Even though the smell of stale champagne and deep-dish pizza grease still lingers, it’s time to start thinking about next season. It’s what we do as dynasty owners. Combing through the stats to find under the radar or bounce back candidates is a great way to break the offseason monotony, and there’s no better time to start than immediately. Right now. Go.
This week, I wanted to hit on a handful of stats that can be predictive for positive regression in the future, while identifying a few players that could stand to benefit.
BABIP – Joe Panik
It’s easy to see a high (or low) batting average, quickly check a player’s BABIP and scream “REGRESSION”. Sometimes that is a perfectly reasonable reaction. Other times, it’s a little more complicated. Why do you have to go and make things so complicated (No Avril? Ok, cool, moving on.)?
Usually, hitters that tend to make a lot of contact have a better opportunity to sustain higher BABIP numbers. When scrolling through the contact percentage leaderboard, one name that stands out is Joe Panik. Panik made contact on 90 percent if his swings and carried a BABIP of .245. The league average is .300, so that’s pretty low. Additionally, only three hitters managed to draw more walks than strikeouts last season, Ben Zobrist, Carlos Santana (Smooth), and Joe Panik.
So we know Panik has a pretty good idea of what he’s doing at the plate (and I resisted a terrible Panik pun, so really we’re all winners). Also, he hasn’t shown a propensity to sell out his approach for the sole purpose of making contact. For these reasons, the .245 BABIP, leading to a .239 batting average, looks pretty suspect. Before the 2016 season, his previous low BABIP was .330. Now, Panik dealt with several injuries last season, which could have played a role in his low BABIP and subsequent batting average dip, but all signs point to him being right for Opening Day in 2017. In that case, he should be back to hanging around a .300 batting average, and being a very valuable dynasty asset at age 26.
Infield Fly Balls – Xander Bogaerts
A good rule of thumb: batted balls that you or I could easily catch are, um, less than ideal. Infield fly balls are basically free outs. Free outs wreak havoc on a batting average. Besides a strike out, popping a weak infield fly ball is the worst outcome for a hitter. In 2016, Todd Frazier led the league, with 18.5 percent of his fly balls never leaving the infield. That’s really bad (9.7 percent is league average), but it is understandable, in a sense. Over the last couple seasons Frazier has adopted more of an uppercut swing, resulting in more homers, but also lower batting averages, including last season’s .225 train wreck.
While Frazier’s league leading rates and effects can be explained, the runner-up, Xander Bogaerts, requires a deeper look. Last season, 17.8 percent of the fly balls hit by Bogaerts were considered infield flies (also bad #analysis). This number is a little more puzzling, as Bogaerts still hit .294 in his 719 trips to the plate. Also puzzling is the fact that in his previous two full seasons, Bogaerts never cracked an 11 percent infield fly ball rate.
Sure, Bogaerts may have tweaked his swing a little to unlock some power and launch a career high 21 dingers (chicks dig the long ball, after all), but that doesn’t really fully explain the spike in infield fly balls. According to Brooks Baseball, pitchers didn’t really change their approach to Bogaerts, focusing on working him low and away in the zone. In addition, he hit the ball harder in 2016 than any other year of his career, as evidenced by an above average 90-mph exit velocity (according to Statcast) on batted balls. If Bogaerts is seeing similar pitches, and hitting the ball harder, then it’s possible that his infield fly ball rate could be a one-year outlier. If he cuts some of these easy outs from his batted ball profile, Bogaerts should see a healthy bump in batting average, which could push him into the 2017 batting title chase, and more importantly buoy your rate stats.
DRA – Michael Pineda
Fielding and circumstance ruin everything. Luckily, in DRA, we have a statistic that relies on only a pitcher’s skill level and performance. In 2016, the starting pitcher that led the league was (drumroll, please) Clayton Kershaw, with a 2.03 DRA. Ok, maybe that was a bit anticlimactic. Maybe a little more surprisingly, however, was the fact that Michael Pineda finished sixth, with a DRA of 2.58, vastly out performing his lowly 4.82 ERA.
Fellow TDG scribe Nick Doran has already detailed why Pineda shouldn’t be slept on in the future (which is a great piece that you should read, I’ll hang out while you do). However the extent of Pineda’s low-key brilliance in 2016 can’t be ignored and I needed to touch on in again. Sure he gave up probably a few too many homers to be fully comfortable, as his 1.4 per nine innings is a little above league average. However that’s pretty much where his mediocrity ended.
Pineda fanned 10.6 per nine innings en route to 207 punch-outs in 176 innings. He ended the season with a 78 cFIP, good for sixth in baseball among qualified starters. The bottom line is that Michael Pineda is actually super good. And the better news is that it’s not immediately evident by his traditional statistics. For that reason, I agree with Nick 100 percent. It’s a good time to buy in on Pineda and be glad that you did.
Follow Mark on Twitter @hoodieandtie