Batter’s Box: “All is flux, nothing stays still.”

I am slightly embarrassed to admit that my undergraduate degree focused mostly on philosophy. While I find it to be a fascinating topic and one worthy of significant study, it doesn’t pay many bills. It does, however, leave impressions on your mind that can be difficult to shake. One quote, from the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, always stays with me: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” That quote ends up getting applied to many things I do, and one of those things is baseball. Specifically, that quote makes it difficult for me to talk about regression.

In most cases, people talk about regression when discussing players who are overperforming their metrics to an insane degree (such as Fernando Tatis Jr. (SS, San Diego Padres), who went 4-5 with a run scored on Sunday). The conversation, generally, is that a player is getting lucky on batted balls and will regress at some point because the luck factors will “correct” themselves and everything will adjust. In many cases, that’s kind of what happens. Batters cool off and don’t perform as well as they did during their hot streaks, and we kind of just say it’s “regression” and that these things happen.

Here’s the problem: The truth is MUCH more complicated. Baseball is an incredible game in part because of the insane number of independent and dependent variables affecting each moment of every game. Inning, count, situation, batter, pitcher, runners, fielders, positioning, previous sequences, health, recent pitch sequences, scouting, coaching, batter’s eye, lighting, wind, humidity, and an almost infinite list of other things all affect individual moments that lead to hits and outs. Modern statistics do a fantastic job at measuring what happened and give us great insight on why it happened, but they are limited. Because of all of these variables for which individual statistics cannot account, we require fairly large sample sizes for many of these statistics to be reliable (BABIP, for example, takes more than a full season to be reasonably reliable by some measures). As we wait for large enough sample sizes, the world keeps turning, and ball players keep changing. When struggling, hitters might adjust their timing, swing, or positioning in the batter’s box. These things all have the potential to drastically change a hitter’s performance.

Now, I use statistics as much as anyone, and I routinely indicate when I believe a player is over- or underperforming based on those statistics. Is that analysis worthless? No—it’s just limited and is not based entirely in any one number. I try to use stats alongside scouting, history, leaguewide trends, projections, and anything else I can get my hands on to make a call or decision. Ultimately, though, I have to accept that anything I say is at the whims and mercy of an infinite number of variables I cannot possibly predict.

Recently, my colleague Jake Greenberg did a fantastic write-up of many of the variables surrounding a possible cooling off for Tatis that avoids many of the common simplicities. I actually agree with Jake—if Tatis does what he did in the first half in the second half, then I would anticipate he would get worse results than he did for exactly the same reasons as Jake lays out. The one thing that could throw all of that off, of course, is if the uber-athletic 20-year-old changes, and as my dude Heraclitus would say, “there is nothing permanent except change.”

TL;DR: Regression candidates can and should be identified, but bear in mind that players change and the variables that affected them before may be entirely different in the future.

Robinson Cano (2B, New York Mets)—4-5, 2 R, HR, 2B, RBI. Father Time had his way with Cano in the first half, but he now has back-to-back games with a home run and is slashing .395/.422/.558 over his past 11 games. Second base is a weak position, and Cano’s history of hitting for contact and power makes him an intriguing option in 12-teamers.

Harold Castro (2B/SS, Detroit Tigers)—4-6, 2 R, 2B, 2 RBI. The young lefty has played six different positions in his past 11 games as the Tigers try to find ways to get his bat in the lineup. He doesn’t have much power or speed, but those in very deep formats might be able to extract some value from his ability to make contact. He had a high batting average throughout his minor league career, though his OBP will leave quite a bit to be desired. That said, if you’re considering Castro, it’s because you’re in an AL-only or 15-teamer and need an emergency middle infielder, and you could do a lot worse. He’s also a decent DFS pivot play when facing righties, especially if he keeps hitting second like he did Sunday.

Niko Goodrum (1B/2B/SS/OF, Detroit Tigers)—4-5, R, 2 RBI, 2 SB. His sub-par ratios aren’t fun to look at, but he’s already swiped three bags in July and could easily finish out the season with 15 home runs and 15 steals. He won’t hit .250 or slug .400, but his flexibility and power-speed combo is worth rostering in 15-teamers.

A.J. Pollock (OF, Los Angeles Dodgers)—3-6, 2 R, HR, 4 RBI. That’s six hits in three games since his return from an extended absence. I’m not sure how many bases he’ll steal many this year, but he should hit a decent number of home runs and put up plenty of counting stats while healthy as the everyday center fielder for the Dodgers. His return does cloud the playing time for guys such as Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez and likely puts Joc Pederson into a full platoon, though.

Ryan McMahon (1B/2B, Colorado Rockies)—3-4, 2 R, 3B, 2B, 3 RBI. There are flashes of a good player in there, but in 10- and 12-teamers, I am 100% done chasing it. He bats low in the order and doesn’t hit for nearly enough power for me to be interested outside of 15-team leagues, and even then, he’s just a corner or middle infielder at best.

Marwin Gonzalez (1B/2B/3B/SS/OF, Minnesota Twins)—3-4, R, 2B, RBI. His ability to play any position gives him plenty of fantasy utility, but more importantly, it gives the Twins a chance to put him in the lineup every day. Hitting 20 home runs with little to no speed and a .260-.270 average isn’t worth all that much these days, but he won’t hurt you in any category and is a decent option in deep leagues who can help consolidate your bench spots and open up space for more exciting options.

Xander Bogaerts (SS, Boston Red Sox)—3-5, 2 R, HR, RBI, BB. I’ve talked a lot about the breakout of his teammate Rafael Devers, but I’ve neglected Bogaerts and that’s not fair. He’s well on his way to his first 30-home run season and looks like he’s going to put up 220 or more combined runs and RBI. He’s also posting a career high 12.7% walk rate while striking out in only 18.5% of his plate appearances. The 26-year-old has been a top-five shortstop this season, and I expect him to continue to be one going forward.

Jose Altuve (2B, Houston Astros)—3-5, 3 R, HR, 4 RBI. Two home runs in his past three games has bumped his batting line since his return on June 19 to .322/.340/.500. The power has clearly returned; now all he needs is the speed to become a top-tier second baseman once again. He’s only 29, so he hasn’t quite hit the point where speed evaporates, meaning there’s still hope.

Yuli Gurriel (1B/3B, Houston Astros)—3-5, R, HR, 3 RBI. I have no idea where this power is coming from. He has 11 home runs in his past 15 games, which is absurd for a guy who needed 136 games to hit 13 home runs in 2018. I don’t know who or what magic he summoned to grant him this kind of power, but ride it while you can because it is incredibly likely to vanish as suddenly as it appeared.

Jeimer Candelario (3B, Detroit Tigers)—2-5, R, 2B, 3 RBI. Since returning from injury and demotion on June 26, he has a 1.032 OPS. I can’t recommend him in most formats, but if you’re looking for playing time and replacement-level counting stats, here they are.

Brandon Belt (1B, San Francisco Giants)—2-4, 2 R, HR, RBI, BB. He’s healthy, so he’s hitting. That’s just how it always goes for Belt. Don’t know how long it will last, but he’s a solid corner infielder in points and OBP leagues.

Paul Goldschmidt (1B, St. Louis Cardinals)—2-4, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI. He rebounded in 2018, why not 2019? Someone smarter than me could probably do/has done a deep dive on what’s going on and why, but for my purposes, he’s locked into the first base slot in whatever leagues I own him, and he’s there to stay unless he hits the IL.

(Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire)

Scott Chu

Scott Chu has written about fantasy baseball since 2013. In addition to being a writer and content manager at Pitcher List, he podcasts with Friends with Fantasy Benefits and contributes to Lineup Logic. If you want to chat about baseball, fantasy curling (featured in WSJ), sports in general, deaf culture, being a twin, or the oddities of having Irish and Korean ancestry, Chu's your guy.

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Comments


Scott Chu

I dig it, Jeff. Just because an asset is potentially at peak value doesn’t mean you HAVE to sell it. It just means you have to plan for a potential downturn in production.

Also, as much as I agree with the points Jake made in his piece, I’ve yet to hear someone say there coming to buy Tatis Jr. anywhere.

theKraken

That sounds like a good trade candidate to me. it is hard to imagine his peak getting any higher (redraft and probably keeper) which is a good way to think about it. If you can trade him for his worth as of today, you probably come out ahead and you could come out way ahead potentially. That said, it is fun owning a guy that you are a big fan of. The real challenge is finding a less coveted guy that you would love to own which could prove to be impossible.

Scott Chu

I think that Paul Sporer and Justin Mason (who is one of my favorite guys that I’ve met in this business) did a nice job talking about his trade value in the Sleeper and the Bust podcast they recorded over the break.

That said, if you are pulling for him, it’s OK to keep him. This is supposed to be fun, after all.

Jack

Yes, Bogaerts and his .301 AVG and .948 OPS. Between him and Trevor Story, my SS and 2B/SS are locked DOWN, and my draft picks of Mookie Betts and Paul Goldschmidt (and for that matter, Story too, being that some guy named Yelich was sitting out there in late Round 2) sting just a little less. Hopefully Goldy can turn it around.

Wanted to ask you Scott, is anyone like me and stashing Clint Frazier for his inevitable trade to somewhere (the Yankees fan in me says hopefully Cleveland, for Trevor Bauer), or no?

Scott Chu

Sounds like a strong team, Jack.

As for Frazier, it’d have to be a VERY deep league to be doing that stash. The Yankees aren’t likely that motivated to let him go with Brett Gardner being a FA at the end of the year (which opens up a spot for Frazier).

Jack

Yep, and it would be stronger had I not dropped Kepler, Laureano, Renfroe, and your man Avi Garcia in favor of Franmil Reyes and generally just having no bench whatsoever.

Re: Frazier, interesting take, but even with no Gardner they still have Hicks, Judge, and Stanton (who is hurt, again, and yet Clint still wallows in Scranton)…I’ll still hang onto Clint for now just in case those Bauer rumors are true. Only 2 weeks more anyway.

Scott Chu

That’s a solid outing by a guy I really like (he was the featured blurb about a month ago in this column, and Daniel Port featured him in a Going Deep a few weeks ago as well). The issue, as I’ve mentioned on other similar comments in the past, is that it’s hard for me to carve out space for any hitter who only logs a single hit. I highlighted 13 hitters today, all of whom had at least two hits. There were at least five other multi-hit outings I had to cut for time issues and dozens of others who I kind of passed on for other reasons. There’s SO much to possibly cover in any given day (especially on Sundays when there’s a full 15-game slate) and a single hit outing is tough to make room for.

I like him a lot, though.

Bryan P Barash

For what it’s worth, being that this is a fantasy site, I would say that a combo meal is far more rare and interesting than a random multihit night. If he had stolen after a single instead of a walk, would that have made a difference?

Would you argue, for example, that Candelario going 2-5 with 3 RBI is worth more than a combo meal?

You do amazing work keeping us up to date, I’m not trying to be critical, but you might consider if single hit nights that are fantasy relevant, particularly combo meals, should get a slot in your writeups.

Scott Chu

Those are good points, Bryan, and one-hit nights DO make this column. I can certainly do a better job including more players and actively seeking out combo meals (which I have done occasionally, but it isn’t currently part of my process even though it probably should be).

To stick with the trend of the piece, there are a lot of variables that go into selecting the players that I end up including. Their performance is the first and foremost, but the second is probably having something new/interesting to say about them. Jeimer, for example, was added because I haven’t really discussed him in a long time and even though there wasn’t much to say, his current hot stretch was something I thought was worth sharing. While Ramon Laureano wasn’t ever on my list to add to this piece (I didn’t search for combo meals, after all), I passed on a few decent nights in late June and early July because of the heavy focus he got in those two pieces in mid and late June. There’s no rule – I just felt I didn’t have anything to add (and I’m not sure I do now, either, but it’s been a month and the fact that he’s good might be worthy enough by itself.

I appreciate the feedback and appreciate the kind words, Bryan, and I hope this doesn’t come off as a tone-deaf defense of his exclusion. Certainly provided me with a worthwhile takeaway!

Bryan

Not at all, makes perfect sense. Thanks for hearing me out! Lets hope he has a few more combo meals coming for you to write about!

Scott Chu

No doubt he will, Bryan. Made some nice adjustments earlier this year (as Daniel pointed out in his piece).

WheelhouseWreck

Haha wow, Bryan. Rosterbate much? Isn’t it more profitable to read about players NOT on your team? Laureano has already been covered enough to know he’s worthy of our attention.
You’re doing a great player selection job, Scott!

Scott Chu

I’m glad you’re enjoying it, Wheelhouse. Picking the guys to write about is easily the most difficult part of this piece.

I will concede, though, that I often forget to sort the data by stolen bases to identify power/speed combos (which is odd based on how often I use that phrase).

theKraken

You think modern stats do a fantastic job at measuring what happened and give us great insight on why it happened? I disagree. You have to watch the actual game to judge why things are the way they are and what actually happened – it can’t be done in a select GIF or two either lol. That is why Nick is better than everyone else who analyzes SP IMO – I think he watches more and knows what he is looking at. Old-school stats tell you what actually happened, and modern stats don’t provide a lot of insight as to why it happened, despite their attempts IMO. Modern metrics attempt to cut the “luck” out, but its either all luck of there isn’t any luck depending on what you mean by luck. I would argue that modern metrics are diverging from actual baseball outcomes and skills. I think players with “combine skills” (EV, velocity, sprint speed) are favored over players that have “baseball skills” as modern metrics are not any good at capturing those. Modern metrics are just some extra data points that may or may not be insightful, but are most often applied recklessly, which unsurprisingly don’t provide much real insight. Its OK to poke at modern metrics – someone will have to do it at some point. I know that historically part of modern metrics has been to chastise those not fully on board, but that isn’t socially justifiable either. Don’t feel obligated to pat those folks on the back – they do a good enough job on their own! Your point that we are trying to analyze changing entities is a good one.

I don’t think statistics are the reason that players regress toward the mean. Its much more human than that. Players get hot for whatever reason (most likely mental) and then they begin to struggle when they lose whatever edge they had. Hot/cold streaks have always been highly visible. BABIP is not a constant that governs the universe like gravity. Sometimes a player has an entire season where they play way above or below a sustainable level. BABIP serves as a crude proxy for a sustainable level. Its not a given that Tatis won’t have a better second half but it is a safe bet that he will be worse. That is not a fact, nor is it insightful nor would it be any more insightful with a few arbitrary data points.

Scott Chu

Are you not a fan of advanced metrics, Kraken? This is the first I’ve heard such a sentiment.

But in all seriousness, I DO think that they do a good job of telling us a lo about what happened. How fast and far a ball traveled and the exact angle at which it left the ball? That’s incredibly useful. Rolling 50-game averages on a variety of metrics gives us impressive insight on how a player is adapting. It’s limited, sure, but that doesn’t make it useless. The most important point is probably that some people ignore the fact that other variables even exist at all.

Scott Chu

For Fangraphs, you can also use the Game Log or Splits Tool to get more specific. It won’t give you rolling averages but you can get very specific about sets of time.

AH

A good example of what’s talked about in the opening is Brandon Lowe. People have been flagging his unsustainable strikeout rate and future regression almost since he exploded into the season. But in June (prior to injury), he was showing modest plate discipline improvements and cutting that K% down. He was swinging less and making more—and harder—contact.

It’s possible for the luck to regress *and* for the player to make adjustments or improvements that mitigate a collapse.

Scott Chu

Exactly, AH. “All is flux, nothing stays still.” For every variable that stabilizes, another changes, and the number of variables that go into baseball are seemingly infinite.

Doesn’t mean we can’t analyze and predict—but it does mean that we have to accept that statistical analysis focuses on the past and that it cannot necessarily predict changes that occur in the future. In some cases we can make educated guesses (example – players who have high swinging strike rates against sliders are likely to start seeing more sliders), but that’s the extent of it. Our predictions rely on either an adjustment that isn’t offset by other variables OR that a player generally stays the same. Those are two big leaps of faith and we shouldn’t forget that.

Vinny

Hey Scott,

Thanks again for another great article!

I really want to drop hosmer for nate lowe in a points league but i feel like it might be a bit short sighted being that Hosmer has been relatively solid all year for me. I guess I just think even when he’s hot its a lot of empty BA but I know once I drop him someone else will scoop him. Thoughts?

Scott Chu

You’re more than welcome, Vinny, and I’m glad you think so!

As for this one, unless it’s a keeper/dynasty format where Lowe would stay with you through the off-season, I don’t think you can make this move. If playing time was similar, there might be some arguments for Lowe, but playing time probably WON’T be similar. I’d be worried that Lowe only plays in 1/3 to 1/2 of the games that Hosmer is in. Also, points is probably the ideal format for Hosmer — he doesn’t strike out that much and makes plenty of contact.

The only other scenario where I could see Lowe is in a rather shallow format 10 teams w/out a CI spot, for example) where Hosmer is more replacement level than solid asset.

Swfcdan

Prospects but all hitters so hoping you can advise. Intrigued by Biggio but it would take one of L Urias, J Kelenic and B KcKay (ok he’s owned for his pitching but is technically a hitter too!). Not moving McKay, but would you move both of Urias and Kelenic for B? I really like Urias but it is the PCL he’s wrecked havoc upon, like Kelenic long term too but he’s clearly a long way off. Thoughts?

Different league but desperate for an OF (thanks G Polanco) and have 3B to spare. Made offers but nothing worked, would Muncy for Dahl be ok? Seems a bit of a downgrade but league does count AVG and OBP, and Dahl could still have room to grow in the power/speed dept. One of those trades where to take a slight hit is better than standing pat, you agree?

Scott Chu

(1) I’d probably rather have all of those guys than Biggio long term. I like Biggio, but those are top 50 prospects — Biggio was not (and is not) that. He’s showing great stuff but his upside is just too limited to want to part with multiple of those assets. Great question for our prospect team, though!

(2) Yes, that’s fine. I like Dahl a bit more, but it’s pretty darn close.

Swfcdan

1. Just to clarify it would be a 1 for 1 swap. If you could swap Keleni might you do it?

2. Wow you prefer Dahl more? Looks like I made a perfect deal then!

Scott Chu

I might! Kelenic is a great prospect but he’s a ways away. It would depend on your current trajectory. I’m not the best at these kinds of trades, though – our dynasty team is much better equipped to handle it.

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