Fantasy Baseball Regression Alert: Jon Lester and Cole Hamels aren't as good as they look
Heath Cummings tells you about six pitchers due for regression.
"Good luck needs no explanation."
- Shirley Temple
With all due respect to Ms. Temple, I'm going to have to disagree, at least when it comes to Fantasy Baseball. You don't have to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth, but you'd better be ready to adjust when luck runs out. Better yet, I'd like to react before it runs out. That's why you should sell these six starters before they turn into pumpkins.
Jon Lester's good luck continued for at least one more start as he held the Indians to one run over seven innings on Wednesday, but if he keeps pitching like this it won't last much longer. Lester's 7.58 K/9 is his lowest mark since 2013 and his 3.47 BB/9 is his highest since 2011. Lester is getting fewer ground balls than ever (37.4 percent) to boot. Those numbers just will not cut it.
The most similar profiles you can find from 2017 are Matt Moore and Julio Teheran. Moore had an ERA over five last year and Teheran wasn't much better. So how is Lester doing this? He's allowed a .258 BABIP and he's stranded 83 percent of the runners who have reached base. For his career he's been pretty normal in both regards with a .297 BABIP allowed and a 75 percent strand rate. You might guess that he's inducing soft contact, which would make sense. But his 15.5 percent soft contact induced is the lowest of his career.
Lester owners should be looking for a sell-high deal of course, but I wouldn't be too picky. His current peripherals don't suggest he's still a top-50 starting pitcher.
From a current Cub to a former Cub, Jake Arrieta is no stranger to outperforming his peripherals. His ERA has been better than his FIP each of the past three years. But I don't buy the way he's doing it in 2018.
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Never an elite strikeout pitcher, Arrieta has seen his K percentage plummet to 17 percent this year and his swinging strike rate is all the way down to 6.6 percent. He might be able to get away with this if he was duplicating his walk and soft contact numbers from 2015, but he's doing neither. What he is doing well (so far) is getting a lot of ground balls (56.3 percent), but that won't be enough to fend off the coming regression.
I'd still rather have Arrieta than Lester, but not by a lot. If you can get a top-35 starting pitcher for him, you should make the deal now.
The danger of expecting regression is that sometimes the pitcher just starts pitching better. That's my hope for Reynaldo Lopez and why , but so far it hasn't been encouraging. In fact, according to xFIP, he's been the second worst qualified starter in the major leagues.
What Lopez has definitely been is inconsistent. Luckily for him, his luck has mostly covered him when he's been bad. I can hope he gets more consistent, but if he keeps pitching like he has, he's going to get hit around... a lot.
I've heard some rumbling about Jake Odorizzi's improvement this year, and it's real. He hasn't been near as bad as he was last year when he was one of the worst pitchers in baseball. He still hasn't been very good.
The first thing to address is Odorizzi's leap in K/9 to 9.17. This seems pretty significant for a guy who hasn't posted better than eight strikeouts per nine since 2014. Unfortunately, his K percentage has only jumped two percentage points, and his swinging strike rate is very similar to 2017. His walk rate is actually up a little bit and his ground ball rate is at a career low.
As long as Odorizzi is giving up a bunch of hard contact, walking too many batters and not getting any ground balls, I'm going to have a hard time thinking of him as anything more than a matchup-dependent streamer.
It may be too late to sell high on Sean Manaea, but this is just top serve as a reminder that there's more regression coming. Manaea's BABIP allowed (.208) is still absurdly low and his K percentage (19.8 percent) is still at a career low. He should be a fine end-of-the-rotation arm, but I don't expect much more.
Cole Hamels is maybe my favorite name on this list. He came at a discount in drafts because of a terrible 2017, and now you can sell him for a profit before regression hits. The good for Hamels is that he's gotten the swinging strikes and strikeouts back from pre-2017. The bad is that his velocity looks more like 2017 and his ground ball rate is way down. It's possible he's reinvented himself as a new style of pitcher and can be 200-inning guy with a low-3s ERA again, but I would bet against it. If you can turn him into a No. 3 starter in Fantasy, make it happen.
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