Negative Regression Candidates (2022 Fantasy Baseball)
A number of players outplayed their metrics last season. Here are a few players who are candidates for negative regression heading into the 2022 season.
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Nicky Lopez (SS – KC)
Lopez batted .300 last season, but his batting average appears to have been inflated due to a .347 BABIP. A BABIP that high can be sustainable in certain circumstances – when a player is speedy and has a high infield hit rate, or a high line drive rate – but it does not appear that Nicky Lopez fits that mold. He also had the largest negative gap between his batting average and his xBA (.239) of all qualified hitters in the MLB. Fantasy managers should mitigate expectations for Lopez heading into 2022.
Austin Riley (3B – ATL)
Riley made a huge jump in his third year in the majors. He finished with 33 home runs, 91 runs, 107 RBI, and a .303 batting average. His power is legit, but several factors suggest his batting average will regress this year. He had a .368 BABIP, which was the highest of all qualified third basemen in 2021, and he had a .279 xBA. Do not plan on another .300 batting average season for Riley.
Randy Arozarena (OF – TB)
He is a hot pick in fantasy leagues this season, but he appeared to be very fortunate last season in several ways. His .350 wOBA and .299 xwOBA was the largest negative gap of all qualified hitters last year. He is another player with a high BABIP from last year (.363), which likely buoyed his .274 AVG. Arozarena had a 49% ground ball rate and a 69% contact rate last season, both of which match his career averages, and both of which give credence to his .220 xBA.
Nick Castellanos (OF – FA)
2021 was arguably the best season of his career. He hit more than 30 home runs for the first time and finished with a batting average over .300 for the first time as well. Unless he ends up back in Cincinnati or in another extremely hitter-friendly park, fantasy managers should expect a dip in power next season. He had a 46% hard-hit rate last year, the highest of his career, but that was the only notable change in any of his batted-ball and hard-contact metrics compared to any of his other seasons. He had a 35.8% fly ball rate, the third lowest of his career, but managed a 22.8% HR/FB rate (8% higher than his career average), suggesting he was very fortunate in terms of home runs. Last year, 23 of his 34 home runs were hit in The Great American Ballpark, the fifth most hitter-friendly park in baseball.
Javier Baez (SS – DET)
Baez finished 2021 with a .265 batting average and 31 home runs, both of which were better than what his advanced metrics suggested. He had a 28.2% HR/FB rate last year, which was third highest in baseball among qualified hitters and nearly 8% higher than his career average. That alone suggests he is unlikely to repeat the power output from last year, but he also signed with Detroit and will now play in baseball’s sixth-worst hitters park from 2021. Additionally, he had the third highest chase rate (46.6%), the lowest contact rate (62.2%), and the highest swinging strike rate (21.7%) among qualified hitters last year, to go along with a .241 xBA.
Kevin Gausman (SP – TOR)
2021 was an incredible year for Gausman. He finished with a 2.81 ERA and 227 strikeouts, both career bests. The pitching coaches in San Francisco seemed to unlock something with him that his previous teams could not. Despite his successful season on the surface, he was among the top 10 pitchers in the highest barrel rate allowed to hitters. Additionally, he had a lower-than-usual BABIP, which suggests some regression is coming. The American League East features several top hitters parks, according to MLB Park Factors. Plan for Gausman to come back down to earth in 2022.
Robbie Ray (SP – SEA)
Similar to Gausman, Robbie Ray had a career year in 2021. He finished with career bests in ERA, BB/9, and strikeouts. He also had the second-lowest BABIP of his career, an astronomical 90% left on base rate (he averages 76.9%), and a 1.54 HR/9 rate. Despite the 2.81 ERA, all of the advanced ERA metrics were all between 3.20 and 3.70. Ray allowed the highest average exit velocity and hard-hit rate among qualified pitchers, as well as the second-highest barrel rate. He tweaked a few pitches and leaned more on his fastball/slider combination and less on his curveball, but that likely will not be enough for him to repeat what he did last season.
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