Regression Candidates: Marcell Ozuna, Nolan Arenado, Brandon Drury (2022 Fantasy Baseball)
Welcome to another edition of “Regression Candidates,” where we dig into some analytics each week to identify two players due to heat up and two likely to cool down. The MLB season is in the final stretch, and trade deadlines are approaching in most leagues. So, over the next two weeks, we’ll take a last look for 2022 at some players whose numbers suggest a positive or negative regression may be coming over the final weeks.
This week the focus will be on hitters using season-to-date Statcast data. Below are two hitters whose production lags their “expected” stats, along with two who appear to be over-achieving. For each, we’ll show their YTD actual and “x” stats (through Saturday, August 13), along with some trade value recommendations. If you need help with definitions, check out our sabermetrics glossary.
Positive Regression Candidates
Ozuna’s power production isn’t bad (20 HRs, 46 RBI), but his batting average has been a drain on fantasy teams this season, pulling his VBR down to 120 among hitters. However, his Statcast estimates across the board indicate he’s been the victim of some bad luck this season (or karma, if you are so inclined). It’s not just his BACON (like BABIP, except with HRs) either. His HardHit and Barrel percentages are in line with his career norms.
If things even out for Ozuna, he could be in for a strong finish. As he plays in a potent offense, the RBI opportunities could blossom. It doesn’t hurt that the Braves have six more games with the Nationals, either. In terms of trade value, he’s worth dangling an Austin Hays or Lourdes Guerriel type if you need power.
Kepler’s HardHit and Barrel rates aren’t much different this season than in 2019 when he slugged 36 HRs and drove in 90 runs. This season, though, he only has nine dingers and 39 RBI to date. Some of this is likely the result of the change in baseballs, but Kepler is a better hitter than he’s shown. His 14.9% strikeout rate and 11.6% walk rate suggest an excellent batting eye and support his xBA of .269. The Statcast estimates suggest he’ll improve down the stretch, making him a viable waiver add or trade candidate.
Given his VBR of 179, it shouldn’t take much to pry Kepler away from a fellow league manager – and that’s if he’s not already on your waiver wire. He is probably worth a Mark Canha or Yuli Guerriel, two players with higher VBRs whose expected stats are lower than their actuals.
Negative Regression Candidates
Like his teammate, Paul Goldschmidt, Arenado is having a monster 2022 season. Also, like Goldy, he appears to have had a fair amount of good fortune. Arenado’s Statcast numbers are still excellent, just not MVP-level. Should the law of averages catch up to him, he could be in for a cool September. Arenado has traditionally exceeded his Statcast estimates, but most of his career was spent in Colorado, which pads everyone’s stats.
It would be pretty gutsy to trade Arendo the way he’s been playing. He’s ranked 15th among hitters in our VBR this season. To move him, you’d have to get someone major back in return. Perhaps a superstar who has not lived up to expectations this year like Juan Soto or Ronald Acuna Jr.?
Brandon Drury has had an amazing 2022, setting career highs in HRs, runs, RBI, and even SBs (with two) already with seven weeks to go. He played so well with the Reds that they moved him at the deadline to the playoff-potential Padres. With Fernando Tatis Jr. (SS, OF – SD) now ruled out for the year, his playing time should be secure. However, the data suggest some regression may be coming as his Statcast estimates are lower across the board.
Even if Drury cools off down the stretch, fantasy managers have gotten all they could ask for from him this season. His multi-positional eligibility alone makes him a valuable commodity. With the Padres, his average has dropped, but he’s still been an excellent run producer with three HRs and 12 RBI. Don’t give him away expecting him to crater, but if you can turn him into a bonafide hitter with a longer track record, then consider it. How about Teoscar Hernandez, Alex Bregman or even Ryan Mountcastle? Those names would’ve seemed crazy in April, but Drury’s VBR of 23 and positional eligibility make him a valuable trade chip.
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy baseball, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Baseball Tools as you navigate your season. From our Lineup Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup, based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant – that allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team, and by how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy baseball season.