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

Significant Off-Season Ahead for Reds

The Cincinnati Reds just completed a disastrous season, in which they fell from just 1.5 games back at the All-Star Break to 14 games back by the end of the season. They have experienced more than their fair share of injuries, but even without all the injuries, this probably is not a playoff team. The Reds’ offense has multiple holes it will need to fill in order to contend in the competitive NL Central. Defensively, the Reds excelled, ranking as the best defensive team in terms of Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). Offensively, however, they were among the worst teams in baseball, ranking 30th in wRC+. That means when removing context from events, the Reds were the worst offensive team this season. Even when considering all the injuries they suffered, this is not a good offensive team. They also have a pitching staff that ranks 27th in baseball in Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), meaning their pitchers are near the bottom of the league in what they can control. Recently extended General Manager, Walt Jocketty, will need a very effective off-season to return the Reds to contention, but he’ll need to do it without much financial flexibility.

In 2013, the Reds’ posted a wRC+ of 97, which was slightly below average, but still 13 points higher than the figure they posted in 2014. It is easy to attribute most of this difference to the injuries suffered by Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips, however, neither of them were having particularly strong seasons offensively. Votto slashed .255/.390/.409 (avg/obp/slg), which is partly due to his injuries, but even prior to his first DL stint, Votto’s numbers were down. While I certainly expect Votto to return to his prototypical form in 2015, there are no guarantees that his knee injuries will be behind him, as he also had knee issues in 2011. Brandon Phillips on the other hand has provided little offensive value for the last two seasons. While his defense is still among the best at 2nd base, Phillips’s offense has been declining for a few years and I do not believe his struggles are due to his thumb injury. His OBP and SLG% have declined in each of the last 3 seasons. The Reds also have significant offensive holes in Leftfield, Centerfield and Shortstop. Leftfield will be their biggest area of need this offseason, as they ranked 29th in WAR from their Leftfielders. Billy Hamilton will again be their centerfielder in 2015, but he will need to make substantial improvements on offense, where he often looked overmatched. Their shortstop position seems to be set, as well, with Zach Cozart providing enough defensive value to overcome his shortcomings on offense. Cozart posted the worst wRC+ of any qualified hitter this season, but rated as one of the best defenders in the game, so he will likely remain entrenched at short for the Reds. Their offense has three glaring holes, and that is assuming that Jay Bruce returns to his normal form, after an abysmal 2014. They will likely be able to find an upgrade in Leftfield, but will likely receive little offensive production from the Centerfield and Shortstop positions.

The Reds experienced some more injuries on the pitching side, as Homer Bailey, Mat Latos, Sean Marshall and Aroldis Chapman all landed on the DL. However, even with each pitcher healthy, their staff is not all that imposing. They ranked 16th in ERA, but 27th in FIP, which is more evidence as to how good their defense is, but also a result of a good amount of luck. The pitching staff ranked 26th in BB/9, but also posted the 3rd lowest BABIP, which will be difficult to repeat, even with their strong defense. If they are going to improve their offense this off-season, it will likely happen by trading away one of the starters, which will further weaken their rotation. While their rotation is considered one of their strengths, it is not deep enough to sustain trading away one of its top members. Assuming everyone is healthy they have 5 quality starters that appear ready for the rotation in 2015, with Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, and Alfredo Simon under control for next year. However, Bailey just had surgery on his forearm and this is Simon’s first season as a starter and he has far outperformed his peripherals. If one of these starters is dealt, the Reds do not have many internal candidates to fill the void. Tony Cingrani struggled in his sophomore season, David Holmberg has been hit hard in his debut season and top prospect Robert Stephenson struggled mightily in Double-A this season. There is plenty of uncertainty in their rotation and their bullpen was a complete disaster this season, ranking 24th in ERA and FIP.

Unfortunately, the Reds do not have much financial flexibility in order to add top talent through Free Agency. Their 2014 payroll of $112 Million was the highest in franchise highest and does not appear to be a very sustainable figure, considering their payroll increased by $25 Million from 2012 to 2013. Their payroll for 2015 will likely be in a similar range to this past year, which does not leave them much room for outside personnel. They already have $71 Million committed to their 2015 roster, and that covers only 10 players. This leaves them with around $45 Million left to sign their arbitration eligible players, as well as their $10 Million club option on Johnny Cueto. With at least $20 Million going to arbitration eligible players, the Reds will only have around $15 million to allocate to free agents. With such little flexibility, the Reds are certainly out of the running for the top free agents, which means they will likely fill smaller holes through free agency and trade one of their starters to improve one of the more significant weaknesses, such as Leftfield. While the Reds would love to trade Brandon Phillips and his remaining $39 Million over the next 3 years, not many teams will be interested, unless the Reds eat a chunk of his salary. The most likely player to be dealt is Johnny Cueto, as his value has reached it peak, following a Cy Young-type season. If Cueto is the starter to go, the Reds will need someone like Latos to step up as the Ace, but Cueto will bring back a significant haul.

While the Reds can argue that they would have been able to compete without so many injuries, injuries happen to every team, and this team was not all that good even with a healthy roster. They have far too many holes on offense and a pitching staff that far outperformed their peripherals. With such little financial flexibility, the Reds will need to find improvements from within their organization that can add around 15 wins. Otherwise, the Reds will need to trade one of their top starters in order to bring in an offensive upgrade at an affordable price. With so much money allocated to such few players, the Reds need to improve this roster, while those players are still performing up to their contracts. That makes this offseason that much more important, as their window to contend with this core will not be open much longer.

Anthony Cacchione