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Positive & Negative Regression Candidates: Week 7 (2020 Fantasy Baseball)

by Mike Maher | @mikeMaher | Featured Writer
Sep 7, 2020

Taijuan Walker offers a mixed bag of red flags and promising metrics.

Welcome to the home stretch, friends. We only have a few weeks left in our shortened baseball season, and the trade deadline is in the rearview mirror in most leagues.

In these last few regression articles, we’re going to focus on players who might be available on waivers, players who are struggling but should be given a longer leash, and players whose luck is about to run out.

View your league’s top available players with My Playbook >>

Negative Regression Candidates

Taijuan Walker (SP  – TOR)
In Walker’s first two starts with the Blue Jays, he is 1-0 while allowing two earned runs over 11 2/3 innings on 10 hits and four walks while striking out eight. His ERA is down to 3.26 on the season, and his ownership percentage is on the rise as we fantasy owners look for rotation help down the stretch.

I have concerns.

If you pore over his Fangraphs and Statcast pages, you’ll find a mixed bag of red flags and promising metrics. The good: he is limiting barrels and hard hits at an above-average rate, his xWOBA is precisely league average, and his xSLG is right there, too, and a tweaked pitch mix seems to be leading to positive results.

The bad: his FIP (4.62), xFIP (4.79), and xERA (4.09) all indicate that at least some moderate regression is coming for his 3.26 ERA. His .236 BABIP, fastball velocity, whiff rate, and strikeout numbers tend to agree.

But here is another concern: Walker had Tommy John surgery in 2018 and threw exactly one inning in 2019 after tossing 13 innings in 2018. He’s at 38 2/3 innings so far in 2020. It’s impressive that he is pitching as well as he is after all of that time off, but will he begin to tire down for the Blue Jays as he continues to pitch meaningful innings for the next three starts?

Here is the other issue, the Blue Jays are playing the Yankees a ton down the stretch. As we sit here today, his next two starts are scheduled to come against the Yankees, and the third is going to be against either the Yankees or the Phillies. Those aren’t matchups I want to rely upon through the last few weeks of the season.

Hanser Alberto (2B/3B/SS  – BAL)
Let’s try an experiment. If I showed you this Statcast page without context, would you think that player is having a good season?

When I see Exit Velocity and Hard Hit numbers in the first and second percentiles, all I can think of is Ron Burgundy talking to his dog Baxter after Baxter ate an entire wheel of cheese: I’m not even mad. That’s amazing.

Anyway, Hanser Alberto is batting .320 and is owned in the majority of leagues. He doesn’t walk at all (five total in 156 plate appearances) but bats leadoff and has scored 26 runs in 35 games for fantasy owners this season.

But since he offers no power and minimal speed (two stolen bases this season and four in 139 games last season), there is no real upside with Alberto. And since his .320 average is based on merely putting the ball in play and hoping for the best, it could fall off a cliff at any moment.

His xBA of .263 is nearly a 40 point drop, and his high BABIP and approach at the plate (which is essentially “don’t strike out”) is prone to streakiness. Consider this: while he finished the 2019 season with a .305 batting average, he batted .237 in September/October.

For the last few weeks, you’re better off taking a swing on someone who offers more upside and can run into a home run or swipe the occasional base. Alberto’s ceiling is a decent batting average, and some runs scored, while his floor practically an empty spot in your lineup.

Positive Regression Candidates

Carlos Santana (1B/DH  – CLE)
Ah, Carlos Santana. The metrics darling, the contemporary king of walks. Santana’s numbers are all over the place this season. While he is an OBP league hero, his batting average has fluctuated over the years. But he always offered plus-power, and fantasy owners new, for the most part, what they were getting.

This year has been a little different. The numbers are alarming. Consider these numbers that Matt Kelly tweeted out a few weeks ago:

Since then, that OBP has dropped significantly, while the average and slugging percentages are in the same ballpark. Not great. In the last week alone, Santana is 2-for-30 with eight strikeouts. Again, not great.

But the Indians continue to run him out there in the cleanup spot every day, and I think fantasy owners should show similar faith down the stretch. His .218 BABIP indicates at least some good luck should be coming his way, and this isn’t a hitter who should be below the Mendoza Line:

While his Hard Hit and Barrel numbers are down from his outstanding 2019 campaign, these aren’t terrible numbers. Santana’s fly ball numbers are up, while his HR/FB % dropped from an unsustainable 19.3% in 2019 to 9.1% in 2020, which is well below his career average of 14.1%.

If you drafted Santana this year, you are better off riding things out with him down the stretch than you would be if you went dumpster diving in the September waiver wire. Better times are ahead.

Yusei Kikuchi (SP  – SEA)
Yusei Kikuchi’s transition to MLB hasn’t exactly been smooth. After pitching to a 5.46 ERA over 161 2/3 innings in 2019, he has a 5.23 ERA in 2020.

But there is one crucial difference. While the underlying numbers indicated that Kikuchi mostly got what he deserved in 2019, the 2020 numbers tell a different story:

2019

  • ERA: 5.46
  • FIP: 5.71
  • xFIP: 5.18
  • xERA: 5.47

But in 2020:

  • ERA: 5.23
  • FIP: 2.76
  • xFIP: 3.06
  • xERA: 3.22

In 2020, Kikuchi’s expected statistics are much more favorable. And that is because he is missing more bats, generating weaker contact, keeping the ball on the ground, and introduced a new wrinkle to his pitch mix. Consider these colorful graphics for reference:

In case you were wonder, blue is bad. And dark blue is terrible. And in 2019, Kikuchi was a mix of bad and very bad. But in 2020:

Quite the difference, right? While he struggled in 2019, he has been the victim of some bad luck in 2020. And he also introduced this wrinkle. What do you see in the below 2020 numbers vs. the 2019 ones?

In 2020, Kikuchi is throwing his cutter more than any other pitch after not throwing one at all in 2019. And it’s working, as opposing batters are hitting just .224 (.222 xBA) against the pitch.

So, while the Mariners aren’t exactly a team you want to put your faith in down the stretch, Kikuchi is a pitcher doing some good things who’s available in more than 75% of leagues. If you need an arm for the back of your rotation, he’s a pitcher worth grabbing.

View your league’s top available players with My Playbook >>


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Mike Maher is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him on Twitter @mikemaher.

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