After a smashing 2013, Mike Napoli could see a decline in his stats—and his beard—in 2014.
The Super Bowl just ended. Have you started your fantasy baseball preparation yet?
If your answer is no, don't worry: There's help on the way, starting with a look at a batch of players who are coming off fantastic fantasy seasons in 2013. That's all well and good, except it's 2014 now, which means they're prime candidates to disappoint this time around.
Yes, regression is a depressing element of fantasy baseball, but player performance fluctuates—and in this case, for the worse—from year to year all the time. A drop-off can happen for any number of reasons, including age, injury, new team, suspicious underlying metrics or even the simple fact that there's no way in heck to sustain last season's overwhelming level of production.
That in mind, the players to follow are those considered worthy fantasy starters who appear to be due for a dip. Though they fit the regression bill, hitters like Marlon Byrd and Chris Johnson or pitchers like A.J. Griffin and Jhoulys Chacin don't quite qualify based on their current perception as nonstarting pieces for standard fantasy purposes (i.e. a 10- or 12-team league with 5x5 scoring).
Before clicking ahead, though, don't mistake this list to mean these players aren't worth drafting or starting for your fake squad. Most of them will be—they just won't approach their output from 2013.
Here, then, are 10 regression candidates (and then some), listed in reverse order of their average draft position (ADP) based on early results via Mock Draft Central (membership required).
For Koji Uehara, it doesn't get much better than 2013.
Bartolo Colon, RHP, New York Mets (ADP: 234)
An All-Star last year who finished second in the AL with a 2.65 ERA, Colon sported a rather steep left on-base percentage (80.0 percent), notched a puny 5.5 K/9 rate and almost certainly won't approach his 18 wins as an Oakland Athletic last year with the Mets this season. Plus, you know, there's that whole turning-41-midseason thing.
Chris Tillman, RHP, Baltimore Orioles (ADP: 228)
Another 2013 All-Star, Tillman won 16 games with a 3.71 ERA. He also received 4.82 runs of support per start—11th-most in baseball—while pitching in front of one of the top offenses around and had the 10th-worst FIP (4.42) in the game.
Torii Hunter, OF, Detroit Tigers (ADP: 162)
Brandon Phillips, 2B, Cincinnati Reds (ADP: 161)
Fantasy folks seem to be realizing that Phillips' best days are well in the past. He's on the wrong side of 30, no longer a 20-20 threat (just five steals in '13!) and won't come close to the career-high 103 RBI now that he won't have both Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto hitting ahead of him.
Daniel Murphy, 2B, Mets (ADP: 150)
Raise your hand if you realized Murphy, long a fantasy afterthought, set career highs with 13 homers, 78 RBI, 92 runs and—get this—23 stolen bases last year. OK, now raise your hand if you think that wasn't his career year. (You didn't raise your hand either time, right?)
Domonic Brown, OF, Philadelphia Phillies (ADP: 141)
With 27 home runs, Brown's breakout finally happened—and only about two years later than everyone had hoped. Outside of his 12-homers-in-19-games binge from late May to early June, during which he also batted .397, though, Brown's numbers really weren't all that impressive.
Mike Napoli, 1B, Boston Red Sox (ADP: 105)
Don't get too tangled up in that beard: Napoli had the second-highest strikeout rate in the game (32.4 percent) and 31 of his 92 RBI—that's more than a third—came in his first 27 games. He also won't be catcher-eligible in fantasy anymore.
Koji Uehara, RHP, Red Sox (ADP: 87)
Prior to 2013, Uehara (pictured) had never held down the closer's job nor pitched more than 66.2 innings in a season. Then he did both, registering 21 saves and hurling 74.1 innings (plus 13.2 more in October), all while sporting a ridiculous 1.09 ERA, 0.57 WHIP and 12.2 K/9—all career bests. He'll be 39 in April. You do the math.
2013 Fantasy Stats: .331 BA, 74 R, 84 RBI, 20 HR, 10 SB
There's no other way to put it: Michael Cuddyer went bonkers in his second season at Coors Field. He led the NL in batting average, for cryin' out loud!
There's also that unsustainably high .382 BABIP (third in baseball) for a career .277 hitter, as well as constant injury issues that have cost him nearly 40 games a year since 2011. Not to mention, he turns 35 prior to Opening Day.
2013 Fantasy Stats: .318 BA, 126 R, 78 RBI, 11 HR, 3 SB
A year ago this time, Matt Carpenter was an underrated option to take a shot on in fantasy. Following a year in which he hit .318 with a whopping 55 doubles and scored an incredible 126 runs—both MLB bests, by the way—the 28-year-old is considered a bona fide fantasy stud.
Thing is, Carpenter doesn't offer much in power (11 homers) or speed (three steals), so he'll have to rank among the league leaders in average and runs scored yet again to keep up his new lofty status. That might be just a tad tough to pull off two years in a row.
2013 Fantasy Stats: .318 BA, 84 R, 82 RBI, 25 HR, 10 SB
As great as Jayson Werth's season was, it actually could have been that much better had he not missed about a month with a hamstring injury early on. In fact, it's hard to argue anyone was better in the second half, once Werth got back to full health and batted .339 with 15 homers, 46 runs and 49 RBI.
Now that he's coming off two injury-riddled campaigns and entering his age-35 season, though, it's hard to expect Werth to play more than 130 games. When healthy, his skill set makes him a third outfielder in fantasy, but you'll need to plan for contingencies.
2013 Fantasy Stats: .280 BA, 83 R, 35 RBI, 12 HR, 41 SB
For the first month of his first full season, Starling was a fantasy darling. The 25-year-old Marte hit .327 with 11 RBI, 20 runs and seven swipes.
Alas, those first three numbers were his best in any month. Meanwhile, his scary strikeout rate (24.4 percent, 17th-highest) and weak walk rate (4.4 percent, 12th-lowest) paint a more accurate picture of a free-swinger whose only reliable fantasy category will be stolen bases.
2013 Fantasy Stats: .301 BA, 89 R, 93 RBI, 24 HR, 5 SB
From out of nowhere to a fourth-place finish in the 2013 AL MVP voting. That was the Josh Donaldson story last year, and boy, was it a Cinderella one. It's worth noting that there's no outrageous underlying stat that indicates Donaldson isn't at least somewhat for real.
The question is: How much do you really believe that a former no-name, who, at 28, is already a few years too old to become one of baseball's next big stars, won't turn back into a pumpkin?
2013 Fantasy Stats: .294 BA, 74 R, 49 RBI, 12 HR, 44 SB
Jean Segura's first half (92 games): .325/.363/.487 with 54 runs, 36 RBI, 27 steals and 11 homers
Jean Segura's second half (54 games): .241/.268/.315 with 20 runs, 13 RBI, 17 steals and 1 homer
That is all.
2013 Fantasy Stats: .284 BA, 80 R, 73 RBI, 24 HR, 40 SB
Following a strong second half in 2012, Carlos Gomez, 28, was a popular breakout pick last spring. Then he went out and made good on those expectations by setting career highs in each of the aforementioned fantasy categories.
To expect the same all over again, however, would be folly. That's especially true for a hitter whose walk (6.3 percent) and strikeout (24.7 percent) rates and BABIP (.344) all rate as key indicators of a small margin for error, if not outright regression, with the bat.
2013 Fantasy Stats: .319 BA, 89 R, 109 RBI, 23 HR, 1 SB
Coming off an All-Star appearance and a top-five MVP finish, Freddie Freeman just landed a franchise-record $135 million contract extension, per David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That's quite a lot of dough, but locking up an above-average young player—he's still only 24—was a wise gamble by the Atlanta Braves.
Fantasy owners, though, might want to consider Freeman carefully heading into 2014. Yes, he had his best season to date, with a spike in RBI to a career-high 109 and a straight-up liftoff in batting average to .319. The other three categories? Well, they stayed remarkably similar to previous seasons, as did some nonstandard fantasy stats like doubles, walks and strikeouts.
The one gigantic shift? That came in Freeman's BABIP increasing to .371—fifth-highest in the sport—despite his being anything but an athletic, speedy baserunner who showed no real difference in his batted ball tendencies.
Freeman's fine as a starting fantasy first baseman, but unless you think he's going to repeat that crazy high BABIP—or even more ridiculous .443 average with runners in scoring position—he's probably more like the eighth- or ninth-best option rather than a top-five one.
2013 Fantasy Stats: .345 BA, 62 R, 57 RBI, 20 HR, 10 SB
Remember, because he was hampered by wrist and hamstring injuries at separate times last year, Hanley Ramirez compiled those numbers in a mere 86 games. Imagine what he might have accomplished in something even remotely resembling a full slate. Sheesh.
The risk with Ramirez, now 30, is that after rediscovering his early career form, he does the same and goes back to being 2011-12 Hanley—the one who triple-slashed .252/.326/.416 with an average of 17 homers, 20 steals, 67 runs and 68 RBI. Those are still mighty strong stats for a shortstop, especially considering he missed 75 games total during those two years, but they're not exactly 2013 Hanley.
Chances are, Ramirez maintains some—but certainly not all (i.e., .361 BABIP)—of the gains he managed last season, which makes him a candidate to be the No. 1 fantasy shortstop. The No. 1 fantasy player overall? Not so much.
2013 Fantasy Stats: .286 BA, 103 R, 138 RBI, 53 HR, 4 SB
Chris Davis broke out in a big way with 33 homers and 85 RBI in 2012, then he went out and led all of Major League Baseball in both homers and RBI with 53 and 138, respectively, last year.
On one hand, that kind of production puts Davis in discussion to be a top-five overall pick in fantasy. But on the other hand, there's a good chance Davis just had his best-ever season, despite the fact that he's still at the front end of his prime when he turns 28 in mid-March.
This mighty masher has always struggled with contact and whiffs, and he still struck out in 29.6 percent of his plate appearances—that's the seventh-highest rate of 2013. In other words, despite another uptick in average, Davis' plate-discipline problems and aggressive approach remain.
The lefty-swinging Davis also continued to be stifled at times by southpaws, posting a respectable-at-best .763 OPS against them (compared to 1.142 versus right-handers). While that won't wreck his numbers too much because there are more righties to face overall, it won't boost his stats much either.
Lastly, there should be some concern over Davis' so-so second half after he hit only .245 with less than half of his first-half totals in homers, RBI and runs. Granted, his April through June was otherworldly (.315 BA, 37 HR, 93 RBI, 70 R), but that could be the outlier version of Davis, considering second-half Davis looked a lot like the 2012 version.
Ultimately, the power is very much for real, as is the potent Orioles lineup that should help Davis drive in and score runs by the bunches. And yet, given all the inherent risks still present, Davis' average could drop, and it might be almost impossible for an encore of 100-plus in both runs and RBI.
Just be wary that, in the end, 2013 likely was Davis' career year, and he may wind up being more like vintage Adam Dunn or present-day Pedro Alvarez.
To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11