Four Yankee Batters Ready to Regress

In looking through the largest discrepancies between in game production and my various xStats, namely xOBA, I noticed that four of the largest differences come from the Yankees. Disturbingly, these are in the negative direction, meaning xStats are making a claim that these four Yankees are playing over their head and are due for a regression. Who are these Yankees? Didi Gregorius, Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brett Gardner.

Three left handed hitters and a switch hitter playing in Yankee stadium, a ballpark geared for left handed production. On first blush, you might scoff and claim the stats aren’t accounting for the ballpark, these guys are probably benefiting from the short porch. Yes, they likely are benefiting to some degree from the short right field fence, but last season didn’t seem to have this problem with the xStats from these four batters.

Difference between wOBA and xOBA
2015 2016
wOBA-xOBA wOBA-xOBA
Brett Gardner .014 .024
Didi Gregorius .009 .049
Jacoby Ellsbury .004 .030
Carlos Beltran .001 .041

In 2015, in each case, they were reasonably close, in pretty good agreement all things considered. This season, there is very large degree of disagreement, among the largest of all the players this season. The following chart shows each of the actual stats and xStats side by side for each of these three players. In 2015, for all four players, their expected average was in fact higher than their actual average, and the opposite is true this season. By similar degrees of magnitude, as well, which is odd. The xAVG from 2015 matches up well with the AVG in 2016 for Beltran, Ellsbury and Gregorius. That’s a nice thing to see, actually, suggesting it may have some predictive value. However, in 2016, each of these batters appear to be making weaker overall contact with the ball, which doesn’t bode well for an already diminished Yankee team.

Actual Stats and xStats of Four Yankees
name Year AVG xAVG OBP xOBP SLG xSLG BABIP xBABIP BACON xBACON wOBA xOBA
Brett Gardner 2015 .257 .274 .341 .334 .397 .364 .311 .310 .349 .340 .325 .311
Brett Gardner 2016 .254 .232 .350 .327 .351 .307 .303 .277 .325 .301 .314 .290
Jacoby Ellsbury 2015 .256 .272 .317 .312 .344 .347 .300 .299 .320 .319 .294 .290
Jacoby Ellsbury 2016 .279 .255 .346 .323 .396 .342 .311 .301 .327 .311 .325 .295
Didi Gregorius 2015 .265 .285 .318 .317 .369 .354 .298 .306 .318 .322 .303 .294
Didi Gregorius 2016 .300 .261 .328 .293 .469 .392 .310 .292 .353 .314 .339 .290
Carlos Beltran 2015 .276 .302 .336 .339 .469 .450 .298 .312 .348 .353 .345 .344
Carlos Beltran 2016 .299 .269 .338 .313 .550 .475 .314 .294 .399 .352 .372 .331

Carlos Beltran

Beltran, whether by in game production or expected stats, is having an above average season, so the question comes down to degree. His in game production has been magnificent, putting up 132 wRC+, splitting time in right field and DH.  Beltran does have a few warning signs, though. He is sporting the lowest walk rate of his career, at 5.3%, along with the third highest strike out rate, 18.4%. Neither are particularly crazy, though. He is hitting more ground balls and fewer line drives, which is rarely a good combination. However, his ground balls have a much higher average trajectory, closer to a borderline line drive, and his fly balls have much higher average exit velocity, so it all ends up canceling out in the end.

Carlos Beltran Batted Ball Stats
BIP % EV
GB LF GB CF GB RF GB LF GB CF GB RF
2015 24.1% 5.4% 14.2% 2015 92.5 97.3 89.1
2016 26.2% 6.7% 13.3% 2016 92.7 92.3 91.2
LD LF LD CF LD RF LD LF LD CF LD RF
2015 11.9% 7.1% 7.6% 2015 93.9 96.3 94.8
2016 7.1% 4.3% 9.5% 2016 95.4 95.5 93.6
FB LF FB CF FB RF FB LF FB CF FB RF
2015 9.3% 7.1% 8.2% 2015 87.9 90.8 87.7
2016 11.0% 4.8% 8.1% 2016 93.1 89.4 91.9

Statistically, looking at just about everything else with Beltran is a tad boring. Very little has changed between this season and last season. His plate discipline numbers are down, but within normal fluctuations of his career numbers. Compared to last year, his average exit velocity on batted balls is up ever so slightly, as is his Value Hit rate (my version of hard hits, using exit velocity and launch angle). However, everything else is pretty much the same.

Beltran’s peripheral stats suggest he should be having a similar, albeit weaker season as he had last year.  Both the xStats and actual stats are kind of oscillating around a central point, and perhaps it would be wise to assume Beltran’s true talent is somewhere between the two. Perhaps his true talent is more of a .287/.332/.486 slash line. Solidly above average, worth of about 115 wRC+, but not quite the 132 wRC+ he has produced to date this season.

Didi Gregorius

Unlike Beltran, the xStats suggest Gregorius may actually be having a below average offensive season. Earlier this week, Corinne Landrey wrote  “Is Didi Gregorius for Real?” delving into some of the stats relating to him. She did a great job covering many different aspects of his game this season and throughout his career, so I’ll just delve into some of the Statcast minutiae here.

Didi Gregorius Batted Ball Stats
BIP % EV
GB LF GB CF GB RF GB LF GB CF GB RF
2015 29.0% 5.4% 16.8% 2015 85.1 89.1 85.8
2016 28.2% 9.1% 10.5% 2016 84.2 90.5 88.8
LD LF LD CF LD RF LD LF LD CF LD RF
2015 7.9% 6.9% 7.4% 2015 90.1 84.4 88.1
2016 11.4% 5.0% 9.1% 2016 93.6 92 86.1
FB LF FB CF FB RF FB LF FB CF FB RF
2015 9.4% 7.2% 5.9% 2015 86.4 82 79.6
2016 7.7% 6.8% 8.6% 2016 88.8 87.8 79.5

To begin, his average exit velocity is up, and that is always a good sign. However, it is still sitting on a below league average at 86.6 mph (average is 88.7). His line drive rate is up, and his average line drive exit velocity is up to 93.6 to the opposite field, and 92 up the middle. His pulled line drives are still a weak 86.1mph, though. His opposite field line drive rate is also up, from 7.9% to 11.4%.

So, he is hitting 50% more line drives the opposite way, and hitting them 3.5 mph harder. That is great for your BABIP. Or, rather, it would be, if he weren’t also hitting so many weak pulled line drives. Weakly hit pulled line drives, especially in Yankee stadium, is the death knell for a lefty batter. They have about the same success rate as a pulled ground ball. Slightly better than the grounder, but not by much. Whatever gains Didi has taken with his opposite field line drives, he is costing himself, and then some, with those weakly hit pulled balls.

Didi has an increased contact rate this season, lower walk rate, and an increased number of weakly hit pulled balls. Baseball certainly isn’t an easy game to play, but you would love to see him stop pulling these balls and take a few more pitches. Increased contact rate isn’t necessarily a good thing when you’re pulling 20% of your contact into extremely low value ground balls, line drives, and lazy fly balls

Overall, his peripheral stats suggest his recent uptick in offensive performance may be a mirage. He’s upgraded his opposite field contact, but at the cost of even weaker pulled contact and as a result he continues to hit into huge numbers of routine ground balls to the right side of the infield. You would expect his numbers this season to very closely resemble what he put up last season. Last year his stats and xStats were in close agreement and this year’s xStats suggest nothing has changed. I imagine Gregorius will finish the season with the same sort of stat line as last season. Something along the lines of .270/.309/.372, worth about 85 wRC+.

Jacoby Ellsbury:

Ellsbury has taken a step forward with his plate discipline, cutting his out of zone swing percent back to where it was during his Red Sox days. His walk rate is up to the highest of his career and perhaps relatedly, his contact rate has gone up as well.  Particularly his in zone contact rate. His strike outs are also down. All in all, it appears Ellsbury’s plate discipline is much better this season than in the past few years.

Jacoby Ellsbury Batted Ball Stats
BIP % EV
GB LF GB CF GB RF GB LF GB CF GB RF
2015 30.3% 7.1% 8.7% 2015 87.8 93 88.1
2016 30.6% 7.2% 10.4% 2016 90.5 92.1 88.6
LD LF LD CF LD RF LD LF LD CF LD RF
2015 7.1% 7.1% 9.9% 2015 92 89.8 87.9
2016 11.7% 5.9% 7.7% 2016 90.4 88.1 89.9
FB LF FB CF FB RF FB LF FB CF FB RF
2015 7.4% 5.3% 11.5% 2015 81.4 88.9 79.6
2016 6.3% 6.8% 9.5% 2016 88.1 82.3 75.4

The value of his contact hasn’t gone up much, though. Similar to Didi, Ellsbury is playing a season with very similar peripherals to last year. Like Didi, Ellsbury is has increased his average exit velocity, up from 86.9 to 87.5 mph. Also like Didi, Jacoby hitting many more opposite field line drives, although without the corresponding increase in opposite field exit velocity. Instead, Ellsbury has in increase in opposite field fly ball exit velocity, which is actually a bad thing. Since he only boosted his fly ball exit velocity to 88 mph, it plays straight into the standard defensive alignment, giving the defense much more opportunity to catch the ball. As a result, his xBACON on those balls has fallen from .305 to .199. Last season, he was hitting the ball far below league average exit velocities, which increases the odds of a ball falling in front of the left fielder for a single.

However, these lost singles to left field are accompanied by a corresponding increase in singles to center field, as his line drives and ground balls to shallow center field have increased in frequency and value, almost perfectly offsetting what was lost in left field.

I’m sorry if this is starting to sound like a broken record, but Ellsbury is putting up peripherals that would leave you to believe he would match his production from last season. He has had a large increase in game production so far this season, but judging from his batted ball metrics, it doesn’t seem he has undergone any real change in quality of hits. He has gotten better at controlling the strike zone, and that is a great development that bodes well for him, but much of that value is squandered by a lot of relatively weak batted balls. He’s an average hitter producing average contact. He does have above average speed, so he can take advantage of certain batted balls that others cannot, but only to a certain extent. You’d expect his line to be something like .261/.317/.345. Almost identical to what he put up last season.

Brett Gardner:

Of the four Yankees mentioned, Gardner is the one to break the pattern a little bit. His numbers this year, and I am talking his in game production, is very similar, almost identical, to last season in all ways except for power. His power numbers are way down. Looking at his xStats, his 2015 xSLG is similar to his 2016 SLG, and 2015 xOBA similar to the 2016 wOBA, so in some ways his batted ball metrics predicted this fall in power numbers.

Brett Gardner Batted Ball Stats
BIP % EV
GB LF GB CF GB RF GB LF GB CF GB RF
2015 30.3% 6.9% 11.6% 2015 87.5 88.9 87.6
2016 30.7% 11.1% 18.6% 2016 84.6 87.9 87.9
LD LF LD CF LD RF LD LF LD CF LD RF
2015 8.7% 6.2% 9.3% 2015 97.2 92.9 88.7
2016 8.0% 6.0% 5.5% 2016 90.7 86.6 92.4
FB LF FB CF FB RF FB LF FB CF FB RF
2015 5.9% 5.9% 11.6% 2015 89.6 93.2 85.2
2016 5.5% 3.0% 9.0% 2016 84.6 89.5 87.2

His exit velocity has fallen this year, from 88.7 to 87 mph, but his contact rate has jumped by a large margin. Perhaps he is sacrificing some power for contact with his swing. His ground ball rate is way up, its now over 60%, up from last years 48.8%. Obviously, 60% ground balls is a horrible thing to have. Especially when you consider his average ground ball exit velocity has fallen as well.

Back in December, Jeff Zimmerman wrote about how Brett Gardner was unlikely to bounce back from his weak 2015 season.  It appears Jeff hit that one on the head, Gardner definitely is not producing better contact this season. He is hitting far worse, and his game production will likely drop off over time as it regresses down to meet what you would expect given his batted ball quality. You should expect his final batting line to be around .254/.338/.355. His loss of power is real, and his ground ball rates are killing any chance he has to hit for average. Brett Gardner may be in a true decline as a player at this point, and there aren’t many, if any, positive signs.

These four Yankee batters, four guys this franchise is depending on now and going forward, are each set to regress substantially over the coming months. Their batted ball quality does not match up with their in game production, and without them the Yankees realistically stand little chance to succeed in their division. It might be wise for the Yankees to try to trade as many of these guys as they can, especially Beltran, before the regression hurts their value substantially.  If you’re holding onto any of these guys in fantasy, it might be a good idea to see if you can trade them as well.

We hoped you liked reading Four Yankee Batters Ready to Regress by Andrew Perpetua!

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Andrew Perpetua is the creator of CitiFieldHR.com and xStats.org, and plays around with Statcast data for fun. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewPerpetua.

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rustydude
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rustydude

On the other hand, expect some regression in a positive direction from Teixeira. Woo hoo! He can’t get any worse, right? Right?