In 2008, Kevin Youkilis had a season completely out of line with what he did previously. Everyone focused on the home run power, as his 29 homers matched his combined total from 2007 and 2008. But Youkilis also enjoyed a career-best average last season, as he posted a .312 mark. His previous high was the .288 he posted in 2007.
Because of his big 2008, Youkilis was one of the more difficult players to project. The Bill James forecast was the most optimistic, and it had him with a .289 average and 23 home runs. The CHONE system had him with a .286 average and 18 home runs.
Of course, Youkilis is off to a great start here in 2009. One of the biggest grey areas in fantasy is determining when we can project that it is more than a hot start and more likely to be something to last the whole season.
I think we may have reached that point with Youkilis and his average.
I took all of the players in 2008 who qualified for the batting title and who batted plus or minus five points from the .286 average that CHONE predicted. I came up with a group of 26 players. Then I took all of the players from this group and counted how many hits they had through 75 at-bats last season.
Our 26 players ranged from 16 to 27 hits in their first 75 at-bats last season. It is not a perfect bell curve but the right side of it does display a standard downward-sloping tail as you can see by the crude chart below:
x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27
I came up with an average of 20.7 hits and a standard deviation of 3.1 for this group. So, two standard deviations gives us a high and low of 15 and 27 hits. So, for this definition of a .286 hitter, 95 percent of the time he should have between 15 and 27 hits in 75 ABs.
Youkilis ended play last night with 74 at-bats and 30 hits, meaning he falls outside of our 95 percent range. Our most likely conclusion is that he is a better hitter than the CHONE projection prior to the start of the season.
This is just a first step and I have no projection on what Youkilis will end up hitting in 2009. ZiPS projected Youkilis to bat .288 this season. Dan Szymborski just came out with an update to ZiPS based on 2009 stats. He now projects Youkilis to bat .298 for the rest of the season and finish with a .313 average.