MLB - Fantasy Baseball - 2013 Regression/Bounce back Candidates
2013 Regression Candidates
The "R-Word" strikes fear in the heart of every fantasy baseball owner. It causes us to second guess the statistics we see and greatly impacts our pre-season projections, opinions, rankings and ultimately who we select on draft day. The simplest definition of regression from a fantasy baseball standpoint is that a player will see their statistics decline from the previous year.
The key to identifying regression candidates is to look for hitters or pitchers who posted numbers that are inflated above a players career average, for example a career .260 hitter out of nowhere batting .320 over the same number of at-bats, a player who has never eclipsed 15 home runs, all of a sudden slugging 30 in a season, or a pitcher who has never posted gaudy strikeout totals all of a sudden experiences a spike in strikeouts. These are dramatic examples, but fit the criteria for a statistical regression to the players career average. When analyzing and attempting to predict regression candidates, you need to carefully examine each player individually and try to determine why the player put up the "high or unexpected" numbers they did the year prior.
For example, a high batting average on balls in play (BABIP), well above the league average of .300, can lead to an inflated batting average. A spike in home run to flyball ratio can precipitate a increase in home runs. Greater command or a lucky batting average on balls in play for a pitcher can lead to a lower ERA or WHIP. Sometimes there is no explanation for an increase or decrease in production. Just plain luck, good or bad, or off the field issues and injuries play a huge role in baseball and sometimes explain why a player puts up the numbers, good or bad that they do.
The goal of the regression candidates porion of the article is to identify which players are candidates to see a drop in production in 2013 that fantasy baseball owners need to be aware of on draft day. Just because a player is on this list does not mean that I would not draft them. Mike Trout, our number one overall player here at FFToolbox.com is on this list. Just because he is a regression candidate does not mean that his stats are guaranteed to decline in 2013, in fact, there is a chance he only gets better, but the underlying statistics say that there is the potential for him to see a decline in 2013. You wouldn't ignore the check engine light on your car, so why do that in fantasy baseball? Know the risk before you make the investment. One player you won't find on this list, but is certainly one you could make a case for a regression is knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. The reason I don't have him on here is because I think the numbers he has put up are legitimate and that his knuckleball is so unique that he should have no trouble adjusting the the A.L. East.
Mike Trout - OF - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
I know what you are thinking. How can the number one overall player on the FFToolbox rankings be a regression candidate? Trout had an incredible rookie season after being called up in May, but there are some warning signs here that point to a possible dip in batting average and power for 2013. Trout's batting average fell off in the month of September (.257), his BABIP (.383) was the fifth-highest in all of baseball, a regression to the league average (around .300) would result in a dip in batting average and his home run to flyball ratio was extremely high. Trout is an excellent, once in a decade, maybe even generation player, there is no doubt about that. I tend to side with the camp that believes that the best is yet to come, that Trout will only get better, but at the same time, if the league makes adjustments, it would not be a surprise to see Trout fail to reach his incredible 2012 numbers. To put it in perspective, no player in MLB history has scored over 125 runs, hit 30 home runs and stolen more than 45 bases in a single season like Trout did last year. I love Trout, but expecting him to improve on those numbers is asking a lot of a player who is just 21 years old and entering his second season in The Show.
Jered Weaver - SP - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Weaver posted the lowest batting average on balls in play (.241) of any starting pitcher in baseball in 2012. Some pitchers (like Jeremy Hellickson and Weaver) consistently post low BABIP's, but for Weaver his extreme luck (sub-.250 BABIP in each of the past two seasons) combined with a dramatically dropping strikeout rate are cause for concern for fantasy baseball owners, especially when you consider what you have to pay for his services on draft day. If his BABIP were to regress to the league average, his ERA and WHIP would rise dramatically and with his lack of strikeouts, there isn't a whole lot to love. Of the top 20 ranked starting pitchers in fantasy baseball, Weaver carries the most risk of any in my opinion.
Josh Reddick - OF - Oakland Athletics
Reddick's power breakout was in many ways legitimate last season, but it will be difficult for him to repeat the 32 home runs he slugged last year in a notorious pitchers park at O.Co. Stadium, formerly known as the Oakland Colliseum. All I am saying here is don't expect him to hit over 30 home runs again in 2013, he is a lock for 20, but don't pay for anything more. A .226 batting average in the second half of last season and a contact rate that has fallen to dangerously low levels after three straight years of decline indicate that there is the possibility that Reddicks batting average falls off completely and he becomes a true batting average anchor. There are plenty of other players who can hit 20 home runs and bat under .250 so don't overpay for Reddick on draft day.
Matt Harrison - SP - Texas Rangers
Harrison was one of the luckiest pitchers in all of baseball last season, as evidenced by his 3.29 ERA but extremely high FIP (fielding independent percentage) of 4.03. The simplest definition of FIP is that it represents what a pitchers ERA should have been. Harrison posted one of the largest FIP differentials in the entire league, which means that if a few more balls drop for hits, his ERA is due for a massive regression. Harrision doesn't strike out a ton of batters, which limits his ceiling, but if he can keep the ball in the park, he should be a solid middle of a fantasy rotation starter. Just be careful paying for last season's 18 wins on draft day. Wins are the most difficult stat to project and are not a true indicator of a pitchers true skill. The underlying numbers tell a different story about Harrison.
Torii Hunter - OF - Detroit Tigers
Hunter batted and you guessed it, his .389 BABIP ranked as the fourth-highest in all of baseball last season among players with over 250 at-bats. Lets be honest, Hunter is 37 years old, he has defied the traditional aging curve to this point, but expecting him to put up similar numbers in the batting average and home run categories (I didn't even bring up the spike in his home run to flyball ratio) is not a smart strategy. I think Hunter is an excellent value pick if you can acquire his services cheaply, just don't overpay expecting a career .277 hitter with double-digit home run power entering his 17th year in the league.
Garrett Jones - 1B/OF - Pittsburgh Pirates
One of the more obvious regression candidates in baseball, there is little explanation for his power breakout at at 31 last season. Jones went for 16 home runs in 2011 to 27 in 2012, a huge jump that was precipitated in a spike in home run to flyball ratio. Players typically begin to decline in the mid-30's, making Jones a player to avoid on draft day. The upside just isn't there.
2013 Rebound Candidates
The key to winning in fantasy baseball is drafting players who will significantly outperform their draft position. The simplest way to accomplish that goal (other than loading up on high-upside lottery tickets in the late rounds) is target players coming off a down year or coming off an injury. Much like regression candidates, you need to analyze each player individually and asses their odds of bouncing back and providing your fantasy squad with value. As a fantasy analyst, I tend to target bounce-back candidates who are coming off injuries or are perceived as injury prone but have shown upon a return or when healthy that they can produce at a high level. Older players whose production tails off for non-injury related reasons, like Dan Uggla, are players I tend to stay away from on draft day.
Chase Utley - 2B - Philadelphia Phillies
Fantasy owners have been getting burned by Chase Utley for years, but finally in 2013, Utley appears to be fully healthy heading into the regular season and where he is getting drafted as the 13th second baseman off the board according to FFToolbox average draft position, he represents a major bargain on draft day. The issue with Utley is his health. After missing half of last season due to knee issues, Utley came back and posted nearly identical production as he had in 2010 and 2011. Perhaps most importantly, Utley showed that he can still steal bases, swiping 11 despite dealing with knee issues. According to all reports out of Phillies camp, Utley is completely healthy and poised for a big bounce-back campaign in 2013 if he can stay healthy.
Dan Haren - SP - Washington Nationals
One of the most underrated signing of the offseason, Haren moves back to the National League and joins a loaded Washington rotation and should rebound in 2013 if he is fully recovered from the back woes that plagued his 2012 campaign with the Los Angeles Angels. The main issue with Haren is his fastball velocity, which dipped from a league average 92-mph to just 88-mph last season. If his back is no longer an issue and the fastball velocity returns, Haren should post a solid ERA and WHIP while getting back some of the strikeouts that have disappeared in recent years. Haren is no longer an ace, but a useful starter in a fantasy rotation if healthy.
Jacoby Ellsbury - OF - Boston Red Sox
Ellsbury is slated to hit free agency after this season, so fantasy owners can expect him to be motivated and eager to put his health/durability concerns behind him in 2013. The Red Sox nightmarish 2012 season was a lost year for Ellsbury, who missed most of the year with a shoulder injury, playing in just 74 games. Ellsbury had an outstanding year in 2011 and while he may not reach that level of production in 2013, assuming that he is fully healthy and can stay on the field, he has the skills to produce outstanding five-category numbers making him an ideal bounce-back candidate.
Victor Martinez - C - Detroit Tigers
Is there a more obvious bounce-back candidate than Victory Martinez? V-Mart suffered a torn ACL during an offseason workout prior to last season and will be back as Detroit's full-time designated hitter in 2013. A career .300 hitter with six .300-plus seasons under his belt in the last seven years who is available at a discount on draft day eligible at a historically thin position is an obvious rebound candidate to target. Fantasy owners should consider V-Mart one of the safest rebound candidates in all of fantasy baseball this season.
Carl Crawford - OF - Los Angeles Dodgers
Part of me wants to throw in the towel entirely with Carl Crawford. He still may not be healthy, but his entire two-year tenure in Boston was a disaster. He never was comfortable in Boston (something he admitted after the trade to the Dodgers), he never got settled in terms of where he was batting in the lineup and the Red Sox medical staff and Crawford himself handled his injury situation poorly. Assuming that Crawford's issues are entirely related to injuries and not an eroding skill set at age 31, he is one of the best rebound candidates in all of fantasy baseball if he can get healthy. Last season, he batted .281 in just 117 at bats showing that his hitting skills are still there and leading off for a loaded Dodgers lineup should provide him with plenty of opportunites to steal bases and score runs. The health issues are a major red flag, but if Crawford can just get back on the field, he should have plenty of fantasy value.
Brett Gardner - OF - New York Yankees
Gardner missed almost all of last season with an elbow injury, which was more of a fluke injury than anything. Gardner does not have a lengthy injury history and is a solid bet to return as one of the games elite speedsters, who stole 49 and 47 bases in 2011 and 2010 respectively, prior to missing most of last year. Gardner may be available at a discount on draft day and is certainly worth picking up at a discount.
Carlos Quentin - OF - San Diego Padres
If Carlos Quentin could stay healthy, he would be one of the more intriguing players in all of fantasy baseball with his power potential. After two knee surgeries, Quentin played just 77 games last season but still slashed an impressive .261/.504/.847 line, easily his best season from a contact and power standpoint since belting 36 home runs with the Chicago White Sox in 2008. The power is still there with Quentin, the move to PETCO Park has not sapped his home run total as many predicted and as one of the last outfielders off the board on draft day, he provides excellent late-round value. If Quentin can stay healthy for an entire season, his power numbers have the potential to be a major difference maker for your fantasy squad.