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Regression Candidates: Christian Walker, Will Smith, Paul Goldschmidt (2022 Fantasy Baseball)

by Scott Youngson | @jscottyoungson | Featured Writer
Jun 20, 2022
Christian Walker

Don’t let the batting average scare you – Christian Walker is on his way up.

Welcome to another edition of “Positive & Negative Regression,” where we dig into some analytics each week to identify two players due to heat up and two likely to cool down. This week we’ll look at some hitters whose Statcast expected statistics vary widely from their actual performance.

As usual, we’ll start on a positive note with two hitters who look due for some positive regression. As a reminder, all stats are through Saturday, June 18, and you can find definitions in our Sabermetrics Glossary.

Positive Regression Candidates

Christian Walker (1B – ARI) 

2022 5×5 Stats
16 28 33 0 .196

Walker’s 16 HRs are excellent, and 33 RBI isn’t too bad, albeit a bit low for that many dingers. However, his BA is dreadfully low and scares fantasy managers off, as reflected by his relatively low roster %. So the question is whether he can continue hitting for power while raising his batting average. If the Statcast numbers are any indication, the answer is “Yes.” Take a look:

Stat Actual Expected
ISO .261 .335
BA .196 .275
SLG .457 .610
BACON .256 .359

Walker’s expected power metrics (xISO, xSLG) are significantly higher than his actuals (ISO, SLG), indicating that his 16 HRs are no fluke. If anything, he’s been unlucky in this regard. Walker is squaring the ball up well this season, and his Barrel% of 15.3% is thirteenth in the league among qualified batters.

In addition, his BA and BACON (BABIP + HR) are lagging his xBA and xBACON by a fair amount. His BACON of .256 is, in fact, seventh-worst in the league. This indicates that the batting average will bounce back, assuming he keeps hitting the ball as hard as he has to date.

If Walker is still out there in your league, he’s worth adding. He’s also a great buy-low candidate for a manager frustrated by his low BA.

Will Smith (C – LAD) 

2022 5×5 Stats
8 25 29 0 .236

Smith hasn’t been terrible but hasn’t delivered to his draft status, ranking eighth in VBR among catchers this season. Like Walker, he’s been better than the story the stats are telling, particularly in the power department:

Stat Actual Expected
ISO .170 .282
BA .236 .294
SLG .407 .576
BACON .287 .358

Smith’s xISO and xSLG are in the top 20 among all hitters, ahead of several players with more than double his eight HRs, including Anthony Rizzo (1B – NYY), C.J. Cron (1B, DH – COL), and teammate Mookie Betts (2B, OF – LAD). He will start hitting more dingers; it’s just a matter of time.

Smith has also been unlucky in the average department as his high xBA/xBACON and low BACON show. His excellent command of the strike zone, he whiffs only 15.6% of the time while walking 12.8%, should help his BA in the long run. Though his speed may keep him from legging out infield hits, expect his batting average to climb as the season progresses.

If you need catching help, Smith makes for an excellent buy-low trade target.

Negative Regression Candidates

Paul Goldschmidt (1B – STL) 

2022 5×5 Stats
16 48 58 3 .346

Goldy had an unbelievable May, pushing to the top of the VBR. His Statcast numbers are very good, just not nearly as good as his actuals:

Stat Actual Expected
ISO .280 .280
BA .346 .284
SLG .626 .563
BACON .438 .360

When you have put up the kind of numbers Goldschmidt has this season, it’s hard to go anywhere but down. Thus, he probably will regress in batting average, as his xBA/BACON/xBACON stats indicate. He’s an excellent hitter, however, and is only striking out 18.7% of the time. As such, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him finish the year above .300.

His power, on the other hand, may not dissipate. While his SLG looks slightly elevated, his ISO and xISO are identical. His Barrel% and Hard Hit% are top 30 in the league, so while some cooling may occur here, it may not be too dramatic.

If Goldschmidt is on your roster, you may want to hold onto him unless you get a Top 10 hitter back in a trade. His numbers will fade some, but he should continue to be solid and pay off as a bargain relative to where you drafted him.

Manny Machado (3B, DH – SD) 

2022 5×5 Stats
12 48 46 7 .329

Machado presents another case of good, but not this good:

Stat Actual Expected
ISO .218 .195
BA .329 .288
SLG .548 .483
BACON .403 .355

Machado has been incredibly consistent this season, so his numbers aren’t elevated by a hot streak ala Goldschmidt. However, the Statcast metrics indicate some regression is likely, particularly in the batting average department, where he’s been a bit fortunate. His BACON is eighth highest in the league, and his BA to xBA variance is fourth highest.

The other concern with Machado is his Barrel%, which at 6.8% is below league average. This means he’s not squaring the ball up and driving it consistently with the optimal exit velocity and launch angle, which could be a problem if it doesn’t improve.

Chances are Machado will hit a cold spell at some point this year, and his numbers will reset closer to his norm. However, this is not a terrible place to be, as his norm is still excellent. He’s a modest sell-high candidate at this time, but holding him is not a bad option either. Even with some regression, he’s still pretty darn good.

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