Positive & Negative Regression Candidates (Fantasy Baseball)
Welcome to the last regression article of the season! We’ll explore a past stud that you are hesitant to start down the stretch, tempering expectations for some middle infielders, and coming to a conclusion on three volatile pitchers.
Oh, and a not-so-hot take on Ivan Nova. He doesn’t need his own section — we know who he is. Don’t expect him to keep leading the league in ERA. In case you need more advice, read on.
Rhys Hoskins (1B – PHI)
Hoskins is stuck in a rut, hitting just .170/.343/.348 since the All-Star break (and killing my TGFBI team in the process). There’s been talk since the beginning of the season that Hoskins was overvalued, and his lack of pedigree and perceived skillset wouldn’t play up in fantasy. The haters appear to be right…for now.
We know that Hoskins will never hit for a high average, but that .170 average is coming from a ridiculous .191 BABIP. We know that even for Hoskins, it is bound to positively regress. It’s not like he’s striking out a ton either (21% K-rate), and it is like he is walking a ton (19% BB-rate). His average exit velocity of 88.7 MPH is right in line with league average and is just .4 MPH below his season-long exit velocity. This is leading to his August expected batting average to be 80 percentage points above his actual average, and his expected slugging is 150 percentage points above his actual slug. Frankly, he’s been poor against all type of pitches, so we can’t pinpoint a certain type of pitch that is killing him (a la Jose Ramirez on breaking balls in the 2018 second half). Given the launch angle (25-degree average) and league-average exit velocity, I’m expecting a homer barrage from Hoskins to close out 2019. That whole rabbit ball thing won’t hurt his chances.
Middle Infield Backslides
Jonathan Villar (2B/SS – BAL)
Villar has been mashing major league pitching since the All-Star break, hitting ten bombs and swiping 11 bags. His .314/.389/.556 slash line in that span is even better than his breakout 2016 campaign. This second-half surge has pushed him to the top spot in the second base ranks in OBP leagues. Not a bad guy to ride a playoff title to, or so it would seem.
If you’ve read this article even semi-regularly this year, you know that there is bad news coming, so let’s just get it out of the way. Villar’s 27.4% K-rate is above league-average, and we should expect it to stay there for the remainder of the season, based on his previous seasons. He’s whiffed on 44% of breaking pitches he’s swung at in August, and 35% on offspeed pitches. Despite the 12 homers, he isn’t hitting the ball hard – just look at his 87.4 MPH average exit velocity since July 11, which is right in line with his season-long exit velo. That’s also below league average. This is leading to his August expected batting average and slugging percentage to both be well below his actual slash line. I’m not saying to bench Villar, but we should be expecting serious negative regression in the fantasy playoffs.
Amed Rosario (SS – NYM)
Everyone has been naming Rosario to be the closest replacement we can find on the waiver wire for Fernando Tatis Jr. This was based on his hot streak since the break – a .348/.382/.500 slash line will certainly play. He’s not providing too much power (just three homers), but the five stolen bases and the extra-base hits are helping offset that. Batting leadoff over the last two weeks for the red-hot Mets has also led to a nice bump in runs. But, do we think it will last?
While he is hitting the ball hard in the unofficial second half (90 MPH average exit velocity), I’m concerned with his BABIP. No matter the way you slice, a .403 BABIP is unsustainable. Much like Villar, his expected batting average and slugging percentage are both well below where they currently sit. Most of his damage is coming against fastballs, given his incompetence on offspeed pitches (.171 xWOBA) and breaking balls (.247 xWOBA).
His ability to make contact on balls in the zone (95.7%) definitely mitigates his ability to fall into a slump, along with his 15.6% K-rate in the second half. Rosario certainly has the pedigree to breakout, but I’m expecting a .265/.325/.435 slash line the rest of the way. Buying in on Rosario is fine, but make sure to be aware of other hot-hitting shortstops left on the wire.
The Great Pitcher Divide
Dinelson Lamet (SD – SP)
Lamet has somewhat quietly been improving since he came back from Tommy John surgery in the second half, posting a 4.17 ERA with a 30% K-rate. The reason why I’m expecting even better numbers is that after a few clunkers to begin his season, he’s posted four consecutive tolerable starts, with the last two coming against the Phillies on the road and the Red Sox at home. He’s also been a bit unlucky, what with a .320 BABIP and 14.7% HR/FB rate. His FIP and xFIP both are approximately .4 runs below his current ERA as a result. If Lamet can get his walks a bit more under control (3.95/9), he should be able to post respectable ratios while pushing you up in strikeouts. Getting over 45% whiffs on both your slider and curveball means that you have nasty secondary pitches. He also ranks in the top 12 percent in fastball velocity. He also is in the top 33 percent in hard-hit rate, meaning that he generates a fair share of soft contact. In short, all the tools are there for him to be a league-winner down the stretch.
Given Lamet’s injury history, we can expect the Padres to be careful with him. But, we know that he won’t be getting his innings managed like Chris Paddack or Cal Quantrill will. If nothing else, take this as your first alarm on Lamet for 2020 redraft leagues.
Masahiro Tanaka (NYY – SP)
Some people may have given up on Tanaka, and I can’t blame them. You don’t have to look further than his most recent start against Oakland, giving up five runs over six innings in The Coliseum. Or the five runs allowed against the Orioles. I guess this conversation can’t continue without mentioning the 12 runs he gave up in London either. Just brutal.
Don’t get scared off for good, not just yet. From a data perspective, it appears that the four-seamer is the issue, with a .390 xWOBA in August and an unsightly .500 xWOBA in August. Being thrown at just 92 MPH with just a 2.2% whiff rate in August, it’s not surprising that he has run into trouble. My guess is that an analytically-inclined team like the Yankees have already identified this and will adjust Tanaka’s approach heading into his starts down the stretch. His renown sinker is still doing well (.338 xSLG in August and .350 in July), and his slider has a 37% whiff rate in August. He still has the skills to be an acceptable SP3/SP4 on your roster.
He’s also gotten incredibly unlucky since the All-Star break, as indicated by his 58% strand rate and 16% HR/FB rate. That should regress to the mean as we head down the stretch. He gets the Mariners on the road in his next start, and I’m expecting him to post a quality start and win against a very depleted lineup. After that, the Yankees schedule isn’t too daunting, with the Red Sox being his only avoidable matchup through the end of the season.
Dakota Hudson (SP – STL)
A lot of players are hopping on the Hudson bandwagon after not allowing a run over his last three starts, picking up wins each time out. However, we need to expect severe regression for the fantasy playoffs. Two of those three starts came against the Rockies at home and the Royals on the road, so not exactly world-beaters. Sometimes we have to rein ourselves in.
Peering into the data, it appears that he has been very lucky in the second half. Since the All-Star break, he has a .269 BABIP, 83% strand rate, and a 19% HR/FB rate. Yes, that HR/FB rate is unlucky, but that strand rate will go down, and the BABIP should naturally rise since he is a groundball pitcher. That screams negative regression.
The thing I’m worried about the most is the walks. If we thought Lamet walked too many batters, you’ll shriek at Hudson’s 4.72 BB/9. He’s not striking many guys out either – he has a 19% K-rate, backed up by a 9.8% swinging-strike rate. There is no doubt that his secondary offerings generate whiffs, but throwing the sinker 48% of the time, as he does now, limits his strikeout upside. As a result, both his FIP and xFIP are nearly a full 1.5 runs over his current ERA in that span. I would rather have Sandy Alcantara rest of season than Hudson.