Over the next few weeks, we will be looking at some players in each division set to either progress or regress in 2018. As we know, in the world of fantasy baseball, it is important to look to the upcoming season and be ahead of the curve. Whether it’s to avoid paying for a player who will take a step back, or draft a player who is a bargain. Sabermetrics and advanced stats have given us many tools to evaluate players and try to predict how their seasons will play out. All analytics aren’t created equal though. There are so many nowadays that figuring out what to look at can be a daunting task. While there is still no one particular metric that is foolproof, there are some that can point us in the right direction. Let’s take a look at the 2018 AL East.
AL East 2018 Fantasy Progression and Regression
Boston Red Sox
PROGRESS – Rafael Devers came up last year and showed why he belonged in the majors at 20 years old. Though it’s a small sample size (240 PA), Devers showed some skills that, with more experience, should continue to develop and improve. His flyball ratio was 35.6%. While that is just slightly below average, it is something across major league baseball that has improved over the past few years. He had a HR/FB% of 17.2% which would have put him in the top third of qualifying hitters last season tied with Corey Dickerson who had 27 home runs. Devers also hits the ball to all fields. Had he qualified, he would’ve been one of only 14 hitters to hit the ball 30% of the time to right, center, and left. An improved FB%, along with a sustainable 17%-19% HR/FB ratio and continuous use of all fields, puts Devers in line for a great full season in Boston.
2018 Prediction: .290/.355/.530, 29 HRs, 8 SBs, 82 Runs, 92 RBI
REGRESS – Drew Pomeranz has the pedigree. He was drafted fifth overall in the 2010 amateur draft by the Cleveland Indians. Health has been a major issue for Pomeranz. While he has managed to throw at least 170 the past couple seasons, he never threw more than 100 before 2016 in a major league season. He had an 80% LOB%, which was considerably higher than the league average of 73%. His K/BB was 2.52, which put him in the bottom third of the qualifying pitchers. Of the 17 pitchers that had a lower K/BB than he did, only three of them had an ERA of less than 3.50. We can also probably expect his record of 17-6 to get back to around .500.
2018 Prediction: 150 IP, 9-10, 4.30 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 137 Ks
New York Yankees
PROGRESS – Greg Bird had nearly the same amount of PA in 2015 and 2017(178 and 170 respectively). In 2015 he showed promise slashing .261/.343/.529. Unfortunately, Bird underwent shoulder surgery to repair his labrum before the 2016 season and did not play. An ankle injury kept him out for much of the 2017 season and when he was in there it wasn’t pretty, as he hit .190/.288/.422. But there is a reason to be optimistic about 2018. The BABIP dropped from .319 to .194. Bird, a left-handed pull hitter, should normalize to about .280. His BB/K ratio actually improved from 0.36 to 0.45 which indicates better plate discipline. His FB% sits around 51% and his HR/FB% should be easily sustainable at around 18%-22%, especially in Yankee Stadium. Fans have been waiting for the breakout season from Bird and if he can stay healthy, this will be the year he does it.
2018 Prediction: .265/.360/.560, 36 HRs, 85 Runs, 95 RBI
REGRESS – Sonny Gray will have his first full season in New York after being acquired at the deadline last year from the A’s. If we go by the splits of last year between Oakland and New York, that doesn’t bode well for him. The switch to the Yankees and the AL East was not kind to Gray. His GB% dropped to below 50% for the first time in his career and his HR/9 more than doubled. Gray’s K/BB rate also suffered, going from 3.13 to 2.19. His ERA was a respectable 3.72 with the Yankees but it was helped by an unsustainable .246 BABIP and a 77% LOB%. While he may adjust accordingly to his new home park, there is no reason to think that Gray will be anything better than a number four or five starter.
2018 Prediction: 165 IP, 10-11, 4.20 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 135 Ks
Toronto Blue Jays
PROGRESS – Randal Grichuk came over in a trade from the Cardinals this off-season. Grichuk showed his potential last year in the second half of the season. After an abysmal first half, Grichuk hit .265 with 13 home runs in just 201 PA after the All-Star break. Grichuk will be the Blue Jays starting right fielder. A position that he prefers over left field interestingly enough. While playing right field he slashed .288/.316/.581. When he was in left field he hit .174/.230/.347. Grichuk has great power but he is going to strikeout. He is only 26 and has less than 1300 ABs at the major league level. With a secure starting job in a hitters park, Grichuk is poised for a breakout.
2018 Prediction: .260/.330/.550, 33 HRs, 80 Runs, 85 RBI
REGRESS – Kendrys Morales is getting worse. He has been declining the past three seasons and his production does not look like it is going to return at 34 years old. Here is how Morales has done the past three years: OPS .847-.795-.753 and BB/K 0.56-0.40-0.33. Morales was never very fast so his declining BABIP is not an outlier. It is the new norm and at .278 last year, not even league average. Combine that with his hard hit ratio dropping to 37.9% and it’s reasonable to think that Morales is going to continue to decline.
2018 Prediction: .240/.300/.430, 18 HRs, 55 Runs, 70 RBI
PROGRESS – Chris Tillman was a very good pitcher a few years back. From 2013-2016 he was 56-30 while throwing 170 innings a year. He also had a sub 3.80 ERA for three of those four years. Last year he was downright ugly. With a 7.84 ERA and 1-7 record, he actually hurt the Orioles. This year he seems to be healthy and that is all he needs. Last season his BABIP was .334 which should go down. Things should normalize for Tillman. His 1.24 K/BB ratio should be better and his 20% HR/FB rate should get back to his career norm of 11.8%. That being said, if Tillman can stay healthy there is no reason to think he can’t get back to his former self.
2018 Prediction: 185 IP, 14-9, 3.75 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 170 Ks
REGRESS – Andrew Cashner had a 3.40 ERA last year. Let that sink in. The peripherals scream regression. His BABIP was .266 and his HR/FB rate was 8.6%. Neither of these stats is sustainable. It is probable that his BABIP returns to .300 and his HR/FB rate goes to 11-14%. Cashner also had a K/BB rate of 1.34 which is an abomination in today’s game. He will also be pitching in a hitters ballpark in the AL East. With all of these things playing against Cashner, it is highly doubtful he comes close to a sub 4.00 ERA next season
2018 Prediction: 145 IP, 7-12, 4.80 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 90 Ks
Tampa Bay Rays
PROGRESS – Blake Snell has some good stuff. His fastball sits around 95 mph and his curveball averages 79 mph. He also has a slider and a changeup which are plus pitches. His GB rate improved from 36.5 to 43.9. This is important considering the rise of home runs hit in the majors the past few years. He also lowered his walk rate from 5.16 per 9 to 4.11 per 9. His control and command of the strike zone have improved. He is 25 years old and has thrown only 218 major league innings. Snell is trending in the right direction and should see a marked improvement in his stats as the number two guy behind Chris Archer in Tampa Bay.
2018 Prediction: 180 IP, 15-11, 3.55 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 190 Ks
REGRESS – Denard Span came over in the Evan Longoria deal with San Francisco. He used to be an on base and steal guy, but those days are gone. His BB/K ratio and OBP have both gone down the past 3 years (0.96-0.67-0.58, .365-.331-.329 respectively). While he may still be a valuable player, his upside is limited due to his lack of production against lefties. Span hit .224 vs. lefties last year while hitting .284 and all of his 12 home run vs. right-handers last season. Span is still a solid player and should start most games with the Rays but his declining production and age signal a player who will not be what he was before.
2018 Prediction: .250/.320/.400, 8 HRs, 13 SBs, 65 Runs, 35 RBI
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