Every season, a few players come out of nowhere to outperform their careers numbers. In some cases, such seasons indicate players breaking out to reach their full potential. In others, however, those career seasons are simply flukes. As the league gets going on it’s first week of the season, four players who seemed to break out in 2016 are headed for regression in 2017.
Top Four MLB Regression Candidates
Xander has all the physical tools and has the counting numbers to be considered a star; however, his batted ball profile and the second half of last year hinted toward major signs of regression, which would dethrone him as one of the best young shortstops in the league. Xander was in the bottom 40 of qualified hitters in terms of hard contact, had only a 34.9% fly ball rate, and was bottom-ten in plate discipline. Further, he had a .335 babip, while the league average was .300.
Don’t be surprised if his babip dips .30 points, leaving him with a batting average around .260-.270. Add the fact that over half of his fly balls don’t leave the infield, and you have a guy who won’t reach 20 homers again and won’t bat close to .300 again. Given his batted ball profile, Xander will be a sub-standard hitter in 2017.
Duffy is on many “breakout” lists this year. Any writer who has done this should be fired for simply not doing their homework. These writers see his age, his 3.51 era, and his 188 strikeouts last year, and think Duffy is a burgeoning ace. These writers are forgetting to look at other statistics that prove that last year’s performance was a fluke. First, Duffy gave up the second most hard contact in the league last year. It doesn’t matter how many batters Duffy strikes out; if batters hit the ball hard, the results will simply not be good.
This, coupled with his extremely low ground ball rate (36.4%) and one of the highest fly ball percentages in the league (42.8%) will lead to Duffy possibly giving up the most homers this season. He gave up an astounding 27 last year, so don’t be surprised if 35+ leave the yard against him this year. Duffy avoided the wrath of his hard hit rate last year, but he won’t be so lucky this year.
Segura is a solid shortstop, but lackluster peripherals and his move to a new stadium will make anything close to a repeat performance would be shocking. The most worrisome part of Segura’s game is that almost nothing in his peripherals changed from 2014-2015 to 2016, while his counting stats changed dramatically. In 2014-2015, Segura hit five and six homers respectively, logged under 60 RBI both years, and hit under .260 both years. In 2016, he hit 20 homers with 64 RBI and a batting average of .319.
His peripherals, however, remained unchanged. He had practically identical fly ball, ground ball, and line drive rates. His hard hit percentage jumped 5-10 points to 29.7%, which is still highly unimpressive and does not indicate that he deserves his power output or his average. Segura outperformed his peripherals and his power was a fluke. He will return to his lackluster career numbers.
Yelich is a strong player who will no doubt have a strong career. However, projecting him to outperform his 21 homers last year is ludicrous. Yelich is an above-average hitter with extra base power, but not home run power. Yelich had a very impressive 38% hard hit rate last year, ranking him as one of the best at getting hard contact in the league. However, hard hit balls don’t always equal homers.
The issue with Yelich is that he hits ground balls in more than half of his plate appearances, struggling to lift the ball. Hitters like Yelich typically cannot sustain homer power because of the general lack of fly balls. Yelich needed a 23.6 % hr/fb to hit 21 homers. Meanwhile, the league average was 12.8%. Yelich will need to either change his swing, or be extremely lucky to hit 20 homers again.