by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
The Rockies D.J. LeMahieu took home the 2016 NL batting title, though with a bit of controversy hanging over him as he sat at multiple times over the final week of the season. While it looks poor, it really doesn’t have an impact on his outlook moving forward. Is it safe to assume that he will contend for the title again in 2017? We wouldn’t be so quick in that regard. First the 2016 numbers:
552 At Bats
.348 Batting Average (192 Hits)
11 Home Runs
11 Stolen Bases
.416 On Base Percentage
.495 Slugging Percentage
.388 Batting Average on Balls in Play
LeMahieu is never going to be a significant source of power, even playing in Coors Field. In fact his 11 HR were a career high, and with a 50.6% groundball rate it’s unlikely to change (32 doubles and 8 triples also doesn’t indicate a significant jump). If he is going to replicate this success, it’s going to have to be with a strong contact rate and elevated line drive rate.
The latter is something he’s always proven capable. This past season he posted a 26.6% line drive rate, not far off his career mark of 24.3%. The question, though, is if he can plausibly maintain his .388 BABIP. While he did steal 23 bases in 2015 he’s hardly a blazer, so that type of mark is a bit far-fetched. Will it be elevated? Sure, and he owns a career .352 BABIP, but there’s a good chance it takes a step backwards on 2017.
Then you have the plate discipline, as he posted a career best 12.6% strikeout rate thanks to a 4.1% SwStr% and 23.9% O-Swing%. The command of the strike zone has been going on for two full seasons (24.8% in 2015), so no one should call that into question. The consistent contact, though? Look at his SwStr% the previous three seasons:
- 2013 – 7.0%
- 2014 – 7.0%
- 2015 – 6.4%
All are great numbers, but they also would indicate a potential regression (and with it an increased strikeout rate). Again, these numbers are impressive and should lead to him making consistent contact, but a step back all the same.
So while he posted an impressive average in 2016, there are a lot of things working against him:
- Limited power
- Only decent speed
- Luck regression
- Potential SwStr% regression
You put those things together and it is reasonable to assume that he won’t be competing for a second straight batting title (though he should be in the .300 range). With that will come a drop in runs scored, and with the limited upside in HR/RBI/SB, what are we buying?
LeMahieu seems like an ideal “overpay” candidate heading into 2017.
Source – Fangraphs