Each week I’ll be looking in to a regression candidate at each position. These are going to be more of a stat based, analytical deep dive on a specific player. The projections next to the player’s name are an average of THE BAT, ATC, Steamer, and ZIPS projection systems found on Fangraphs. NFBC ADP data is from the date range 2/01/2019-03/14/2019. Will the reigning NL MVP repeat?
Christian Yelich, MIL (ADP 7): 654 PA, 99 R, 28 HR, 92 RBI, 16 SB, .298/.381/.518/.899
The question isn’t if Christian Yelich will regress, it’s to what level he’ll regress. 2018 was a perfect storm of skills growth, batted ball luck, ballpark upgrade, and team context. When Yelich was traded to Milwaukee from the Marlins, his fantasy value increased substantially. Still, no one could predict the season he was about to have. He hit an absurd .326/.402/.598/1.000 with 36 HR and 22 SB on his way to the NL MVP award.
Though Yelich played in only 147 games in 2018, his HR and SB totals almost equaled his previous two seasons combined (39 HR, 25 SB). As a former top prospect, he was known for his plus hit tool, defense, speed, and potential above average power. Fantasy owners had been frustrated by the lack of current production in recent years. He was seen as a fine fantasy option that does a little bit of everything. The trade to Milwaukee and his development subsequently changed all of that, though.
To find out if his breakout season is relatively sustainable, we need to dig into the numbers. His career high .326 batting average was aided by an inflated, but not out of line, BABIP. He got lucky on balls in play but his career BABIP is .359, so it doesn’t encapsulate the entire 30-point increase from his career batting average. The 36 HR were 15 (!!) higher than his next career-best. We can look directly at HR/FB% where he posted an unheard of 35%. Look at the leaders in that category from 2018:
Christian Yelich 35.0%
J.D. Martinez 29.5%
Joey Gallo 27.6%
Giancarlo Stanton 25.0%
Mike Trout 24.5%
Did you ever expect see Yelich’s name on this list, with those players? Let alone that far ahead of them? It’s jarring to see the gap between he and the others and points towards clear and obvious HR regression in 2019. My favorite Yelich stat is that nearly half of his fly balls (48.1%) went for home runs in the second half. While the HR/FB% is absurd, he made huge strides in his hard-hit rate year over year. 47.6% of his batted balls (7th in the MLB) were classified as hard contact. That’s over a 12% increase from his 2017. Factor in leaving one of the worst parks for home runs for one of the best, and you’ve got a recipe for 30+ HR.
While Yelich increased his hard-hit percentage in 2018, he actually hit less fly balls than in 2017. I heard a lot of “you can’t hit ground balls out of any stadium” takes after the trade last year and I agreed that Yelich would have to hit less grounders to capitalize on the ballpark upgrade. While he did hit less grounders, he took those grounders and added them to line drives. Those liners just happened to leave the park. If that continues, much fewer of those line drives are going to go over the fence. It will, however, keep his batting average above .300. He seems like a safe bet for his above projection, just don’t pay for what he did last season.