For as much as we want to identify sleepers and value picks who can help us win a fantasy baseball league, we need to give equal respect to those players who can sink a team. They are the busts.
This article isn’t necessarily geared toward highlighting the players we should avoid altogether. Instead, it will focus on the numbers and how they are expected to drift back toward the mean — negatively regress from a point that was inflated.
There may still be some value in targeting someone from this list, but just be aware that you are probably paying a premium and won’t get a healthy return on investment.
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2023 Negative Regression Candidates
Paul Goldschmidt (1B – STL)
Let’s start with arguably the most difficult name to list in the same sentence as “negative.” Paul Goldschmidt, the reigning National League Most Valuable Player, should have a worse 2023 season than he did in 2022.
But is that really a surprise?
Goldschmidt batted an outstanding .317 with 35 home runs, both of which were the second-highest marks of his 12-year career. He exploded for his first MVP award at age 34 — he had finished second in the voting twice and third once — and led the National League in wOBA — weighted on-base average.
The reality is that we aren’t preparing for a bad season from Goldschmidt, but, in the nature of this article, we have to view the majority of his numbers from last season as comparative high points where he should only regress back to the mean from there.
Alek Manoah (SP – TOR)
We’re not splitting any atoms by looking at a player who finished with 16 wins and a 2.24 ERA and arguing that he has a negative regression looming, but it is worth noting so that we can approach him carefully in our drafts. Alek Manoah simply had an extraordinary season, and, in looking at the numbers alone, it is too much to ask him to repeat it.
What’s most concerning for Manoah isn’t the likelihood of an increased ERA. It’s the strikeout rate that dropped from 10.24 batters per nine innings to less than one batter per inning. Fantasy managers can usually accept some tradeoff between ERA and strikeout rate, but if both go in the wrong direction, Manoah will likely underperform relative to his average draft position — and clearly put together a worse season than he had in 2022.
There is some good news, though. Manoah increased his fastball velocity and decreased his walk rate. If his ERA does, indeed, rise, it might not be too catastrophic.
Xander Bogaerts (SS – SD)
The San Diego Padres made another massive splash this offseason when they signed Xander Bogaerts to an eleven-year deal. Perhaps the longevity of this contract isn’t a concern, where the long timeframe allows Bogaerts to eventually settle in and see his numbers stabilize. For the first year, however, there should be some fear that Bogaerts and the Padres are going to share in some growing pains.
Bogaerts ended last season with a .307 batting average, the third-highest in the American League. The problem is that his expected batting average was only 0.259. The difference between the two is the second-largest among all hitters who had at least 300 plate appearances. Conveniently, the only player with a bigger negative difference from the expected to actual batting average was the aforementioned Goldschmidt.
It doesn’t end there for Bogaerts. His BABIP — batting average on balls-in-play — exploded to .362, the second-highest of his career. The only other time he eclipsed that number was in 2015, and he followed it up with a drop in batting average of 24 points the following year.
Bogaerts generally doesn’t hit for power, and he hasn’t stolen double-digit bases since 2017. His greatest asset is his high batting average and if that drops, so does his fantasy stock.
Jordan Romano (RP – TOR)
Let’s make it clear. We are not picking on Toronto Blue Jays pitchers — after listing Alek Manoah prior in this article. This is simply a numbers game, and the relief pitcher who jumped off the screen because of negative regression concerns is Jordan Romano.
Romano tallied the fourth-most saves in Major League Baseball — which, in itself, is a statistic largely driven by opportunity and, like wins, isn’t entirely in the pitcher’s control — but he also blew six save chances on the year. He did manage a strikeout rate of 10.27 batters-per-nine-innings, but that was a drop of almost 2 batters-per-nine-innings from each of his prior three seasons.
The key to Romano’s appearance on this list is his xERA and xFIP compared to his actual ERA and FIP. His surface numbers were excellent, with a 2.11 ERA and 2.82 FIP, but the expected values of each were 3.31 and 3.44, respectively. If he were to approach those numbers, his reputation as one of the game’s top-end closers would crumble.
Jose Urquidy (SP – HOU)
Jose Urquidy’s actual ERA of 3.94 was not necessarily outstanding, but it would be considered a reasonable starting point if he were to work the number down from there. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
Urquidy’s expected ERA from 2022 was 4.56, which was coincidentally close to his FIP of 4.60. In drawing a conclusion from these two numbers, his actual ERA might have been on the fortunate side of the scale.
The oddity in Urquidy’s ’22 season was that he increased his fastball velocity by a decent margin but decreased his strikeout rate and pushed his walk rate to more than two batters per nine innings. His home run rate also hit a career-high. There are enough warning signs with Urquidy where we have to exercise caution before selecting him in a draft.
Julio Rodriguez (OF – SEA)
When we look for a player to deliver on a high prospect pedigree, we are going to turn to Julio Rodriguez. He had been one of the top prospects of the Seattle Mariners for years and, when given a chance to shine on the biggest stage, did not disappoint. Rodriguez contributed in every category and promptly won the American League Rookie of the Year Award.
He’s also only 22 years old.
Everything about Rodriguez and his rookie season points to a bright future. But, if we are focusing on the numbers and only confining the outlook to 2023, we might want to take a step back before investing so heavily into Rodriguez’s sophomore season.
In 2021, Randy Arozarena and Jonathan India won the American and National League Rookie of the Year Awards, respectively. Simplifying their values to one number, each player decreases his Offensive WAR from ’21 to ’22. The year before that, it was Kyle Lewis and Devin Williams, and while Williams was able to avoid the drop in WAR, his ERA raised from 0.33 to 2.50. Lewis dropped to the point that he is now on the Minor League roster of the Diamondbacks.
The transition from exceptional rookie to disappointing sophomore isn’t a guarantee, but neither is the ability to maintain playing at a high rate following a Rookie of the Year campaign. For Rodriguez, we also see this in numbers, as he outperformed the majority of his expected statistics. He is the unfortunate perfect storm of negative regression.
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Mario Mergola is a featured writer at FantasyPros and BettingPros and the creator and content editor of Sporfolio. For more from Mario, check out his archive and follow him @MarioMergola.