Bounce Back Candidates According to Steamer

As I so often do, I ran some numbers through the z-score method yesterday. I ran each player’s 2015 numbers through as well as the Steamer rest-of-season projections and compared the results. Given the cumulative nature of fantasy production, I looked at each player’s production, actual and projected, on a per plate appearance basis to get an idea about who the projection system thinks is going to bounce back in the second half.

The guy who easily had the biggest gap between his production to date and his projected production was Yasiel Puig. It was a rough first half for Puig as he lost some time to the DL, and he simply wasn’t very productive when healthy. Steamer projects a return to the top 40 hitters in the second half, which sounds high to be sure. But when you look at what Steamer is actually projecting, it doesn’t seem all that unreasonable.

The main projected improvement is with his batting average. He’s hitting .268 so far this season, but he’s still a .300 hitter for his career. His BABIP this season is 40 points lower than his career BABIP despite the healthiest line drive rate of his career by far. We all know line drive rate is a variable thing, so that could easily regress, and it’s entirely possible his .359 career BABIP is not something he’ll get back to. But the fact that he had the lowest BABIP of his career despite his best line drive rate doesn’t totally compute. Steamer is not projecting a bounce back all the way to .359 in BABIP, and a .328 BABIP seems reasonable.

With his solid plate discipline numbers, a return to an average near .290 hardly seems impossible. He basically provided an average batting average to fantasy owners in the first half, but his second half projection is well above average.

Steamer is also projecting Puig to double his home run total in 30% more plate appearances. It’s unlikely that Puig is ever going to repeat his 21.8 percent HR/FB rate from his rookie season, but his 9.3 percent HR/FB rate this year is below the league average. If you do the math using the Steamer projections, Puig has about 62 more fly balls in him this season. If were to hit them out at a league average rate, he’d hit 6.5 more home runs. Rounding up and assuming he can be a bit better than league average in that respect, eight home runs is an attainable mark.

Steamer also has his speed coming back a bit, projecting five steals from here on out despite the fact that he’s 1-for-3 in steal attempts so far this season. But even if the speed doesn’t come back, the batting average, home runs, and increase in runs and RBI that will come from a full compliment of games would make him far more valuable than he has been to date. I think he’s worth acquiring so long as you can acquire him for a price no higher than that of a borderline top-30 outfielder.

The other names with the biggest gaps between production to date and projected production are guys with stories similar to Puig. Yan Gomes, Victor Martinez, Adrian Beltre, and Jonathan Lucroy all missed time due to injury in the first half and struggled even when they were healthy. And for the most part, the cause of their struggles is similar to Puig’s problems. Every last one of them has a BABIP and HR/FB rate that is a bit lower than their career rates. And with the exception of Gomes, none of them has seen their plate discipline skills to erode to a significant degree. You also can’t blame abnormally bad batted ball profiles for any of their struggles.

The not-that-long story short here is that Steamer supports the classic buy low on these guys. All of the players have returned from injury at this point, and none have acquitted themselves of their struggles with their recent performance. That means the cost to acquire them should remain fairly reasonable. So if you’re making trade offers over the All-Star break, those are some names to consider.

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Just curious how Steamer predicts an uptick in SB for Puig? Is that solely a result of getting on base more or is there something else Steamer is doing?