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In this week’s Fantasy Lookout, we uncover three starting pitcher regression candidates for 2017. They are all coming off relatively stellar 2016 campaigns, but it is extremely doubtful that they will be able to repeat their success next year.

When we say that they will experience some negative regression, we don’t mean that they will be useless Fantasy assets. There is just a high probability that their ERA and WHIP figures will be relatively worse in 2017.

Regression is a commonly used term in Fantasy Baseball. In this scenario, it can be translated as an expected deterioration in the headline statistics (ERA and WHIP) due to the presence of the underlying peripherals.

Each of the three hurlers currently rank within the Top 35 starting pitchers according to the ESPN Player Rater.

Sometimes things are too good to be true,

2017 Starting Pitchers Regression Candidates

Let’s now find out which starting pitchers are about to be reeled in by the Regression Police.

Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs

There is no doubt that Hendricks has been tremendous this year. Among qualified starters, he ranks first in ERA, second in WHIP, 12th (tied) in wins, and 26th (tied) in strikeouts. All of these stellar numbers leave Hendricks as the second ranked starting pitcher according to the ESPN Player Rater.

Not to rain on his parade, but when you compare Hendricks’ 2015 campaign to this year, there is very little difference with respect to his underlying peripherals. His batted ball profile is nearly identical across the board and his K-BB% difference is a mere 0.1-percent. Last year, Hendricks posted a 3.95 ERA along with a 1.16 WHIP, while this year he has notched a 2.06 ERA and 0.96 WHIP.

The main difference has a little bit to do with good fortune, as Hendricks has improved his LOB% from 69.9-percent up to 82.3-percent (third amongst qualified starters) and his BABIP from .296 down to .242 ( fourth lowest among qualified starters). I doubt these new figures are sustainable next year, especially when you consider that with runners in scoring position, Hendricks has held opponents to a .171 batting average and .202 BABIP.

Hendricks should still be solid next year, but he also figures to be a one of the top starting pitcher regression candidates. I think there is a distinct possibility that his ERA will be north of 3.00 in 2017, which would be over a full run higher than his 2016 mark. If someone else believes his breakout into stardom, let them overdraft Hendricks. He is clearly not Clayton Kershaw, even if he did post Kershaw-esque numbers this year.

Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs

Lester continues to provide a great return to the Cubs since they signed him prior to the 2015 season. Lester currently ranks third on the ESPN Player Rater amongst all starting pitchers. He ranks second in ERA, sixth in WHIP, 17th in strikeouts, and is tied for third in wins.

Much like his teammate Kyle Hendricks, Lester has had Lady Luck in his corner this year. Despite having a line drive rate and hard hit rate higher than his career marks, Lester has posted a career best .254 BABIP (eight lowest amongst qualified starters), which is nearly 50 points better than his career mark. He has also recorded a LOB% of 85.9-percent (tops amongst qualified starters), which is also a career high and is over 10-percent better than his career figure of 75.3-percent.

On the whole, Lester’s 2016 year-to-date peripherals look eerily similar to his 2015 numbers. Yet, his ERA has fallen from 3.34 down to 2.40 and his WHIP from 1.12 down to 1.02. No matter which ERA estimator that you look at, all of them suggest that Lester’s 2016 season is inline with a career average campaign. For his career, Lester has posted a 3.45 ERA and 1.24 WHIP.

Lester will be 33 in January and there was some preseason chatter that he had a bone chip in his pitching elbow. Given his place near the top of the starting pitcher regression candidate list, Lester seems like a great sell high for those in dynasty leagues.

Ian Kennedy, Kansas City Royals

Kennedy has fit in nicely with the Royals and at first glance, he has not missed the pitcher-friendly confines of Petco Park. Thanks to a 3.60 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and with a K/9 mark just shy of 9, Kennedy is currently the 34th ranked starting pitcher on the ESPN Player Rater.

With a 84.2-percent LOB%, good for second amongst all qualified starters, Kennedy has set a new career high and his career mark is a more normal 74.6-percent. The fact that he has posted a mid 3.00’s ERA is heroic considering that all of his ERA estimators suggest this has been the worst season of his career.

So far in 2016, Kennedy has recorded his worst hard hit rate of his career with a mark of 36.3-percent, good for third worst amongst qualified starters. He also owns the seventh highest fly ball rate amongst qualified starters. The last time I checked, hard hit fly balls usually are not a good thing for a pitcher.

As we look towards 2017, I would project Kennedy to have an ERA well north of 4.00 and a WHIP closer to his career mark of 1.27. Those numbers will surely put Kennedy among the top starting pitcher regression candidates.

Expectations next year for these three starting pitcher regression candidates should be tempered, as their underlying statistics tell a different story than their headline numbers.

This concludes another season of the Fantasy Lookout. I hope everyone had a great season and make sure you stayed tuned to SCFE for all of the incredible Fantasy content. Thanks for reading.

Data courtesy of www.fangraphs.com and ESPN.com

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Fabian Taylor

Fabian Taylor lives in Vancouver, BC. In his previous life, he traded natural gas for a couple firms in Calgary. He now trades stocks, bonds, and commodities out of a float home office. Family, finance and Fantasy Sports -- Is there anything else?
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