One player on every MLB team primed for regression in 2020

There are often warning signs for MLB players who might see their play decline in the future. These are the players set to regress in the shortened 2020 MLB season.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Christian Walker, 1B

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Walker was long seen as a potential regular while he was stuck in the minors and finally made good on his opportunity last season, hitting 29 home runs. While the power looks legitimate, there were signs of a letdown in the second half with Walker’s OPS falling to .807, and he also struggled against lefties. If the offense doesn’t pick up, the Diamondbacks might sit Walker in favor of top prospect Seth Beer sooner or later.

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The oft-injured d’Arnaud got on quite a run last season after the Rays added him, hitting .263-16-67 in 365 plate appearances. That performance netted him a two-year deal with Atlanta, and his history suggests he’s capable with the bat. However, d’Arnaud also has a long injury history and can be streaky at the plate. Betting on what was one of the best streaks of d’Arnaud’s career to repeat in Atlanta is a difficult proposition.

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Means came out of nowhere to be Baltimore’s All-Star rep in his rookie season and finished second in the Rookie of the Year vote after going 12-11 with a 3.60 ERA in 155 innings. He could be the O’s ace again this year, but there are signs hitters figured him out during the second half. Means had a 4.85 ERA after the break, fanning only 6.5 hitters per nine innings.

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Vazquez was considered a defense-first catcher until last season, when he hit 23 home runs. Up to that point, Vazquez had hit double-digit home runs only one other time as a pro, launching 18 home runs at Low-A ball back in 2011. Juiced ball or not, it’s hard to see Vazquez’s power repeating.

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Darvish was on a roll in the second half of last season, showing unbelievable control with 118/7 K/BB in 81.2 innings and a resulting 2.76 ERA in 13 starts. Perhaps Darvish fixed something in his mechanics, but the adjustment seems unlikely to continue given his history of control issues and injuries. The Cubs would be happy if he’s even close to last year.

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Keuchel got a huge three-year deal from Chicago after a good but abbreviated 2019 season in Atlanta. Unfortunately, the ERA indicators don’t show much promise, as the lefty had a 4.72 FIP and struggled with his control. Facing the DH this season can’t help him either.

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Gray got right after moving away from the Yankees and reuniting with his former college pitching coach, lowering his ERA by more than two runs from 2018. The excellent strikeout increase shows legitimate improvement, but last year will be tough to match, especially for a pitcher whose ERA metrics suggested a mid-3’s ERA result.

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Santana was apparently happy to be back in Cleveland, posting a career year and winning a Silver Slugger. It wasn’t so much Santana’s 34 home runs that were a surprise but rather his .281 batting average. Santana had never hit .270 prior to last season, and the result could be tough to repeat at age 34.

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Blackmon has been one of the most consistent hitters in baseball over the last four seasons, but his 2020 is off to a rough start after testing positive for COVID-19. He’s been missed at summer camp, which could carry into the start of the regular season.

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Maybin got a part-time opportunity with the Yankees last year and showed he wasn’t done yet, hitting .285-11-32 with an .858 OPS in 269 plate appearances. He could see regular at-bats with Detroit, but a much larger home ballpark and last season’s bounceback after his poor results in 2017 and 2018 should lead to much optimism for a repeat.

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Gurriel had easily his best season since coming over from Cuba, hitting .298-31-104 for Houston. He’s been a reliable batting average hitter during his MLB career, but Gurriel has shown limited power. The breakout at age 35 looks like a result of the juiced ball, and it remains to be seen if it’s repeatable.

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Soler was a top power prospect who just couldn’t deliver in the majors until last season, leading the AL with 48 home runs. Prior to last season, Soler couldn’t stay healthy and was streaky in large part due to a poor contact rate. He led the AL in strikeouts last season, and there’s no reason to think Soler will suddenly be durable.

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A disciplined, slap-hitting infielder before last season, La Stella started to swing harder and saw big results, hitting .295-16-44 in 321 plate appearances. Unfortunately, La Stella’s lack of durability came back to bite him in the second half, and there are still questions about whether the power can continue based on his history.

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There’s no debate Kershaw was the best pitcher in baseball in the early 2010s, but this is a different pitcher now. He found success last season by staying healthy and pitching out of trouble, but his ERA metrics were nearly a full run higher than his final 3.03 ERA. Anything can happen in a short season, but his struggles keeping the ball in the park are another sign Kershaw could have trouble maintaining last year’s pace.

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The toolsy Villar showed a nice dose of power and speed in Baltimore last year, hitting 24 home runs and swiping 40 bases. He will see more playing time with Miami this year, but the transition from Camden Yards to Marlins Park couldn’t be much more extreme for a hitter. It’s also worth noting that Villar’s OPS hovered around .700 in 2017 and 2018.

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A former top prospect, Anderson is now an extreme groundball pitcher who relies on his defense, finishing with a terrible 4.6 strikeouts per nine innings with Oakland last year. The elite A’s defense still allowed him to post an ERA below 4.00, but Milwaukee’s defense doesn’t look nearly as efficient on paper.

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Odorizzi got off to a blazing start last season, posting an ERA near 2.00 through the first two months, but the rest of his season wasn’t nearly as effective. A strong increase in strikeout rate leads to optimism that the veteran can continue his transition, but he’s never been an innings eater and struggled with his control as recently as 2018.

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Alonso broke Mark McGwire’s rookie home run record, launching 53 long balls last season. There’s no questioning the big man’s power after also hitting 36 home runs in 574 plate appearances in the 2018 minor league season, but there should be doubts about maintaining consistency and batting average after fanning 183 times last season.

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Leaving Coors Field was no problem for LeMahieu last year, as he finished fourth in the MVP voting after hitting .327-26-102 and playing all over the infield for New York. The former batting champ took advantage of Yankee Stadium, but his recent history had shown inconsistency, including a .749 OPS with Colorado in 2018. He’s already been sidelined in camp with COVID-19, making his quest to repeat even more difficult.

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Fiers gets by on smoke and mirrors, but the ERA metrics continue to suggest a decline. He finished last year 15-4 with a 3.90 ERA in 33 starts, but his 6.1 strikeout per nine innings was the second worst of his career. Also showing problems keeping the ball in the park, Fiers could have difficulty repeating last season.

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Eflin had a career-best 4.13 ERA in 163.1 innings last year, yet the indicators weren’t nearly as good as what he showed the previous year. With slipping velocity, Eflin’s K/9 went from 8.6 to a mediocre 7.1, and he also struggled to keep the ball in the park. The radar gun will be worth watching early, but Eflin could have a tough time maintaining last season’s effectiveness.

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Much of Bell’s breakout 2019 season is boosted by his early hot streak, when he hit .302-27-84 in the first half. Following the break, Bell hit just .233-10-32, and he struggled all year against southpaws. A repeat of last year seems difficult to expect.

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Davies posted a career-best 3.55 ERA last season in Milwaukee, but manager Craig Counsell deserves a lot of credit for that success. Counsell exercised a quick hook on Davies for much of the year, as he didn’t pitch beyond five innings in his final 11 starts, and his poor 5.7 strikeouts per nine innings didn’t support the final result.

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A power pitcher for most of his career, Samardzija made a successful transition with below-average stuff last year after missing much of 2018 due to injury. He deserves a lot of credit for his final 3.52 ERA, but Samardzija’s inability to keep the ball in the park and ERA metrics well above 4.00 show a more likely future outcome.

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A highly productive minor league hitter in the Rockies organization, Murphy finally got an opportunity in Seattle and made good on it by hitting .273-18-40 in only 281 plate appearances. He should see more consistent playing time as Seattle’s starter this year, but it’s worth noting last year’s stats were inflated by Murphy seeing nearly half his playing time against lefties and hitting .347-11-25 against them.

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Hudson showed off his great sinker with the Cards last season, going 16-7 with a 3.35 ERA in 174.2 innings. However, he also led the NL in walks, and his 7.0 strikeouts per nine innings was far from great. He can rely on his defense for only so long before the free passes come back to bite him.

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Meadows had a breakout 2019 season in Tampa, hitting .291-33-89 in 591 plate appearances. The batted ball data shows how well he scorched the ball, and lead to promise for his future. The bigger concerns are a long injury history and Tampa Bay’s depth, which could limit Meadows’ playing time if he doesn’t continue to hit well early.

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Santana looked like a promising young hitter in 2014 with Minnesota but struggled to stick in the majors until last season. He was a terrific, versatile player for Texas in 2019, hitting .283-28-81 with 21 stolen bases. While Santana is set to start in center field, the recent seasons of minor league stats don’t support him keeping up last year’s batting average or power in 2020.

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Ryu got a four-year deal from Toronto after back-to-back great seasons with the Dodgers, including the NL ERA title last season. He’s shown unbelievable control lately, but a long track record of injuries remains a concern for Ryu, who threw over 150 innings for the first time since 2014. He also goes to a tougher league and home ballpark.

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Kendrick has a proven track record as an excellent hitter, hitting .294 for his career. However, his .344 batting average and 17 home runs in only 370 plate appearances last season are both outliers relative to his career norm and were especially surprising at age 35. The addition of the DH will at least give Kendrick the opportunity to prove the performance was real.

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