There can be randomness in whether a player is better or worse than their prior year or career norm. We don't like that, but it's true. Pitchers have limited control over where batted balls go after they're hit (so do hitters for that matter). Players who have been healthy get hurt and vice versa.
We cannot predict everything, obviously. That does not mean we can't predict anything.
Regression is something that will happen in 2017, and in several cases the signs are almost too obvious to miss.
I'm here to make sure you don't miss them. First we'll start with a reminder that not all regression is negative.
Chris Davis Baltimore Orioles 1B
|The .279 BABIP and the 84 RBI should both move in the right direction.|
Kevin Kiermaier Tampa Bay Rays CF
|I don't buy the 25 percent infield fly ball rate that led to Kiermaier's .278 BABIP.|
Jose Bautista Toronto Blue Jays RF
|The BABIP is never going to be good for Bautista, but if he comes anywhere close to that 41 percent hard contact rate it will improve.|
Max Kepler Minnesota Twins RF
|Kepler has decent speed and good contact skills, there's no chance his .261 BABIP from last year is real.|
Miguel Sano Minnesota Twins 3B
|He has a career 41 percent hard-contact rate. He should be towards the tops in baseball in HR/FB rate.|
I've stumped for Chris Davis multiple years so it shouldn't surprise you that I think he'll be better than he was in 2016.
Davis strikes out so often that he's always going to have a lot of variance in his BABIP, but I would expect him to be closer to his career .314 mark than last year's. That's not even where I see the most regression, however. Davis' 84 RBI were way too low. He profiles as more of a 100+ RBI guy over 665 plate appearances. Those two corrections would move him comfortably back inside the top 10 in points leagues at first base.
Scott White has turned me on to Kiermaier as a sleeper candidate largely because Kiermaier doesn't have to do a whole lot different to fulfill that promise. First, he has to stay healthy and second he has to post a BABIP that more closely resembles his skill set. The biggest hindrance to that would be Kiermaier's infield fly ball rate, which was almost certainly an outlier. How much of an outlier? Kiermaier's was the fourth highest IFFB rate in the past decade.
Everyone else on that list saw regression the following year, most of them in a big way.
Tyler Naquin Cleveland Indians CF
|Naquin's .411 BABIP was off the charts.|
Sandy Leon Boston Red Sox C
|Leon put up an .845 OPS largely because of his .392 BABIP.|
Adrian Beltre Texas Rangers 3B
|Beltre reversed a four-year decline in power numbers at age 37.|
Brian Dozier Minnesota Twins 2B
|Both his career high FB Rate and HR/FB Rate will likely fall.|
Hanley Ramirez Boston Red Sox 1B
|Even if he stays healthy, it wouldn't be a surprise if his run production drops.|
Let's get Tyler Naquin and Sandy Leon out of the way first, because they're a pair of the most obvious regression candidates in all of baseball. I'm not drafting Leon unless I wait until the final round to take a second catcher, and I think most of you agree.
Naquin could be a bit more enticing. He is a likely .250 hitter who just flirted with .300 entirely because of BABIP. He also hit more home runs in 365 big league plate appearances than he had in his last 883 minor league PA. If you want to draft Naquin at the end of the draft as a fifth outfielder that's fine, but there are better odds that you drop him in June than he matches last year's performance.
While Brian Dozier and Adrian Beltre are pretty obvious power regression candidates, Hanley Ramirez is a bit more nuanced. He's 33 years old and 2016 was his first season since 2012 with more than 130 games played. He also posted a HR/FB rate (21.1 percent) well above his career average and drove in 111 runs due to an unsustainably good offense. Big Papi won't be getting on base in front of him at a .400 rate in 2017, so I would expect Ramirez to see a drop in both home runs and RBI even if he's able to stay healthy.
I could make a case for Pujols and Frazier to regress both positively and negatively. Sure Pujols is going on four straight years of terrible BABIP, but there's also no way he's matching those RBI from 2016, right?
Since 1910 no player with an OPS that low (.780) had more RBI than Pujols' 119 last year.— Heath Cummings (@heathcummingssr) January 11, 2017
Frazier is a low BABIP guy, but he's probably not a .236 BABIP guy as he was in 2016. Then again, he's so obviously sold out for home runs, and it makes sense in his current park. We all know the White Sox are trying to sell everyone, so if he gets dealt somewhere that isn't quite so homer-friendly (Atlanta?) that approach wouldn't work so well.
Chicago has the fourth best HR park for RH hitters, so if he gets dealt you should expect the power numbers to suffer.