That’s A Mean Regression

Subtitle:  And what the Yankee lineup should be ongoing…

Like what I did there?  Regression to the mean, “mean” as in not nice, regression…?  Never mind.

So we always hear that there will be a regression to the mean when players greatly exceed their levels of past production.  And like most overused phrases, there is a pretty big element of truth to it.  Baseball is a game of many peaks and valleys for both individuals and teams, which is why small sample sizes always need to be taken with a huge grain of salt, and in baseball 64 games is a small sample size.

So we all knew that Gio Urshela, DJ LeMahieu, and Luke Voit didn’t turn into Mike Schmidt, Rogers Hornsby, and Albert Pujols respectively, overnight.  We knew the regression was coming.

LeMahieu has slashed a .331/.487 OBP/SLG line over his last 122 plate appearances.  Pretty good for a Gold Glove caliber 2nd baseman but nowhere near the torrid stretch he started the season with.

Urshela’s last 101 PA have generated a .317/.367 OBP/SLG line.  And given that his 2019 chase rate is about the same as that of his career chase rate and that his .346 2019 batting average on balls in play is 60 points higher than his career BABIP, he may as well have worn a traffic sign that read “regression ahead”.

Voit has a .360/.462 OBP/SLG over his last 139 PA.  Again, still good but nowhere near the .399/.539 he started the season with.

As Chrissy Hynde said, don’t get me wrong:  All are good players who are going to be contributors to the Yankees’ success over the rest of 2019.  But you knew the earth would come up to them at some point.  So the question becomes, what ongoing?  Didi Gregorius is back with Giancarlo Stanton soon to be back and hopefully Aaron Judge shortly after Stanton so many of the lineup and production issues will resolve themselves.

But to me, the key to getting the momentum going again and to keep it going when the varsity returns is to keep Clint Frazier in the lineup permanently.  Frazier has been the reverse of the aforementioned regressors above, and likely due to his fielding and baserunning circus acts, most people haven’t taken notice of what he’s been doing with the bat.

In his last 68 PA, Frazier (or “Fraser” to Paul O’Neill) has a .412/.672 OBP/SLG line with a 181 weighted runs created plus.  (The wRC+ is 5th best in the AL over that stretch and one of the top four is named Trout, so that doesn’t really count).

Ah, but Jon what about your small sample size?”  Fair question.

Over parts of three seasons and 367 PA, Frazier has been better than league average in both SLG and adjusted OPS.  Given that he’s 24 years old, played sporadically and has had health problems, that’s pretty good – and the trend is pointing upward.

“What about his splits?  Can he play against righty and lefty pitchers?”

His career numbers are better against righties, so yes.

Now the uncomfortable part comes: (insert Brad Pitt’s voice talking to Jonah Hill):  We need to send someone down.

Kendrys Morales is given his long overdue ticket out of the major leagues when Stanton returns.  An admittedly tough goodbye to Cameron Maybin comes when Mr. All Rise comes back.  That leaves Aaron Hicks, Judge, and Stanton as your everyday outfielders, Frazier as your everyday DH and Gardner as your 4th outfielder, defensive replacement, and pinch runner.  Because speaking of sample sizes…

I am a huge fan of Gardner – hell, I like him so much I got the same haircut as him.  I think he’s legitimately in the discussion of most underrated Yankee ever.  (Among NYY corner OF, he has more WAR than Dave Winfield and Paul O’Neill with a similar number of games played as Yankees.) When he hits he’s a very valuable player and when he doesn’t hit he’s still valuable.  But the hard reality is that he hasn’t hit for a long time now.  Since 2016 his adjusted OPS has been 6% below league average (compared to 2012-2015 when it was 8% above league average).

People forget that Stanton was a plus defender in the outfield before going all team player, killing his WAR numbers and switching to DH.  He’s not Gardner out there but the difference isn’t big enough to justify keeping Frazier’s bat out of the lineup.

Imagine this batting order: DJ, Judge, Sanchez, Stanton, Hicks, Didi, Voit, Torres, Frazier.

That my friends, is murderer’s row, 2019.

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