AL East 2014: Chris Davis, Colby Rasmus front regression candidates

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Davis and Colby Rasmus head the AL East candidates for a backslide as regression cares not for your true talent level, only whether you performed above it.

It's a spring time tradition, trying to figure out who will exceed our expectations and who will disappoint. Baseball, for all it's numbers and sample sizes, fools us each and every year. Some prefer a more measured statistical approach, while other scout for flaws in swings and still others turn to their guts to make their judgments. No matter how you tackle your predictions, the most fun is comparing yours to others. With that in mind, let's take a look at a player who might backslide from each AL East team.

Orioles

Chris Davis. It's not a complicated equation, really. Set the variable of team to "Orioles," find the outlier season and predict regression. Ta da! That's how we end up with Davis. Sure, he showed signs of a breakout in the second half of 2012, posting an 867 OPS and belting 19 home runs in 66 games.

Of course, that didn't exactly portend Davis' ungodly first half in 2013, where he unloaded a .315/.392/.717 slash line and 37 home runs in an all-out assault on the American League. In the second half, he returned to a still-excellent, but more mortal .245/.339/.515 line with 16 dingers. That's more in line with both his mini-breakout 2012 and what we can expect in 2014. A high-quality player, no doubt, but almost nobody is first half 2013 Chris Davis.

Red Sox

Mike Napoli. The bearded wonder has struck out 30% of the time or more in two of his eight MLB seasons. In one of those seasons he went for a .227/.343/.469 slash line and 24 home runs. Then last year, he slashed .259/.360/.482 with 23 home runs.

Now, Fenway is a friendly stadium to hit in, but then again, so was The Ballpark at Arlington. The power is clearly not an issue, but with his propensity to swing and miss, Napoli carries significant risk in downturn on his batting average. He saw his line drive percentage go from his career average 19% all the way up to 24.5% last season, and assuming that comes down -- even if it remains above his career average -- Napoli should see a healthy drop in batting average.

Yankees

Hiroki Kuroda. On the surface, it appears that Kuroda's statistics are almost identical to 2012. But if we dig a little deeper, we may see some cracks in the 38-year-old pitcher's visage. While his year-end stats are right in line with the previous year's, Kuroda saw his second-half ERA balloon to 4.25 as he walked more batters (on a rate basis) and allowed more than a hit per inning.

Second-half stats don't always tell us much, but since we're in the business of reading tea leaves at the moment, how would you feel about a 38-year-old pitcher who had a weak second half and lost half a mile off his fastball (per brooksbaseball.net)? It's easy to want Kuroda to continue to defy the aging curve, but at some point, there's no fighting it. Will his time come in 2014? We can't quite say, but he's a candidate to head the wrong way.

Rays

Chris Archer. He might be insanely talented, and young enough to outrun this call for regression, but the peripherals don't support his 3.22 ERA. Archer did well to limit the free passes, walking only 7.2% of the batters he faced, which is below the league average.

His strikeouts were solid, but nowhere near elite, perhaps due to his lack of a consistent third pitch. He also allowed more than a home run per nine innings, which made his FIP a bloated 4.07 compared to his ERA. Add in that his .253 BABIP allowed is likely unsustainable and, despite his impressive skills, Archer is a prime candidate to move backwards if he doesn't make adjustments.

Blue Jays

Colby Rasmus. Rasmus finally had the breakout season everyone was waiting for after his impressive 2010. The problem? It was fueled by an unsustainable .356 BABIP - which was his highest since, you guessed it, 2010.

While BABIP isn't everything -- after all, Rasmus had a career-high 22% line drive rate -- it seems to be extremely important to Colby. He is an extreme fly ball hitter, and fly ball hitters tend to have lower BABIPs, so his high rate is a notable exception. It becomes more notable when you realize he struck out at a career-high rate as well (29.5%), meaning he was making less contact than usual. The confluence of these attributes are unlikely to result in another BABIP spike, meaning Rasmus could be in for a rude awakening.

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