Three Infield Positive Regression Candidates

If you haven’t studied the managers who won your league by now, you should. If you won your league, and your competition is smart, you’re being studied. People are trying to find out why the Robbie Ray‘s and the Marcus Semien’s of 2021 caught the eye of those who drafted them and are looking to find next season’s doppelgangers. The Dodgers didn’t take long at all to take their pick. We can make all the models, algorithms, spreadsheets, and crystal ball readings we like, but the most tried and true technique is regression. Players that were unbelievably good…will regress to their true-talent level. Players that were unexpectedly bad…will regress to their true-talent level. This is something you can take to the bank. Rather than choose from 15 of the best players we should take in the first round, let’s think of players that we expect to go in the 5th and 6th rounds. Here’s a look at three players that seem likely to do just that, and could fly under the radar in your 2022 draft.

5 year stats 0.332 106 0.438
2021 stats 0.306 91 0.395

This is not a sleeper pick. Merrifield has been a top fantasy baseball player for a few years now. Knowing that, I still did a double-take when I saw that he had 40 stolen bases in 2021. That’s more than Trea Turner (32) and while Merrifield has always been an SB target for fantasy managers, there was some thought that aging (he’s going into his age 33 season) was going to slow him down on the base paths. Clearly, that did not happen. In 2021, Merrifield was drafted around the 40 pick. Most people will see that 2021 SB total and draft high for that reason. But, if you’re lucky, over-thinkers will see him as old and washed, and that’s when you’ll mumble under your breath just before you click the “Draft” button, “Fools.”

An OBP decline since a 2018 peak has been occurring, yet steamer’s 2022 projection has him improving to .327 from 2021’s .317 career low. Looking at his 15-game rolling BB% does not show anything too alarming, but a steady declining HardHit% does.

Merrifield’s BABIP was not unsustainable, and looking at his spray chart in combination with his still high sprint speed percentile, shows that he was getting singles with his legs. While I don’t think that will necessarily stop, if he continues to lose hard-hit ability, that may happen a little less. It’s the only thing I can find that’s concerning and I don’t think it’s enough to suggest Merrifield is at the start of an age decline. That’s especially true if you consider he’s never been above the 20th percentile in hard-hit rate according to his savant page.

Saving the best for last, Merrifield continues to get a ton of at-bats, his lowest (excluding 2020) being 630 in 2017. While steamer 2022 projections have him losing 29 PAs off of his 2021 720, a 691 projection in 2022 ain’t bad.

5 year stats 0.346 110 0.442
2021 stats 0.315 100 0.362

My guess is that people will have a wide range of opinions on LeMahieu, but I think his 15-game rolling wOBA paints a clear picture of a down year that should be expected to regress:

What was LeMahieu great at in previous seasons? I always like looking at PitcherList’s summary reports and here’s how they peg LeMahieu:

If we take three of these strengths and place them into our rolling chart, here’s what we see:

It’s interesting to see how little things have changed beyond an increased K% at the start of the season. That might be a result of three stats in one graph skewing the visual, but I still don’t see many big changes when I squint. Finally, if you look at steamer’s early 2022 projections, nearly every ‘quick look’ statistic is projected to improve. If you’re not yet cross-eyed from rolling charts then let me show one more:

Here we see a hard-hit rate decline and we now know that there was an injury that required surgery. While his line drive rate did not make any big changes, it seems clear that LeMahieu was fighting through an injury that likely drained some of his power. Once again, the skills are there and should help LeMahieu rise back up to career levels.

5 year stats 0.337 110 0.425
2021 stats 0.294 83 0.342

I liked Santana in 2021, especially in a points league that highly rewards walks. But, there’s no denying Santana fell off at the end of the season. Again, I’m tempted to post this rolling chart and type nothing else:

It seems very clear that Santana was underperforming but it’s less clear why. He finished 13th in BB% in 2021 among qualified hitters and has not dipped below 650 PA’s since 2013 (excluding 2020) where he collected 642. Looking at an early steamer projection, we see that Santana is expected to bounce back, but may get less opportunity:

I think, for the most part, Santana is a solid, steady player who had a down year in 2021 and that fantasy players will forget about. Use that to your advantage, he should be expected to do better than he did in 2021.

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