Positive and Negative Regression Candidates (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
After a two-week break, we are back in action with the players that have the underlying data to support positive or negative regression. For this iteration, I focused on leaderboards from May 1 onward, as we have a large enough sample size for statistics like launch angle and exit velocity, but I wanted to cut out the volatility of data from early in the season.
Positive Regression Candidates
Many fantasy owners are frustrated with Myers, despite his 11 homers and nine steals. Many players are still clamoring for his consistent tease of 30/30, going 28/28 in 2016 and 30/20 in 2017. After 78 games played, Myers is on pace for 21 and 17, which counts as underperformance based on our expectations.
However, Myers is a streaky player – consider his 15-game rolling wOBA average. Myers reached a peak in both 2016 and 2018 with a wOBA of over .500. Myers has yet to go on a run that will project him closer to 30/20 than it currently appears. While Myers has a nasty injury history, hitting the ball a mile per hour softer than his last full season in 2017 is not a cause for concern.
The main issue with Myers right now is 35% K-rate. While Myers has always struck out more than league average, this represents a new high (or low, depending on how you frame it). Myers is reaching for significantly fewer pitches, but his contact on balls in the zone is driving these increased strikeouts. in his last full season, Myers whiffed significantly less on both breaking balls and offspeed pitches than he currently he is. A half season is still a small sample, and I’m expecting the veteran to fix this issue going forward. When he does, he still has a chance at 150 combined runs and RBI in a lineup loaded with potential. Many owners are looking for players on the waiver wire with a power-speed combo (Kevin Kiermaier, for instance), when they can likely trade the back end of his or her roster for Myers.
Marquez was on fire to start the season, posting a 2.93 ERA through 46 innings in March and April, but has since posted a 5.33 ERA in 64 and 1/3 innings in May onward. Yet, Marquez’s K-rate in May and June is better than in March/April, plus he has posted a similar walk rate in all three months.
Marquez seems to be getting killed on balls in play, as his BABIP of .339 over the last eight weeks is extremely unlucky. The most obvious answer is the right one – that answer being “Coors.” He has posted a 5.70 ERA at Coors this year, compared to 3.02 on the road. Doing a deeper dive on his expected statistics from his pitches, it seems that his slider is getting hit with authority much more than last year (.386 xSLG in 2019; .261 in 2018). Given that he is throwing this pitch eight percentage points more than last year, I am expecting him to reverse course and go back to his curveball being his main secondary pitch. Perhaps more importantly, his sinker is like a leaf, getting raked in 2019 (.372 xBA, .589 xSLG). At some point, it makes sense for Marquez to scrap the sinker, and potentially increase his changeup usage.
Marquez showed the track record in the second half last year and in April this year to trust that he will positively regress as we near the second half. The best case scenario is that you get a top 25 starting pitcher for the rest of the year by trading for him; the worst case is that he continues to struggle at Coors, and you only start him on the road.
Negative Regression Candidates
Blackmon is leading ESPN’s player rater over the past 15 days, just squeezing past Manny Machado. His eight homers and .439 OBP in that span remind us of his 2016 when he finished as the top hitter in fantasy baseball. He is also second in all of baseball in wRC+ since May 1.
However, this hot streak is bound to come crashing back to earth. Blackmon is swinging at both balls (up four percentage points) and strikes (up 7.5 percentage points) more, but is making contact at a worse rate on strikes. As a result, his swinging strike rate is up a fall percentage point, mainly due to breaking balls. However, Blackmon is crushing breakers (see below table). Historically, he has fared much worse on curves and sliders, so we can reasonably predict that Blackmon will perform worse on them going forward. He is also on pace to steal less than double-digit stolen bases for the first time since 2013.
According to Baseball Savant, Blackmon is greatly outperforming his expected statistics on all three types of pitches:
|Type||Batting Avg||Expected BA||Difference||Slugging %||xSLG||Difference|
That regression I alluded to is presented here – he simply cannot keep up this pace. Otherwise, his batted ball profile looks like classic Blackmon. Right now presents a tremendous sell-high opportunity. If you are in need of steals, a swap with Ronald Acuna is not out of the question.
Since May 1, Dietrich has posted a 149 wRC+, which ranks in the top 20 of MLB. And…my prediction is that he won’t be on fantasy rosters by the beginning of August.
For starters, everyone remembers Dietrich’s three-homer game…way back on May 28. Since then, he’s hit just one dinger. You might be saying, ‘maybe he’s been unlucky, compiling extra-base hits instead.’ Nope. He has just two doubles in June, along with a 27% strikeout rate. His 13.1% swinging strike rate for the years supports the high strikeouts.
Dietrich’s average launch angle of 19 degrees is tremendous for hitting moonshots (48% of his balls in play are flyballs), but with just an 88 MPH average exit velocity, he is bound to hit cans of corn all day long. These two metrics help portray that Dietrich’s expected slugging percentage is 90 points below his actual slugging percentage, suggesting that negative regression is right around the corner. Combine this with the fact that Scooter Gennett is nearing a return, there are less places for Dietrich to find playing time. He can certainly spell Joey Votto at first base, but otherwise likely won’t cut into Yasiel Puig or Jesse Winker‘s playing time significantly. He’s a great sell-high before you have to cut him.
Let’s just get this out of the way right now. As a Cubs fan, I really despise Lance Lynn. From 2012-2015, he was a Cubs killer. So, it’s not hard for me to write about how the current leader in AL WAR for pitchers will negatively regress.
Lynn has a lot going for him. His strand rate is league average, his BABIP is above league average, and his 8.8% HR/FB ratio is not as lucky as I expected. Lynn is also having success by throwing first-pitch strikes more often, inducing more swing-and-miss on pitches out of the zone, and allowing a below league-average exit velocity. All these metrics are similar to his stellar 2012-2015 campaigns. So, why do I think that Lynn will negatively regress?
Let’s first consider his pitching environment. He pitches half of his games in Globe Life Park, which is a bottom two park for a pitcher to throw in. He sported considerably worse numbers in other unfriendly pitchers’ parks before (Target Field, Yankee Stadium). As we get to full-throttle heat in Texas, I’m expecting Lynn’s HR/FB ratio to creep up, and if he continues to sport a .338 BABIP, he will be in serious trouble.
Second – his lefty/righty splits. Lefties are hitting .284/.332/.426 off of him. Going forward, I’m expecting teams to emphasize their left-handed batters to mitigate Lynn’s success.
Third – his age. He is 32, has already had Tommy John, and has had an assortment of other injuries. Even if he continues to pitch well, he is already 2/3 to the amount of innings he pitched in 2018.
Once he gets past 150 innings, I wouldn’t be surprised to see diminished effectiveness due to the three reasons above.
Taking a look at Kershaw’s numbers since May 1 has me questioning how we can project him as a top-20 starting pitcher going forward. His unimpressive 7.93 K/9 (supported by a 12% swinging strike rate) and lucky 83% strand rate suggest that he shouldn’t be 6-1 through 9 starts in that span.
His 2019 numbers are remarkably similar to 2018, at least judging by his K-rate and BB-rate, along with his WHIP, average, even down to BABIP. As we did for Blackmon, let’s look at a table of actuals vs. expected statistics by pitch type:
|Type||BA Against||xBA||Difference||Slugging %||xSLG||Difference|
As you likely guessed, Kershaw’s expected metrics are significantly worse than the surface-level stats he is currently displaying. Kershaw will get his wins, and that means you are starting him every time out. However, his ERA is significantly lower (2.85) than his FIP (3.51), xFIP (3.46), and SIERA (3.76). All signs point to correction.