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Fantasy Baseball: Top 10 Players To Regress

We take a look at players that will likely decline this coming fantasy baseball season, so buyer beware of them!

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Fantasy Baseball - jose abreu

Regression can be a cruel monster. Some of baseball’s brightest 2020 stars will likely regress in 2021 because they struck out too much, didn’t hit the ball hard consistently or, if they are pitchers, did not miss enough bats. Some of them had hot starts that “carried” their stats throughout the 60-game campaign, while others just got lucky.

Thankfully, we are here to help you determine who you can or can’t trust to repeat their 2020 performance. In this case, we will look at 10 players that are bound to regress this season.

Trevor Bauer, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Bauer is fresh off winning the National League Cy Young award in 2020, thanks to a 1.73 ERA and a 36.0 strikeout rate in 2020 with the Cincinnati Reds. I’m not saying he will be bad, but it’s fair to point out that his 2020 batting average in balls in play, or BABIP (.215) was significantly lower than his career .294 mark, and he also left men on base at a considerably higher rate (90.9%, compared to 73.8% during his nine-year tenure.) He was both good and lucky at the same time.

With his new team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Bauer doesn’t project to pitch as many innings, and while he could win more games, his overall production and ratios don’t quite guarantee a 15 ADP, which is where he is currently going in drafts.

Alex Verdugo, OF, Boston Red Sox
Verdugo was a very good fantasy outfielder last year, but let’s look under the hood. He had a .308/.367/.478 line, but given his bad contact quality (too many grounders and a weak average exit velocity and hard-hit rate), his expected batting average was .238 and his expected slugging a meager .369. Verdugo has talent and still profiles as an above-average contributor in the future, but unless he can hit the ball harder, more consistently, and elevate it more (he had a 52.2 ground ball percentage) I’m out in 2021.    

Zach Davies, SP, Chicago Cubs
Davies had a great season with the Padres last year, posting the best ERA (2.73) of his career after a 3.55 finish in 2019 and a 4.77 one in 2018. He even increased his strikeout rate to 22.8%, whereas his career mark is 17.3%. A heavier reliance on his changeup (41.3%) and throwing fewer fastballs (38.5%) was behind his success, so there is some sustainability on his performance. However, his 3.88 FIP and 4.14 xFIP indicate that he will likely regress, even though he can still be a usable fantasy starter. It’s just hard to maintain a sub-3.00 ERA for a normal 162-game season.

Cavan Biggio, 2B, Toronto Blue Jays
With the deadened ball that will be in place for the 2021 season, Biggio’s power outlook just took a huge hit. He ranked 133rd out of 142 qualified hitters in average home run distance, at just 379 feet. That means he barely cleared the fence with the ball that traveled further, and he stands to lose some homers with the new one. Additionally, Biggio, who has slashed .240/.368/.430 in 695 plate appearances in MLB, is clearly best suited for OBP leagues. I like him in those formats and as a real-life asset, but I find him very expensive (64 ADP) in standard leagues as things stand right now.

Brad Keller, SP, Kansas City Royals
Keller was a waiver wire gem for fantasy managers last season, with a 2.47 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 54.2 innings pitched. However, we can’t expect him to repeat a sub-3.00s ERA while striking out just 5.76 batters per nine frames. To put it simply, Keller doesn’t miss enough bats to be much more than a streamer. There is talk about him using a changeup more in 2021, but either way, his strikeout ceiling isn’t particularly high. He had a fine season last year, but I wouldn’t rush and chase those numbers.

DJ LeMahieu, 2B, New York Yankees
LeMahieu is a fine hitter: champion bat in 2020 with a .364 average, improved pop since 2019, and the leadoff hitter in perhaps the best lineup in baseball. He will remain a top asset, but consider that he, like Biggio, ranked near the bottom of the league in average home run distance (140th out of 142 qualified hitters) at 361 feet. LeMahieu will lose quite a few homers with the “dejuiced” ball, and considering he is already a groundball hitter (57.1 GB%) his prospects of repeating his 2020 performance are not particularly promising.

Dallas Keuchel, SP, Chicago White Sox
Keuchel is a steady veteran and could be an option for the backend of your fantasy staff. He will get wins and pitch deep into games, and there is value in that. But by no means should you draft him expecting a repeat of last season’s performance. The southpaw finished 2020 with a 1.99 ERA, but his 3.08 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and 3.98 xFIP are more indicative of his skill level at this point. Getting 52.8% of his batted balls on the ground certainly helps matters, but a middling 5.97 K/9 means he allows too much contact to repeat a sub-2.50 ERA.

Ryan Mountcastle, OF/1B, Baltimore Orioles
Mountcastle, a rookie in 2020, made quite an impression, with a .333/.386/.492 line with five homers in 140 plate appearances. However, his Statcast data indicates that he is likely to regress. He was below-average in average exit velocity (26th percentile), barrel percentage (43rd), walk rate (35th), and whiff percentage (30th.) All of that, plus his low 21.4 fly ball percentage, resulted in a .266 expected batting average and a .430 expected slugging percentage. Those numbers are more or less what you can expect in 2021.

Zach Plesac, SP, Cleveland Indians
Plesac is easily the most divisive fantasy asset in the game. People wonder how a guy with mediocre stuff can finish with such a low ERA (2.28) in 55.1 frames. And he struck out more than a batter per inning, too, at 9.27 K/9. The truth is that Plesac has elite command, handing just 0.98 BB/9. Limiting self-inflicted damage can go a long way into making him a desirable fantasy asset.

Having said this, I don’t expect him to finish 2021 with a similar ERA. I do like him, though, and keep in mind that he had a very healthy swinging strike rate at 14.3%. He can be successful, just not enough to be your ace. His case is similar to Bauer’s: his .224 BABIP and 91.7% strand rate scream regression, but he can still be a useful fantasy asset.

Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox

Abreu, the American League 2020 MVP, hit his way into the award with a .317/.370/.617 line and an RBI per game, basically, with 60. Now, imagine him playing 162 games this year: expecting him to maintain that pace and driving in 162 runs would be foolish. Abreu is a fine hitter, but he is also 34 years old. His skills could decline any year now, and even if it doesn’t happen in 2021, he won’t hit more than 50 homers either. Draft him expecting something closer to 30 bombs and 100 RBI, with an average around .280, and not last year’s monster numbers.

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