Six Players Who Will Regress In The Second Half
Wow, wasn't the All-Star break fun! Pete Alonso defending his Home Run Derby crown, Shohei Ohtani doing it all, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. being amazing, and the MLB draft; it was quite the time to be a baseball fan. Now, we turn our attention to the second half of the season where everything will go smoothly, right? *Sees Red Sox Yankees game was postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the Yankees organization* What else would you expect!
Anyways, we're coming down to the pivotal stage of the 2021 fantasy baseball season. The stakes are higher than ever and fantasy owners cannot afford and roster a struggling player. A few weeks ago, we looked at five players who are currently struggling but will be much better down the stretch. Now, it is time to do the opposite: players whose production likely will be worse during the second half. Trust me, I hate writing this article as much as the next guy, but it needs to be done! Let's get straight to the chase!
RP Mark Melancon, San Diego Padres
Current Statistics: 39.2 IP, 2.04 ERA, 4.12 FIP, 19.4% K, 10% BB, 27 SV
Coming into the season, the Padres' closer situation was a major fantasy baseball question. Would Emilio Pagan or Drew Pomeranz be called upon in the 9th inning? The lack of clarity was frustrating, especially heading into fantasy drafts. Naturally, it would be neither of them that ultimately held that honor.
Instead, it would be Mark Melancon, who of course went from signing a $3 million contract in February to leading the MLB in saves and making the All-Star Game. Obviously, Melancon has a long track record closing out games and did post a 2.78 ERA during the shortened 2020 season. Yet, that came with a 14.7% strikeout rate, which likely led to the limited interest in free agency.
That said, between his command and limiting barrels, Melancon has generally been able to overcome not missing a lot of bats. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case (10% BB, 6.5% barrel) this season. Really, it's just the combination of a .239 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and 84.2% left-on-base rate (LOB%) that has field his success, which certainly doesn't feel like a stable way of performing over time.
In April, Melancon posted a 1.24 FIP, but he's posted FIPs of 5.55, 4.66, and 7.45, respectively, in the months since. He's done a nice job inducing weak contact (9.7%) and inducing ground balls (59.3%), but this isn't a skill he previously had demonstrated. With the Padres going all-in on a World Series run, they can't afford to watch Melancon struggle in the 9th inning, so if that happens, look for Pagan to get more chances to take over Melancon's coveted role. Simply for the fact I wouldn't get to hear Don Orsillo lookout for a "shark sighting", that would be quite unfortunate! Alas, there's a reason teams are known to generally covet bat-missing ability late in games.
OF Steven Duggar, San Francisco Giants
Current Statistics: .287/.360/.485, 131 wRC+, .362 wOBA, 6 HR, 6 SB
Sticking with the NL West, the Padres are supposed to be going straight after the Dodgers for the NL West crown. Alas, those pesky Giants won't get out of the way. Given the injuries they've suffered through, how have they done it?
Between the resurgence of their veterans and smart free-agent acquisitions, there is a lot to point to, but they've also done a very nice job developing some of the talent that was already within their organization. See Steven Duggar. Not even on the major-league team at the start of the year, he's now cemented himself into San Francisco's lineup as a quality center fielder. Meanwhile, it's clear that there have been some approach changes. Since a new coaching staff came into the organization in 2020, he's chasing fewer pitches and has been far less aggressive, hitting more fly balls, which has led to more power than ever.
That said, it has also led to a 32.8% strikeout rate. The combination of his 11.1% swinging-strike rate and 19.6% called-strike rate have come from the approach change, which may lead to more walks (real-life value), but takes away from his batting average potential. Yes, he's hitting .287, but he's needed a .420 BABIP to do so. Good speed and even sprays aside, that's going to be quite difficult to sustain.
If Duggar's batting average decreases, that also means fewer opportunities for steals. While we're on that topic, he's also yet to be caught stealing this year, so the combination of the two hurt him in that department. The good-enough offense and strong defense in center field make him a very valuable real-life player but in terms of fantasy? I wouldn't expect similar production in the second half of the season.
SP Kolby Allard, Texas Rangers
Current Statistics: 63.1 IP, 3.69 ERA, 4.19 FIP, 23.6% K, 5% BB
This is definitely a rebuilding year for the Rangers, which means opportunities for young players. They've made a lot of interesting trades to acquire young players (Nate Lowe, Nick Solak) who are making an impact on their team now, but one trade that looks great in hindsight was the acquisition of Kolby Allard.
A former top-100 prospect acquired from the Braves for half a season of reliever Chris Martin, Allard struggled in his first stint in the MLB in 2020, but, as you can see, has fared much better this time around. With his impressive ratios, he suddenly looks like someone that can be a major asset down the stretch for your team.
At the same time, I'd proceed with trepidation. Simply as a starting pitcher, Allard's numbers (4.66 FIP, 22% K) look much less impressive. Meanwhile, his 26.6% called-strike rate doesn't stand out, and his minor-league track record suggests he's more of a command artist than someone who'll strike a lot of hitters out. For fantasy, that's less appealing considering he isn't neutralizing power, nor has a single "go-to" pitch in his arsenal based on current production. The lack of strikeouts will make him very subject to the opponent he's facing; consider Allard a useful streamer moving forward, yet don't make your expectations too lofty.
OF Jake Fraley, Seattle Mariners
Current Statistics: .237/.409/.439, 143 wRC+, .375 wOBA, 7 HR, 7 SB
Oh good, a young left-handed-hitting Mariners has established himself as an excellent offensive producer! It's great to see Jared Kelenic doing his thing!
Don't worry fans, Kelenic has just been called up and I'm expecting him to come much closer to expectations and be a future high-end contributor. For now, though, it's great to see Jake Fraley showing himself as a potential future impact player for Seattle. Still only 26-years-old, his strong minor-league track record is translating into MLB production, and he's been a major boon for fantasy teams with his power and speed.
There are a few things to note here, though. For one, Fraley is not going to run a 22.1% walk rate for the rest of the season. Who will? A 10% rate, as projections have it, is much more reasonable, which limits his opportunities to score runs and steal bases. Meanwhile, his quality of contact numbers (6.5% barrel, 1.3% solid contact) don't pop out, and you wonder if his line-drive rate (31.2%) also regresses negatively. If his walk rate, 26.9% home run/fly ball rate, and line-drive rate can't continue to remain intact, it will be tough for him to be as strong of an asset in non-OBP leagues. In standard format dynasty leagues, he's someone I'd be looking to sell high on. In redraft leagues, a 143 wRC+ is likely going to be a tall task to sustain for the rest of the year.
SP Ross Stripling, Toronto Blue Jays
Current Statistics: 74.2 IP, 4.37 ERA, 4.87 FIP, 24.8% K, 7.8% BB
I've long been enamored by Ross Stripling from his time serving a versatile starter/reliever hybrid role with the Dodgers, so it's nice to see him get a chance to shine. Considering that his numbers all mirror where they've been for his career, there's nothing to see here, right?
Unfortunately, there's almost too much to see- Stripling is quite the case study. His called-strike whiff rate (27.2%) is the lowest it's been since 2016, and wouldn't indicate that he's in a position to strike out batters at the rate he has. That's especially true when looking at his arsenal. His curveball, for instance, has been his premier pitch to get whiffs, yet the whiff rate (16.2%) has been cut in half for where it's been in standard seasons. As such, his fastball has been his premier pitch to get whiffs, yet the pitch also has gotten hit hard (14.4% barrel, .357 wOBA this season). As such, his barrel rate (10.4%) and ground ball rate (37%) are at suboptimal levels, especially playing in a very difficult AL East and in tough ballparks to pitch in. In other words, don't look at Stripling's K-BB ratio to suggest positive regression. In fact, the only regression I expect is for that number to get worse, leading to an ERA much closer to his FIP and without the strikeouts to support it.
OF Adolis Garcia, Texas Rangers
.270/.312/.527, 127 wRC+, .356 wOBA, 22 HR, 8 SB
Ranger fans, don't shoot the messenger! Between his ability to play center field and power, Adolis Garcia should continue to be a productive real-life contributor for the organization, while his power-speed combination will give him a reasonable foundation for fantasy. That said, we're also talking about a player who just made the All-Star Game, which leads me to why we should expect some regression from the 28-year-old's current numbers.
Between a 15.6% barrel rate and an above-average max exit velocity and sprint speed, Garcia has a very intriguing skillset for fantasy. Yet, expecting the barrel rate to remain where it is would be asking a lot of him. You always want to bake in some regression with such a lofty rate, even if it's clear by Garcia's minor-league numbers that he's built to hit for a lot of power. Rather, it's the batting average that I'm worried about. His 17.5% swinging-strike rate and 30.6% strikeout rate point to someone who won't continue to hit .270, and there isn't a lot to indicate that his .328 BABIP will remain intact. Although I don't like using expected wOBA as a predictive stat, it does help in small sample sizes, which makes this rolling chart quite telling:
A major problem I have with xwOBA is that it is a context-neutral stat in a game filled with context (ballpark, speed, shifts), so it's better to use actual statistics to predict a player's performance. These statistics need time to stabilize, however, and the circumstances here haven't changed for Garcia. Instead, the peak was very high, but the performance around the peak has been much less. Garcia's power should remain superb, yet I'd be skeptical of the batting average, and, thus, stolen bases and runs scored, moving forward; the latter statistic also will likely be impacted if Joey Gallo were to be traded. He'll remain a tremendously fun player to watch, yet someone whose peak we might have already experienced.
Hey, perhaps for this season these players can continue to ride their hot stretches for much longer than anticipated! Still, looking at this objectively, one has to wonder whether their luck will run out soon. As the trade deadline approaches, these may be players (especially the higher-regarded ones) that you might want to sell high on to really strengthen your team down the stretch. Who knows, maybe random variation doesn't play in your favor, here. Still, a good process should lead to results over time! Remember that as we come to the finishing stages of another very exciting season.