Which Players Will Fall Off From Their Strong 2012 Seasons?

Stephen Dunn

Some players who had great seasons in 2012 may have performed better than their peripherals initially suggested. Who are some primary candidates of regression?

Every year, there are some players that put together an unexpectedly great season only to come crashing back down to earth in the next. One recent good example is Justin Masterson, who posted a 4.7 fWAR in 2011 and only 2.3 fWAR in 2012. Masterson significantly improved from his 4.70 ERA/3.93 FIP of 2010. He lowered his walk rate by more than 20%, improved his LOB% and his BABIP regressed towards the league average. But the biggest key to his success was probably his extremely low 6.3% HR/FB rate, which was the 8th lowest across the league amongst pitchers who tossed more than 160 innings that year. Some pitchers are known for their unique abilities to give up an incredibly low amount of homeruns such as Matt Cain and Clayton Kershaw. However, Masterson definitely did not earn a similar reputation over his first three major league seasons, posting an 11.7% HR/FB rate. So in 2012, his HR/FB skyrocketed to 11.4%, he posted a LOB% closer to his pre-2011 numbers and his walk rate crept back up too.

Then again, some players may have that breakout season and take off from there. Some people may have thought that 2011 was the year Masterson put it all together and became an upper tier pitcher, but he's a primary example of a player who was unable to repeat a strong season. Paul Swydan of Fangraphs has written an article for ESPN Insider listing five guys who will not be able to repeat upon their 2012 campaigns ($). Amongst those players are Jered Weaver and Jason Kipnis.

Swydan believes Weaver's days of being an ace may be behind him.

In 2010, Weaver struck out a career-best 25.8 percent of batters, but his swinging-strike rate that season (11.2 percent) has proven to be an outlier. And over the past couple of years his velocity -- as well as his strikeout and swinging-strike rates -- has declined. Toward the end of last season, his average velocity was barely above 85 mph, and he finished with a strikeout rate of 19.2 percent and a swinging-strike rate of 8.5. With his 20s behind him, Weaver is unlikely to see these trends suddenly reverse themselves, and he will become even more reliant on his control and defense.

Weaver posted his best FIP in 2010 with a .275 BABIP but ever since then, he's been benefiting from an incredibly low BABIP. As Swydan mentions, his strikeout rate was high in 2010 and has been dropping every year as his velocity and swinging strike rate decline. Weaver was somehow able to post the lowest BABIP in the majors last year with .241. Either he has exceptional control over his batted balls or he is benefiting from an extraordinary defense behind him. Unsurprisingly, the Angels have been in the top six teams according to UZR/150 and DRS in 2012 and 2011, when Weaver has outperformed his FIP by a noticeable margin. He's always had a better-than-league-average BABIP since he came up to the MLB but can he continue to post ERAs under 3.02 as he enters his 30's? With batters making more contact, a decreasing ability to keep missing bats and more line drives being hit, 2013 could be the year Weaver's BABIP regresses towards the league average, pushing his over-performing ERA towards his FIP.

Surprisingly, Jason Kipnis shows up on this list as well. Swydan was apparently impressed by Kipnis' first cup of coffee in the majors during 2011 where he smacked homeruns in his first four games boasting a .364 wOBA in 150 plate appearances. But his first full season in the majors was quite underwhelming.

"On the other hand, his 3.1 WAR was just the 11th-best mark at the position, and tied for a middling 69th out of 143 qualified players. His offense was league average, but after his '11 debut, more was expected. His projections don't look any more rosy heading into 2013, as neither the ZiPS nor Steamer projection systems see his wOBA to be a top-10 figure at second base. Steamer ranks him 12th, and ZiPS ranks him 13th. He's not close to breaking away from the pack in either projection system, and both rate him as essentially akin to the Mets' Daniel Murphy."

Kipnis had a great first half in 2012, a .333 wOBA and 113 wRC+ with a .143 ISO. After the All-Star Break, he was only able to hit 3 homeruns with a .233 average. In August, he missed a couple of games with neck stiffness that may have contributed to his serious underperformance through the month where he posted a meager .239 wOBA. Writing off Kipnis after his first full season doesn't seem fair. In the minors, he was able to bat for some decent power, ranging from .190 ISO in 2010 to .204 in 2011. His 2011 outburst may have caused some exaggerated expectations for him in 2012. It's pretty safe to say that at age 26, it's unlikely that his best production will have come in a 36 game late summer call up. That being said, Swydan is correct. Kipnis must improve against lefties if he's truly going to become a star second basemen.

These are just two players who put together somewhat great seasons in 2012. Weaver was an All-Star and placed third in the American Cy Young voting. Kipnis stumbled in the second half but still scored a 3.1 fWAR on the season. Who are some players that you think will fall off from their 2012 performance? Why do you think they will falter in 2013?

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