5 Players Due to Rebound in 2015

(Photo Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)

(Photo Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)

The New Year cannot come soon enough for some players, who want nothing more than to turn the page on a disappointing 2014 campaign. With the new year just two days away and Opening Day less than 100 days away, it is appropriate that we look at the five players most primed to rebound from a down 2014 season. This list includes three veterans, who failed to reach their career norms last season and two youngsters that have yet to truly establish themselves in the Big Leagues. Each of these players has a very promising 2015 season ahead, which will make 2014 the exception, not the new normal.

Chris Davis

After two strong seasons from 2012-2013, Davis endured a very difficult 2014 season. After slashing .278/.350/.571 (Avg/Obp/Slg) from 2012-2013, Davis collapsed to a .196/.300/.404 slash line. On the field 2014 was tough enough, but Davis was also hit with a 25-game suspension with 17 games left in the season for using Amphetamines. Davis had been cleared to use Adderall in previous seasons, but not for 2014. However, this suspension is completely behind him and he has actually been cleared to use Adderall in 2015, so there is no concern over a longer suspension. While his K% is alarmingly high, that comes with the territory of being an elite power hitter and many of his other peripheral statistics point to a rebound in 2015. Davis’s BB% actually increased to a career high, which bodes well for his on-base abilities moving forward, but it also suggests that pitchers still feared Davis as a hitter. In fact, his .196 batting average was likely greatly influenced by a career low Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) of .242. His career mark for BABIP is .320, so once that normalizes, Davis will soar above the Mendoza line and more resemble his 2012-2013 self. While Davis will not match his 2013 power numbers, he is likely to surpass his 2012 campaign, where he hit 33 home runs. Even in his down 2014, his ISO (Slugging Percentage – Batting Average) was not far off his 2012 ISO, which shows his power did not go anywhere.

Jay Bruce

Jay Bruce’s 2014 season was painful to watch, especially because it came seemingly out of nowhere. Beyond being painful to watch, it was also painful to play, as Bruce battled nagging knee issues throughout the season that contributed to his reduced production. However, there is no reason to believe this is how Bruce will perform moving forward, even if the knee injuries are not entirely to blame for his struggles. Throughout his 6-year career before 2014, Bruce had been one of the most consistent players in the league, averaging over 2.7 fWAR per season. During his disastrous 2014, Bruce’s Ground Ball% soared, while his Fly Ball% sank to a career low. This does not indicate a healthy power hitter, but rather someone who does not have their legs underneath them and must instead do their damage using their upper body. The Steamer projection system calls for Bruce to post a 1.4 WAR, which would be a 2.5 win improvement. However, I think Steamer is being too conservative in its projection because Bruce should be fully recovered from knee surgery before the 2015 season, which will allow him to return to his previous norms. I would project Bruce to post a season closer to 2011, when he played about average defense and slugged 32 home runs, en route to a .349 wOBA and a 3.0 fWAR.

Evan Longoria

Longoria probably does not fit with the rest of the players on this list because he actually turned in an above average campaign by most players’ standards, but not his own. His 3.4 fWAR would have been a career low, if not for his injury-shortened 2012 season. Despite this being the first unimpressive season in Longoria’s extraordinary career, many fans are concerned about his decline beginning well before his $100 Million extension starts in 2017. Longoria’s 2015 season will quell any concerns about his new extension, at least the first few years of the deal. The 29-year-old third baseman averaged over 6 wins per season for his first 6 Big League seasons, and is unlikely beginning his decline, in what should be the middle of his prime. Instead, Longo suffered from a poor batted ball profile in 2014, which should readjust to his norms and an unusually average season on defense. Longoria saw a slight uptick in his GB%, but more significantly his FB% dropped 4% and saw a 4% increase in Infield Fly Balls (IFFB). Both of these shifts suggest that his timing was off, which is a poor excuse for an entire season; however this is not something that persisted the entire season, as his FB% increased by 10% in the second half and his IFFB% decreased by nearly 4%. He will likely enter this season with his normal timing, which will help him reach his career offensive norms. Longoria also posted the lowest HR/FB rate of his career, which will not repeat itself, as that usually remains near a player’s career norms, so he should expect at least a 5% increase, which will significantly help his power output. On the defensive end, I do not put much weight in one season of fielding statistics, so I do not have any concern over his defense, since he grades out as a gold glove defender by any metric for his career. With improved timing and a normalized HR/FB rate, Longoria will put to rest any mentions of his decline.

Danny Salazar

Salazar differs from the players above, as he has yet to truly establish himself at the Major League level. He dominated during his 50 innings of work in 2013, striking out 11.25 batters per 9 innings. However, in his first chance at a full season, Salazar struggled mightily to match expectations. He finished 2014 with a 4.25 ERA across 110 innings, but his 3.52 FIP suggests he was better than his ERA indicates. But there are plenty of more reasons for optimism heading into 2015 and the Indians should expect a more similar performance to his 50-inning sample in 2013. Salazar is not going to strike out 11 batters per 9 innings again, but he does not need to. 2014 was a season of two halves for Salazar, as he cut his FIP from 4.71 in the first half to 2.83 in the second half, which fit with his ERA dropping more than 2 runs from the first half. The second half version of Salazar most closely resembles the real Danny Salazar, as in the first half he was plagued by an inflated BABIP of .369 and an enormous HR/FB rate of 14.8%. Once these things that are not entirely under his control normalized, Salazar thrived, which is what I expect him to continue in 2015. He should be able to carry over his impressive K/BB ratio of 2014 and he is unlikely to have a BABIP north .340 again, which will help keep his ERA closer to his FIP.

Carlos Martinez

Carlos Martinez is very similar to Salazar, in that he has yet to match expectations at the Big League level, but this will be his first opportunity at being a full-time starter. Even in his time stuck in purgatory between starting and relieving, Martinez’s talent has shined, but the results have not always matched what people have seen. In his 117 2/3 Major League innings, the righty has carried a 4.28 ERA, but a 3.15 FIP, which points to better results ahead, once his surface statistics match his peripherals. While Carlos Martinez has been hurt by an inflated BABIP of .336 for his career, but based on pitchers with a similar profile, that is not likely to persist. The 13 pitchers in 2014 with at least 8 K/9 and at least a 50% Ground ball rate average a BABIP of .293, which suggests that Martinez is likely to see improved batted ball results. One thing he can control is home runs and Martinez has been fantastic at stifling home runs, allowing just .38 HR/9 through his career, which bodes well for future success, especially since he can strike guys out. Martinez will need to limit his walks better, but even when he walked over 3.5 batters per 9 last year, he carried an FIP of 3.18, so if he is more lucky with balls in play, it should not be an issue. I think Martinez should excel in his first opportunity as a full-time starter, but I wouldn’t expect him to reach the 200-inning threshold, as he will need to build up his workload, but also because his high number of walks will drive up his pitch counts.

 

I expect Longoria to turn in the best season of the players on the list, which isn’t surprising as he is the only established star and the one coming off the best season. Jay Bruce is my pick for the largest improvement, because I believe his performance was heavily influenced by his knee injury, which should be behind him. Of the pitchers, I’d expect Martinez to turn in the best season because I believe in his incredible talent, but also because his profile of high strikeouts and groundballs bodes well for success.

Anthony Cacchione

5 Players Due to Regress Significantly in 2015

Source: Rob Carr/Getty Images North America

Source: Rob Carr/Getty Images North America

With all of the exciting moves that have already happened this offseason, it is time to turn some attention to the coming season. Even with major stars left on the Free Agent market, such as Max Scherzer and James Shields, we can take a look at some players that do have a home. The following list includes 4 players coming off career best seasons and one coming off yet another very strong season. While each of these players is coming off a strong season, they are all due for significant regression from last year. While it is unlikely that these players would repeat their career best numbers, all of these players are going to see a large drop in production in 2015. However, it does not seem that every Major League team agrees, as three of these players have been traded this offseason, and another landed a 4-year, $68 million contract.

Alfredo Simon

The first player on this list is in for the toughest season ahead. Alfredo Simon enjoyed a very successful season in terms of traditional metrics, as he completed his first Major League season as a full-time starting pitcher. Simon was traded from the Cincinnati Reds to the Detroit Tigers in return for a young Major League shortstop and a 2013 1st round draft choice. The 33-year-old had a 15-10 record with the Reds supported by a 3.44 ERA, however, his peripherals tell a different story. Simon only had a 5.82 K/9, which contributed to his less than appealing FIP of 4.33. His strong ERA likely was not a mirage, but more a result of playing in front of the best defensive team in baseball, as the Reds ranked 1st in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) with 67 last year. Unfortunately, Simon will now pitch in front of the 28th ranked defense of the Tigers, who totaled negative-67 DRS. The righty will also be moving to the American League, which will be another challenge for him, as he struggled during his 4-year stint with the Orioles before 2012. While he enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2014, Simon will likely finish this season with much worse numbers, as he will be pitching in front of a significantly lesser defense and in a much tougher league.

Mat Latos

The second player on this list is another Former Cincinnati Reds pitcher, who was just traded. Now a member of the Marlins, Latos contributed another successful season for the Reds in 2014, as he posted a 3.25 ERA over 102 1/3 innings while he battled numerous injuries. However, those injuries are a major cause for concern moving forward, especially because they had such a powerful impact on his velocity. His velocity also did not improve after he returned from his injuries, suggesting this could be a lasting result. Latos lost over 2 mph off his fastball from 2013, and while his ERA remained strong, his strikeout rate dropped to a career worst 6.51 K/9. His groundball rate also dropped nearly 8% from 2013, which is not a positive sign for a pitcher who struggles to strike batters out. Just like Simon, Latos is going to a worse defensive team, as the Marlins ranked 18th in DRS last season, which could hurt Latos quite a bit, especially if his strikeout rate remains below his career norms of around 8 K/9. Despite his consistent performance in the past, Latos will likely turn in a very disappointing season in 2015.

Dee Gordon

Dee Gordon broke out in a pretty big way for the Dodgers in 2014, as he posted a 3.1 fWAR while slashing .289/.326/.378 (Avg/Obp/Slg). However, prior to 2014, Gordon had a negative-0.9 fWAR. His entire game is predicated around his speed, as he is not a strong defender and has no power to speak of. 2014 was Gordon’s first season with an above average wRC+ and he still only reached 101, which is just 1% better than league average. However, what makes 2014 seem like an aberration rather than Gordon’s new normal, is that it was powered entire by his .346 BABIP. It is easy to believe that his speed is the reason for his inflated BABIP, but in his two previous seasons Gordon posted BABIPs of .281 and .292 respectively. Gordon’s already low walk rate also got even lower last year, which will be a more significant issue when his BABIP normalizes and needs other ways to reach base and utilize his only real weapon, his speed. If the Marlins are expecting a repeat performance from Gordon, (which they likely are because they gave up their top prospect in Andrew Heaney) then they are going to be very disappointed.

Victor Martinez

Unlike the above players, Martinez has not changed teams this offseason, thanks to the Tigers resigning him with a hefty $68 Million to play the next 4 years with them. What was so shocking about Martinez’s career season was that it came when he was 35 years old. He has always been a productive hitter, but in 2014, the DH turned into a real force in the middle of the lineup. In the past, he was more of an OBP machine with extra-base power, but he never reached 30 homers and hadn’t reached 20 since 2010. Martinez’s power made an appearance in 2014, however, as he mashed a career-high 32 homers, while improving in just about every other offensive statistic. More than just his age, it is unrealistic to expect Martinez’s newfound power to carry over into 2015, as he was helped by a career-best 16% HR/FB rate, which was more than his last two seasons combined. Martinez will still be a productive hitter in 2015, but he will not be the homerun threat he was in 2014, which makes him more of the average DH he was in 2011 when he accumulated 2.5 WAR.

Steve Pearce

The 31-year-old Pearce was one of the great stories of 2014, as he enjoyed an unexpected breakout from being nothing more than a bench player for the earlier parts of his career. And unlike most of the other players on this list, Pearce has not changed teams or landed a new big contract. Pearce posted a 4.9 fWAR after accumulating just 0.2 fWAR over his first 5 Major League seasons. Throughout his Minor League career, Pearce always posted strong On-Base numbers and has had strong walk rates in his Major League career, as well. However, his power in the Minor Leagues never translated to the Majors until 2014, when he slugged .556 and reached 21 homers in just over 100 games. However, Pearce’s power spike was largely aided by a HR/FB rate of 17.5%, which is more than his two previous seasons combined. He is not likely to regress too far from that rate, however, as he has made some mechanical adjustments that made him a much more impactful hitter against fastballs. After such an impressive breakout campaign, the league is likely to adjust to Pearce’s approach, which mainly involved mashing fastballs, especially those up in the zone. Pearce could be the next Jose Bautista, but it is more likely that this is an outlier season and he is now likely to turn in just league average or slightly better seasons. Once the league adjusts and his HR/FB rate normalizes, he will not be as much of a threat in the box, but he is still likely to remain productive at reaching base.

Mat Latos is likely in for the most significant drop from his expected performance, but he should still be able to be a league average starter, if healthy. Alfredo Simon will likely be the least productive of any of the players on the list, especially since he had less than inspiring peripherals in a more pitcher-friendly league. Of the above players, Steve Pearce is the most likely to match or come close to his 2014 performance.

Anthony Cacchione