jump in batting average. I like those odds.
Rich Hill (SP – LAD)
Some of you might be shocked to see Hill on a positive regression list given his 84.1% strand rate and 2.67 ERA. But he still has plenty of room to maintain an ERA around 3.00 going forward.
Hill is near the top of the leaderboard in wOBA (.312) vs. xwOBA (.266) difference. Let’s assume that strand rate returns to his historical levels between 75-80 percent. That xwOBA is supported by allowing an exit velocity of 83.5 mph, which ranks in MLB’s top three percent. The number of runners reaching base against him should completely offset, if not return a positive impact for Hill. His 25% HR/FB rate should also return to his historical and league-average levels of 10.8%.
We know that Hill will likely hit the injury list again at some point, but getting 130 innings from anyone in this era of baseball is helpful. You can probably get Hill (point out his 4.48 FIP) for much less than he’s worth. Someone like Masahiro Tanaka should do the job.
Negative Regression Candidates
Torres is surpassing draft-day expectations, posting a .289/.333/.548 slash line. Of the 51 games he has played, 12 of them have been against the Orioles, one of the worst pitching staffs in the league. I bring this up due to the insane fact that Torres has blasted the Orioles to the tune of .465/.531/1.233. Wow.
However, this means that only three of his 13 blasts have come against non-O’s pitching. Worse yet, he is hitting just .240 with a 24% K rate and 4% BB rate in games not against Baltimore. Those numbers aren’t so good, and I’m more inclined to believe them. Why? Let’s dig in.
Even with all the Baltimore-scorching, Torres rates in the middle of the pack in average exit velocity and hard-hit rate. He seems to be replicating Yoan Moncada’s strategy by swinging more often (higher swing rate, higher contact rates) but with less earned success, judging by his 40-point gap in expected batting average and 56-point difference in expected slugging percentage. I’m not expecting Torres’s torrid home run pace to continue, and that batting average should drop as well.
Domingo Santana (OF – SEA)
Santana started 2019 like he was mad at an old team, hitting .317 with five homers through April 21. He approached a double-digit walk rate while striking out 26% of the time, which would have represented a career best.
He has since been on quite a downturn, hitting .241. Yes, he hit five homers in that span as well, but his walk rate has dropped to six percent, and his K-rate has spiked to 30 percent. Eesh. So, will the real Domingo Santana please stand up?
Santana has an average exit velocity in the 50th percentile and a hard-hit rate in the 65th percentile. When Santana had his breakout 2017, those percentages were 83 and 76, respectively. Overall, his plate discipline and batted-ball metrics are similar to 2017, but he is seeing more strikes in the zone and swinging more. Based on this profile, it seems that Santana is prone to volatile swings (pun intended) in his game, and the swing-and-miss profile severely limits his upside. We only have to look to 2018 to see this.
Through about one-third of the season, Santana is on pace for 31 homers, a .278 average, and 128 RBIs. I’m obviously taking the under on those RBIs, but I’m also taking the under on the homers and batting average. I don’t see the batted-ball metrics being good enough to compensate for a lack of plate discipline, and in what was likely a career-best season in 2017, Santana hit 30 bombs.
Felix Pena (SP/RP – LAA)
I’ve seen a lot of love for Pena on the interwebs (specifically as a “follower” or “bulk reliever”), and I can’t find a way to justify it. His -64 point gap between his wOBA and xwOBA slants in the wrong direction, for a lot of reasons. Most of the “luck” rates — .222 BABIP, 78% strand rate, and a 15.2% HR/FB rate — tilt on the lucky side. That HR/FB rate is a bit unlucky, but Pena has sported an above-average rate in that category since 2016. His hard-hit percentage has been on the upswing since 2016 as well, with that number climbing all the way to 44.4 percent his year. Maybe that HR/FB rate isn’t so unlucky after all.
He has completely dropped the four-seamer from his arsenal, resulting in him becoming essentially a two-pitch pitcher. As a follower, a two-pitch arsenal can work, but his slider is destined for negative regression, at least by velocity and spin rate/movement standards. There’s no doubt that Pena’s slider has baffled hitters (.164 expected batting average, .299 expected slugging). But I expect his 23.6% swinging-strike rate on the slider to drop. His sinker is also porous, as shown by the 101-point gap in expected batting average vs. batting average, and his 188-point gap in expected slug vs. actual slug. Hitters will make adjustments against him, and Pena will be minimally owned by the time 2019 wraps.
Mike Soroka (SP – ATL)
When you’re good, you get your own parody video:
Soroka has been a beast this year, boasting a 1.07 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and a 22.4% K rate. However, there is a ton of regression under the hood. Let’s start with the .213 BABIP, continue with the 85% strand rate, and move on to the minuscule 3.6% HR/FB rate. None of those numbers are sustainable moving forward, which is shown from the -59 point gap between his wOBA and xwOBA.
Now that we’ve identified that Soroka is an obvious negative regression candidate, let’s determine what exactly will regress. The K rate seems real given his 10.5% swinging-strike rate and 63.9% first-pitch strike rate. It’s the ERA and WHIP that will stabilize upwards, as suggested by other ERA indicators all being at least 3.28. If the season ended today, Soroka’s 7.3% walk rate would be the worst of his career, so we should plan for some positive regression there.