Positive and Negative Regression Candidates (Fantasy Baseball)
For those of you still reading, you’re likely 1) a fantasy baseball nut and/or 2) in the playoff hunt. I commend you. As we wind down the season, a ton of guys have seemingly come out of nowhere to post fantasy-relevant second halves. I’ll take you through several of them to determine what we can expect the rest of the way.
Cal Quantrill (SP – SD)
Quantrill has been lighting it up in the unofficial second half, posting a 1.79 ERA and 3.01 FIP while picking up four wins. Michael Salfino of The Athletic compared Quantrill to Lucas Giolito. So, is he a sneaky pickup?
Quantrill has gotten extremely lucky over this span. He’s left 80.5% of runners on base, and his HR/FB rate is a minuscule 6.8%. To give you some perspective, the great Max Scherzer’s HR/FB rate this year is 8.6%. Quantrill won’t sustain either of those marks moving forward. Although his strikeout rate has climbed to a monthly-high 23.1% in August, he hasn’t done much in that way all season (21.1%).
He does have a couple of above-average pitches. His slider is nasty, recording a .241 xwOBA and 38% whiff rate in August and even better numbers in July. However, the rest of the xStats show that he’s been more lucky than good, especially with his sinker. Part of his breakout is due to ditching his four-seamer to up his sinker usage, which has worked out great for him — his sinker has a 10.1 pVAL. My concern is that this pitch is mainly a “pitch-to-contact” offering rather than one that he can get past hitters.
Quantrill will be a hyped pitcher in 2020 drafts, but expect his “luck stats” to regress to the mean. For this year, his ERA should regress to 4.00 the rest of the way. In this environment, that’s not bad. Just don’t expect much better.
Bryan Reynolds (OF – PIT)
Reynolds has been on a tear in his rookie campaign, posting a .291/.366/.485 slash line and 122 wRC+ since the All-Star break. On a larger scale, he is challenging for the batting title with a .323 average … on the heels of an absolutely ridiculous, unsustainable .397 BABIP.
Sure, Reynolds has better indicators of a solid average than a few guys below him on this list, but his expected batting average (xBA) is nearly 30 percentage points lower than his actual average. Although his average exit velocity of 90.2 mph puts him in the top-30 percentile, it still doesn’t support that insane BABIP.
His homer rate is decent (13 over 404 plate appearances), and he has an above-average HR/FB (16.3%) rate that’s good for 78th in all of baseball. The problem is he hits the ball in the air just 30 percent of the time. Combine that with the reeling Pirates tied for 27th with an 80 wRC+ since the break, and Reynolds won’t offer much in the way of counting stats moving forward. You can pick him up in about half of leagues, and he would make for a solid fourth outfielder, but don’t expect much more than an empty average.
Hanser Alberto (2B/3B/SS – BAL)
Alberto’s strong output since the All-Star break (.339/.362/.537, 135 wRC+) has put him on some fantasy radars, especially in 15-team leagues and deeper. He is a known as a lefty-masher, batting .405/.419/.530 against them this year. However, he has gotten supremely lucky to date. Against those lefties’ fastballs, the difference between his batting average and xBA is nearly 150 percentage points! That gap in slugging percentage (SLG) versus xSLG is even worse — nearly 200 percentage points against fastballs.
Alberto typically puts the ball in play (8.7% K rate, 3.1% BB rate since the ASB), but he doesn’t exactly hit the ball with authority. Baseball Savant has him in the bottom two percent of exit velocity (83.1 mph) and hard-hit rate (18.8%). As a result, his .340 second-half BABIP should come crashing back to earth. Alberto should be rostered in deeper daily-moves leagues so he can rake against lefties, but he’s not worth picking up in anything shallower than a 15-teamer.
Mark Canha (1B/OF – OAK)
Canha has had a breakout season of sorts, hitting 19 homers with an elite walk rate. He has turned it on since the All-Star break, hitting .309/.406/.545 with seven bombs. However, that second-half success is backed by an unsustainable .403 BABIP and 24.1% HR/FB rate. His average exit velocity and hard-hit rate in July and August are right around league-average, so there’s nothing that indicates he can keep this up.
Canha has not been shifted on much this year (just 60 at-bats), despite pulling the ball 55% of the time. If he continues to be pull-happy, expect more shifts moving forward. The average should then creep back down to his .245 career mark.
The last piece of data to look at are his xStats. He mashes fastballs, much like the rest of the league — a .324 xBA and .647 xSLG in August are fantastic. But he’s posted 32.5% and 42% whiff rates on breaking and off-speed pitches, respectively. My guess is that he sees more secondary pitches thrown throughout the rest of the year, further bringing him back to earth.
All Systems Go
Didi Gregorius (SS – NYY)
Gregorius has not replicated his monster 2018 season, but he’s heating up in the second half. With seven dingers and 29 RBIs since July 11, he is certainly helping fantasy owners. However, he’s only posted a 94 wRC+ during this stretch. What is going on?
Folks, it’s the BABIP. A .243 BABIP in this period has almost nowhere to go but up. Naturally, his average will follow. His 3.9% walk rate is more half below last year’s 8.4, and I’m willing to chalk that up to him still finding his footing after his elbow injury.
Gregorius has never been a sabermetrics darling (just a 30.6% hard-hit rate this year and 36% last year), but his pull-happy profile and 16-degree average launch angle are perfect for Yankee Stadium. Since August 14, the shortstop has not hit lower than fifth. He should provide great counting stats the rest of the way while boosting his .265 batting average. Owned in just 65% of ESPN leagues, you may still have the chance to scoop him up and enjoy the fruits of your work.
Marco Gonzales (SP – SEA)
I swore off Gonzales after his six-run outing against the Cubs over 1.2 innings back in May … and in his eight-run game against the Rangers… and his 10-run outing against the Angels the next time out. You can’t blame me.
I wish I didn’t do that, because Gonzales has since turned a corner, allowing more than three earned runs just twice in his last 13 starts. He gets a pass for yielding four against the Astros, so his only true clunker came when giving up six to the A’s on July 16. Even still, his 4.30 ERA is unpleasant.
However, his 3.96 FIP tells the truer story. His .354 BABIP since the break is extremely unlucky, and he has otherwise limited the damage with a 13.9% HR/FB rate and 74.1% strand rate. His changeup has gotten much better results recently (both in actual and expected metrics), and he’s used his below-average cutter less often. Gonzales makes for a solid streamer at home, and I would expect his ERA to fall right around 4.00 the rest of the way. I would prefer Quantrill in a vacuum, but Gonzales can certainly be a great play in the right matchup.
Kyle Gibson (SP – MIN)
The Twins have a ton of games remaining against the AL Central’s bottom-feeders, and Gibson should feast. Similar to Gonzales, Gibson has put up a 5.08 ERA since the break, but his 4.14 FIP and 3.98 xFIP paint a different picture. Unlike Gonzales, he has gotten unlucky in the strand rate and homer department, which stands at 61.4% and 17.2%, respectively. Gross. In terms of xwOBA, he has been unlucky on nearly all of his pitches in July and August. Of course, these stats are reflective, not predictive. We can’t assume he will positively regress, but based on his past work and the quality of opponents he is facing, his luck should even out.
Gibson’s K rate after the break is a mediocre 19.7%, and his walk rate is merely playable at 8.6%. Since he gets the Tigers in his next two starts, he’s worth a speculative pickup in all leagues if you need ratios and wins help.