AL Central 2014: Danny Duffy, Yan Gomes lead regression candidates

Jamie Squire

Age, exposure and just not being all that good are reasons why the players below stand a good chance of backsliding in 2014.

The old joke says the opposite of progress is congress, and no matter your political leaning, we can probably agree with that sentiment. Before we digress too far (or tell another dad joke), let's get to the topic at hand: regression. In a lot of situations, people will use regression as a shorthand for "decline" -- which it most certainly can represent -- but regression can also be more than that. All we mean by regression -- in the baseball sense -- is moving (either positively or negatively) toward the league average or a career norm. Let's see who is likely to backslide in 2014.

White Sox

Alexei Ramirez. It's not as easy as it looks, finding a player on the White Sox player who would regress in a negative fashion. Jose Quintana seems an obvious solution, but he might just be sneaky good. Ramirez, on the other hand, is on the wrong side of 30 and just posted his career high in stolen bases - by ten.

He also hit .284, his highest average since his rookie season in 2008. While it wasn't exactly a rosy season for Ramirez (sub-700 OPS), these two categories are likely to come crashing back to earth for the upcoming season. He's a career .277 hitter, so while .284 is well within his normal variance, he hadn't topped .270 in either 2011 or 2012. Add in the surprising 22% line drive percentage (career 19%), and it's just another reason Ramirez won't hit as well. As for his stolen bases, if he's not on base as often, it's going to be difficult to steal as many bases. And there just aren't too many players that become perennial 30 stolen base threats after age 30.

Indians

Yan Gomes. It's not that Gomes doesn't have very real skills -- he does -- but he would also be one of the most valuable players in baseball if he continued his 2013 pace for a full season. Gomes was incredible defensively, better than most expected, but the true revelation was on the offensive end as the career (albeit 98 at-bats) .204/.264/.367 hitter turned in a .294/.345/.481 slash line.

His breakout season came at age 25, and while it would be unfair to say he'd never shown anything like this before (he dominated Triple-A, but it was the PCL, so it means nothing), he hadn't shown anything that would have portended this offensive explosion. Gomes is a regression candidate if for no other reason than that he's going from a part-time player to a full-time one. The added at-bats could see Gomes' flaws exposed on a more regular basis. Add in that the book is likely out on him now, and pitchers will be adjusting their gameplans. It will be incumbent on Gomes to adjust back, and we're not clear on how well he'll do that going forward.

Tigers

Torii Hunter. There's not a statistical basis for this prediction beyond the age column. Hunter has been fantastic his last two seasons, playing in pitcher's parks and posting offensive stat lines that were 17 and 30 percent better than league average (per wRC+).

So this isn't about Hunter having some sort of dead cat bounce that we can see some regression coming. Instead, it's about the inevitability of age, and the toll it can take. At some point, the reality of Hunter's situation -- both the years he's spent playing a grueling game and the relatively inhospitable ballpark he calls home -- is going to set in.

Royals

Danny Duffy. Sure, it was only 24 or so innings, but there's no doubt that people are excited for Duffy to start the year in the Royals' rotation. After all, he just posted a 1.85 ERA with nearly a strikeout per inning.

The problem? 14 walks and 19 hits equal 33 baserunners in the same amount of frames. There's no way that Duffy can keep that type of sparking ERA with those dirty peripherals. There's a good chance those walks are representative of Duffy's true talent level -- much as the ERA isn't -- but even with a step forward, he's likely to see his ERA shoot back up toward the 3.90 ERA he posted in 2012. He's got the stuff to miss bats, and he should be a good pitcher as long as he's healthy, but a sub-three (much less a sub-two) is highly unlikely.

Twins

Brian Dozier. This was worse than the White Sox. At first glance the Twins are Joe Mauer and a bunch of goes who are either getting better or are just legitimately bad. On second thought though, Dozier's power is at least mildly skeptical.

Dozier tripled his home run total in 2013, albeit in double the at-bats. He took his slugging from .332 to .414, and while the latter isn't exactly special, it's a significant departure from his previous production. At 26 years old, it's not inconceivable to think that Dozier's strength is just showing through as he approaches his prime, but at the same time it's not at all clear that Dozier is more the 2013 of himself than the 2012 iteration.

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