2017 Fantasy Baseball: The Regression Police; Friend Or Foe
Regression is a term that is thrown around a lot when it comes to Fantasy Baseball. It is often misused by assuming that all extremes will revert to the mean. While this may in fact occur some of the time, you really need to understand the underlying dynamics.
For example, if a hitter’s home run spike in a given year is supported by an increase in pull rate, hard hit rate, and fly ball rate, then the power surge becomes more sustainable. On the other hand, if a pitcher’s ERA drop is coupled with a minuscule BABIP (inconsistent with their batted ball profile) and inflated LOB%, we could conclude that the drop is not sustainable.
Players can have an off year or career year for a number of reasons. They could be caused by health issues, a change of teams, or even luck. Whatever the reason is, by digging into the underlying statistics, we should be able to determine the likelihood of a repeat or possible regression.
Today, we will look at one hitter and one pitcher that were better than you thought in 2016 and what it means for this year. We will then look at one hitter and one pitcher that were worse than you thought last year and what it means for 2017.
Now let’s identify our four regression candidates.
The Regression Police, Friend or Foe
Better than you thought
Jose Bautista, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
There is no question that Joey Bats had a down year in 2016. Injuries were the main culprit as he was limited to just 116 games last year. In fact, if you extrapolate his stats over his games played average of the previous two seasons, you get a hitting line of 30 HRs and 90 runs and RBIs.
Despite the missed time, Bautista still managed to maintain his stellar strikeout to walk ratio and his batted ball profile was actually in line with what he has accomplished over the past few seasons. The one exception was his hard hit rate. Last year, Bautista posted a career high mark of 41-percent, which compares to his career mark of 34.7-percent.
Surprisingly, he only mustered a 16.3-percent HR/FB rate. In the two campaigns where Bautista recorded a hard hit rate greater than 39-percent, his HR/FB rate averaged over 22-percent.
For 2017, I expect some positive regression from Jose Bautista and for him to rejoin the 30-homer club. In addition, by hitting in the heart of the Toronto lineup, triple-digit totals for both runs and RBIs are within reach.
Aaron Nola, SP, Philadelphia Phillies
Injuries and pitchers seem to go hand-in-hand. However, any time there are elbow concerns, you have to be extra worried as a Fantasy owner. Last year, Nola’s season was cut short on July 28 thanks to both a UCL sprain and a forearm flexor sprain. Prior to his injury, Nola was well on his way to a stellar campaign.
It is easy to be unimpressed when you look at both his 4.78 ERA and 1.31 WHIP on the surface, but when you dig a little deeper you see some outstanding peripherals. Nola seemed to battle with a little bad luck in 2016, as his ERA was nearly two runs greater than his ERA estimators (FIP, xFIP, SIERA).
Among pitchers who threw at least 100 innings last year, Nola recorded the second lowest LOB% and the 12th highest BABIP. This all occurred despite Nola allowing a line drive rate and hard hit rate that were both less than the league average.
Nola also impressively notched a K-BB% mark of 19.1-percent, good for 18th among pitchers who threw at least 100 innings. This was ahead of the likes of David Price, Jon Lester, James Paxton, Kenta Maeda, Jacob deGrom, and Johnny Cueto.
There is no question that Nola’s elbow is cause for concern, but his underlying numbers suggest an improved 2017 awaits. Assuming he stays healthy, I would expect some positive regression from Nola and for him to post an ERA around 3.25 and WHIP of roughly 1.15.
Worse than you thought
Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
Braun had another outstanding all-around campaign in 2016, as he was one of only six hitters to hit both .300 and launch 30 home runs. He also chipped in with useful numbers in terms of stolen bases, runs, and RBIs, further cementing his five-tool status.
After you take a peek under the hood, you start to see a few warning signs for his power output in 2017. Braun was downright lucky when it came to his batted balls leaving the yard. In fact, he led all qualified hitters with a 28.8-percent HR/FB rate. This compares to his career mark of 19.1-percent.
Further confusing things was the fact that in 2016, Braun actually posted a hard hit rate and pull rate lower than his career marks. In addition, Braun managed to hit a career low 25.1-percent fly ball rate. To put that into context, the career figure is north of 35-percent and last year’s number continued a general downward trend that has been in place since 2012.
Over Braun’s career when he has recorded a hard hit rate between 33.7-percent and 34.4-percent, his HR/FB rate has averaged 15.9-percent. Given his batted ball profile, Braun would have been lucky to even notch 20 home runs, let alone 30. This also resulted in an inflated run and RBI total for 2016.
Braun is still a useful five category producer, but since he turns 34 this year, don’t be shocked if he experiences a power outage in 2017. I expect to see some negative regression from Braun and will be surprised if Braun is able to exceed 20 home runs, 80 runs, and 80 RBIs in the upcoming campaign.
Cole Hamels, SP, Texas Rangers
At first glance it looked like Cole Hamels had a decent first full season with the Rangers. He notched 15 wins, recorded a 3.32 ERA, and was one of only 12 pitchers to reach the 200 strikeout threshold. However, when you keep searching you start to find a few troubling signs.
It is true that his strikeout rate was in line with his career numbers, but he also had the worst control of his career. Last year was actually a continuation of a trend, since it was the third year in a row where Hamels’ walk rate increased and first pitch strike rate decreased. This resulted in the worst K-BB% rate of his career at 14.5-percent.
Even more troubling was the fact that Hamels posted his worst hard hit rate since 2007 and his pull rate was the worst of his career. The end result was a career worst 1.31 WHIP and he was lucky to not have his ERA up around the 4.00 area like most of his ERA estimators.
Given the batted ball signs and his control trends, I would fear that Hamels’ 2017 campaign looks closer to last year than it does the previous few. With negative regression hitting Hamels, I would expect to see an ERA close to 4.00 with a WHIP around 1.25.
Whenever a player has an uncharacteristically good or bad season, regression should not be your first assumption. Further analysis is always required. There is always more information within the underlying numbers. With Opening Day drawing near, make sure that you stay glued to SCFE and all of the great Fantasy Baseball content.
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Data courtesy of www.fangraphs.com
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