Regression is a term we've co-opted in a lot of different ways in sports coverage.
It's also a term that causes a lot of people to comment and tell you you're using it wrong. But most important, it's a good way to describe which fast (or slow) starts you should buy (or sell). But to save a few of you from commenting, here's a quick breakdown of what I mean:
Regression can move positive or negative. For the most part, I'm talking about pitchers who will either regress back towards career norms or closer to league average in things that are at least partly out of their control. Sometimes that means they'll be worse than they have, sometimes it means they'll be better.
Also, regression is often relative. Saying a great player is going to regress doesn't mean he won't continue to be great. It certainly doesn't mean we think he's actually bad.
With that in mind, let's get to the regression candidates:
We'll just get the idea of "positive" regression out of the way early. Max Scherzer has not pitched like a guy with a 2-5 record and a 3.72 ERA. More important, I would not expect him to get these results the rest of the way. Scherzer currently has a 2.45 FIP, that would be a career-best. HIs 2.89 xFIP would be the second best of his career. His 2.95 SIERA is better than his career mark. So is his strikeout rate (32.1%), walk rate (5.2%) and groundball rate (43%).
So what has gone wrong? He's allowed a .363 BABIP and he's only stranded 70.7% of the runners who have reached base. I'm not going to say those things are entirely beyond Scherzer's control, but I don't think they're predictive in terms of how the rest of his season will go. In fact, I would trade literally any pitcher in baseball for Scherzer. It's time to find out if the guy in your league who has him feels the same.
Jake Odorizzi has had a really interesting season. In his first start, he struck out 11 Indians over six innings and gave up just one run. In his next two starts he allowed eight runs in 5.1 innings, walking seven. Since then he's posted a 1.30 ERA in his past seven starts against a brutal stretch of schedule including the Yankees, Astros (twice) and Angels (twice). Considering he's in the AL Central, you may think he's set up for a career year. I'm not so sure.
Odorizzi owns a 4.39 SIERA and a 4.59 xFIP. His walk and strikeout numbers look a lot like they did last year when he had a 4.49 ERA and even more like they did in 2014 when he posted a 4.13. He's only completed six innings in four of his 10 starts, and that's with the aide of a .244 BABIP against and an 81.7% strand rate. I'd be looking to sell Odorizzi for any pitcher inside the top-50, or a bat if my staff was already deep.
While I'm willing to concede Odorizzi may in fact be good (not great), I can't see anything to like about Zach Davies, unless you're willing to bet on good fortune. His 16.9% strikeout rate is among the worst in baseball, he pitches half of his games at Miller Park and he doesn't have the type of profile that suggests he can succeed without missing bats. The most likely scenario I see for Davies is that he spends a majority of the remainder of the year on the waiver wire. His 4.86 SIERA is the 12th worst among qualified starters this season.
I'm conflicted about Zach Eflin. I viewed him as a breakout candidate this season, or at least a sleeper, and the results have been great. They just haven't been what we were expecting.
Eflin hasn't maintained all of his velocity gains from 2018 and he doesn't have an elite whiff rate on any of his pitches. His control has been amazing, and the ground ball rate is good, so it's possible he could be a successful pitcher on a good team. He just can't be the breakout we were hoping for. I'm not even sure he'll be must-start for the rest of the year.
The entire Mets season has been a debacle, and Noah Syndergaard hasn't helped any. He owns a 4.50 ERA, and even though his performance has been better as of late, he only has 14 strikeouts in his past 21 innings. It's enough to make you wonder if Syndergaard belongs in the ace tier at all. I still believe he does, even if he belongs at the bottom of the tier.
He's struggled to find his breaking balls this year, which has led to increased usage of his four-seam fastball. That bucks the trend we're seeing around baseball, and I wouldn't expect it to continue once Syndergaard finds better feel for the pitch. What I feel more confident will not continue is his 64.9% strand rate because his career mark is 74.0%.
Syndergaard owns a 3.54 FIP and a 3.69 SIERA, which tells you he hasn't been quite the ace we expected even considering his misfortune. But that feels more like the floor than the ceiling moving forward.
It's easy to look at Zack Wheeler's season and think he's taken a step back after a breakout 2018. I don't believe that's it at all. Virtually all of his peripherals are actually better than his 2018 numbers.
It may be as simple as Washington having his number. In three starts against the Nationals, he's allowed 17 runs in 15.2 innings. In his other six starts he owns a 2.93 ERA with 11.0 K/9. He's gone at least six innings in all of those starts and has lasted seven in four of them.
Yes, he's had some control problems pop up, but he's had enough good starts that I'm not really worried about that. I expect him to be a top-30 starting pitcher moving forward with top-15 upside.
Pablo Lopez is the only player on this list who is likely available in your league. He's just 31% owned, which makes sense when you look at his 5.06 ERA. I'm just here to tell you he hasn't pitched like a pitcher with a 5.06 ERA. Lopez owns a 24.5% strikeout rate, a 6.5% walk rate and a 53% groundball rate. All of those are at least 10% better than league average for a major league starting pitcher.
In three of his past five outings he's thrown at least six innings and not allowed an earned run. The problem is that one of the other starts he was blistered for 10 runs by the Mets. Still, I'll trust the peripherals over the long haul, and they say Lopez is a good starting pitcher who could be very good. You may not trust him to start him yet, but you should absolutely add him and stash him in case I'm right.