Fantasy Baseball 2017: 10 Pitchers Who Won't Deliver on Draft Position
In fantasy baseball parlance, regression counts as the "r" word. Every year, it applies to an array of players.
With that in mind, let's run down 10 starting pitchers whose 2016 stats will make them fantasy draft darlings, but who are due for some serious backsliding.
We're searching for statistical red flags and possible injury concerns, but inevitably gut feeling is involved as well.
Some of these pitchers might be excellent next season. If so, feel free to come back and berate me in eight months.
For now, consider yourself warned, fantasy owners—the "r" word has been uttered.
Junior Guerra, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
The 9-3 record and 2.81 ERA Junior Guerra posted in 20 starts for the Milwaukee Brewers last season hint at an under-the-radar arm worth taking a flier on.
"It was unexpected," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said, per Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "There's no question."
Not to quibble, but there are questions.
The 32-year-old right-hander, who made his big league debut with the Chicago White Sox in 2015, owned a pedestrian 3.70 FIP, which accounts for factors beyond a pitcher's control.
Guerra also held opposing hitters to a .250 batting average on balls in play. Steamer projects that number to rise to .303 in 2017.
If so, expect Guerra's fantasy value to plummet concurrently.
Drew Smyly, LHP, Seattle Mariners
The Tampa Bay Rays sent Drew Smyly to the Seattle Mariners this winter. It's possible the move to the Pacific Northwest will change the 27-year-old southpaw's fortunes, but don't bank on it.
Smyly's talent has always tantalized, and Safeco Field is a pitcher-friendly yard.
However, as CBS Sports' Heath Cummings noted, "Smyly has an ERA of 3.94 in his last 395 innings and his 4.11 FIP suggests that's a bit fortunate."
Really, Safeco isn't the offense-suppressor it once was. It was the fifth-most homer-happy stadium in either league last season, according to ESPN's Park Factors statistic.
That's bad news for Smyly, who allowed a career-high 1.6 home runs per nine innings in 2016.
Chris Tillman, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
Chris Tillman's fantasy stock dropped with the news that he's battling shoulder issues and won't be ready for Opening Day.
Still, some owners will glance at the 16-6 record and 3.77 ERA he posted last season for the Baltimore Orioles and be tempted to snatch him up.
On the buyer-beware side of the ledger, Tillman's 77 percent LOB% was nearly nine points above his 2015 mark.
Add his 4.23 FIP to the bum shoulder and the fact he'll play the bulk of his games in the offense-first AL East, and you should consider him a late-round gamble at best.
John Lackey, RHP, Chicago Cubs
After a top-10 NL Cy Young Award finish in 2015, John Lackey went 11-8 and posted a 3.35 ERA last season for the world champion Chicago Cubs.
Opponents posted a .255 batting average on balls in play against him, which is 39 points below his career average.
He'll be backed once again by the Cubs' best-in-the-business defense. At the same time, he's entering his age-38 season.
Lackey might not disintegrate. Counting on him to produce anything more than fifth-starter numbers, though, is optimistic bordering on naive.
(Save your indignant tweets, Cubbies fans. There's more coming).
Michael Fulmer, RHP, Detroit Tigers
The AL Rookie of the Year, Michael Fulmer posted a 3.06 ERA in 26 starts last season. It's not only Detroit Tigers fans who will target him early in their fantasy drafts.
The 23-year-old may have a bright future on a veteran team that shunned a rebuild in favor of another playoff run.
He posted a 5.54 ERA over his last seven starts, which could be attributed to fatigue, but his 3.76 FIP indicates it was more than that.
While stumping for Fulmer, Yahoo Sports' Scott Pianowski admitted as much, stating that "the Regression Police might come hunting..."
Consider my weapon cocked.
Matt Harvey, RHP, New York Mets
Everyone knows Matt Harvey is a risk.
The New York Mets right-hander underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in July, and injury comebacks are always dicey.
Still, Harvey was an All-Star and top-five NL Cy Young Award finisher in 2013 and went 13-8 with a 2.71 ERA in 2015. There was a Tommy John surgery mixed in, but the legend of the Dark Knight prevails.
He could be great again. However, thoracic outlet syndrome is a rare condition with mixed recovery results, as Nick Lampe of SB Nation's Beyond the Box Score explained.
It's possible Harvey will flash ace-level stuff at some point. Expecting him to be an early-round stud from the jump, though, is a dangerous reach.
J.A. Happ, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays
You know pitching wins are a flawed, outmoded stat. Still, amassing 20 wins means something, right?
In the case of the Toronto Blue Jays' J.A. Happ, it means he'll be overrated by a lot of fantasy owners.
In addition to those 20 wins, the 34-year-old tossed a career-high 195 innings. Put another way: In 10 big league seasons, Happ has never eclipsed 200 frames.
Happ struck out 7.5 batters per nine innings, slightly lower than his career average of 7.6. He posted a 3.18 ERA, but his 3.96 FIP was in line with his career ERA of 3.98.
There was, in short, nothing to suggest he'd suddenly figured something out.
Happ is a decent back-of-the-rotation arm. A top-six AL Cy Young Award finisher? That's got anomaly written all over it.
Kyle Hendricks, RHP, Chicago Cubs
Kyle Hendricks paced both leagues with a 2.13 ERA and 188 ERA+ in 2016 and was the second runner-up for the NL Cy Young Award.
He did it with control and finesse rather than overpowering stuff, and he drew comparisons to Hall of Famer Greg Maddux.
Hendricks' 3.20 FIP, however, was more than a full point higher than his ERA. As with Lackey, we can toss credit to the Cubs' rangy, stingy defense.
Kenny Kelly of Baseball Prospectus made a case for why Hendricks could again defy his FIP.
Then again, Hendricks' LOB% of 81.5 bested his 2015 mark by 11.6 percent. He enjoyed a .250 BABIP against. His fastball averaged 89.7 mph.
Those aren't automatic harbingers of doom, but they aren't the trappings of an ace either.
Rick Porcello, RHP, Boston Red Sox
Rick Porcello is the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner. On those optics alone, he's going to go early in a lot of fantasy drafts.
Some of his prestige, undeniably, came from his 22 wins, even though we agreed that's a rusty, unreliable metric.
Porcello also set career bests in innings (223) and ERA (3.15) for the Red Sox.
That stands in stark contrast to his 4.20 career ERA. He averaged 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings in 2016, not an astounding total but far better than his career average of 6.1.
Porcello also induced less soft contact than at any point in the last four seasons and yet endured the lowest BABIP against (.269) in his big league career.
Justin Verlander, RHP, Detroit Tigers
He might also be a very good pitcher in 2017. If you draft him with one of your top picks, however, brace yourself for a letdown.
Verlander is 34. He put up his best ERA (3.04) since 2012 and his best WHIP (1.001) since 2011. He eclipsed 200 innings and 200 strikeouts for the first time since 2013. He tantalized with mid-90s velocity in his first Grapefruit League start, per Evan Woodbery of MLive.com.
He could have another good-to-very-good season with the Tigers as they seek to keep their contention window nudged open.
Those expecting him to replicate his Cy Young form, though, are likely living in the past.