start is the likeliest to be a real hitting improvement and who is just simply hot
(or just cold) in the American League?
Average on Balls in Play is the primary stat used to see how much of a player’s
improvement or downturn is based on luck. It must be compared to their career
norms. If their current BABiP is higher, then it is likely they have inflated
hitting stats due to balls dropping between the fielders. “I hit ‘em where they
aint” Wee Willie Keeler once famously said. Modern sabermaticians say that
whatever control hitters have over their BABiP, there is a strong pull towards
the norm – for most players at around .300. However line drive hitters with
speed will likely do better than that, while slow running fly ball hitters will
do worse. It is also helpful to look at a batter’s walk rates, strikeout rates,
and isolated power. These are good indicators of a change in approach or
abilities in hitting. To be considered for this list, the batter must have 50
plate appearances as of April 24.
Coco Crisp – At 33
has managed to improve all the key areas of hitting. His walk rate has doubled.
His strike out rate has nearly halved. His Isolated Power has nearly tripled –
he has 5 home runs already, but hasn’t hit more than 11 since 2005. His batting
average is up, but his BABiP is down, so there is no indication of luck. With
excellent conditioning and coaching, I suppose it is possible for a hitter to
still improve at 33, but without PEDs, it is extremely rare, if not impossible.
Mark Reynolds – He’s
up to 7 homers already. His batting average is at a career high, while his
BABiP is around the low end. His strikeout rate has improved for the third year
in a row. He is 29 – within the realm of possible best seasons – this could be
Francisco Cervelli –
not much to go on as a Major Leaguer, but hitting much better with a significantly
lower BABiP than his minor league record would indicate. He just turned 27 in
March – and don’t forget: catchers are more often than anyone else late
Chris Davis – is
officially leading the league in OPS (1.258). Of course, he’s nowhere near that
good and his .413 BABiP agrees. However, his career BABiP is an impressive
.338. His walk rate is way up and his strikeout rate is way down. We may have a
legitimate new star here – or maybe not. Last year on May 1, Davis was hitting
1.005 OPS with a .377 BABiP. His strikeout percentage was also well down from
his norm – a point lower than it is now. The difference is that Davis’s walk
rate was still a pedestrian 7.3% compared to the more respectable 11.5% that it
is now. He just turned 27 in March.
Carlos Santana – his
OPS is even higher than Davis’s, albeit in fewer AB. He may well be having a
nicely maturing power increase. Santana turned 27 even more recently (April). His
.375 BABiP should moderate your enthusiasm to some degree, but his Isolated
Power, so far, is more than double what it was last year, while his strikeout
rate is stable. And, he is a catcher.
Marwin Gonzalez – His
development is a small shock. It has come with a modicum of luck, perhaps, but
I wouldn’t completely dismiss it. His BABiP isn’t all that high (.323) and his
Isolated Power has exploded – something 24 year olds sometimes experience from
getting older and stronger. As the only player on this list of good starts who
is younger than 27, his improvement might have the greatest chance of sticking
(though not at the level he has enjoyed so far).
(sell high candidates?)
Torii Hunter – Sure,
he’s off to a great start, but he will be 38 in July! He leads the league in
Lorenzo Cain – a .455
BABiP is not sustainable.
Seth Smith – also enjoying
a .450 BABiP.
Jed Lowrie – Not only
is he not this good, but he’s not going to stay off the D.L. the entire season.
Lance Berkman – this 37
year old is not really turning the clock back 5 years.
Colby Rasmus – is trying
to become a power hitter like the way his teammates Jose Bautista and Edwin
Encarnacion did late in their careers. It’s not going to work as well. He is
striking out a whopping 44%.
Joe Mauer, Adam
Jones, Alex Gordon, Jose Altuve – all above average BABiP guys with even higher
BABiPs so far this year. They’ll be good, but not this good.
Franklin Gutierrez –
I’m skeptical about his improvement – and now a hamstring injury has given him,
at least, a two week sick leave. His walks are down, his Ks are up. He has
benefitted from having hit four dingers already – one in Chicago and two in his
newly reconfigured home in Seattle.
Just Cold: (buy
Adam Dunn – appears to
be “Dunn”, but he hasn’t had any breaks this year: .103 is the league’s lowest
Aaron Hicks – might
come around, his .118 BABiP is second lowest among regulars.
Maicer Izturis –
should keep his job. He’s been hampered by a .148 BABiP.
Chris Young – If Oakland
doesn’t give up, you shouldn’t either.
Yunel Escobar – If Tampa
doesn’t tire of him, you shouldn’t either.
Kelly Johnson – He’s
not doing much, now, but his .200 BABiP tells me he might turn into a
surprisingly good second-base eligible hitter.
J.J. Hardy – You know
he will keep his job and be fine. That’s a key when gambling on these guys. No
matter what a player’s BABiP is, if his standard hitting stats are bad enough
and the player can be optioned to the minors without consequences or released
without the general manager losing face, then that could happen. Hardy will
keep playing unless he is hurt.
Billy Butler, Joey
Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion are just starting slowly. They will have
Alex Rios – breaking
his good year / bad year pattern after disastrous seasons in 2009 and 2011.
Rios is 32, so he must be nearing the end of his plateau.
Vernon Wells – the other
ex-Jay does have a slightly inflated BABiP, but nothing in proportion to the
season he’s having so far with the Yankees. He was a star when he was 24-27. He
had a couple more good years at 29 and 31. He is 34 now.
Travis Hafner – His comeback
is looking legitimate, although, he will be 36 in June.
Peter Bourjos – has been
a little lucky, but I think it’s safe to say we are seeing the highly useful
2011 Bourjos, not the 2012 Bourjos who couldn’t hold his starting job.
Mike Napoli –
obviously not going to be as bad as he was in 2012 nor as good as he was in
James Looney – I don’t
know, the Rays have turned around some careers. Looney has never had a full
season of .350 BABiP. It is .305 for his career and .269 last year. Your guess
is as good as mine.
Mark Trumbo – It
looks like his power numbers will decline from the previous two seasons. He is
just 27, though, so this is just a red flag not casket.
Dustin Pedroia – I’d
be worried that he has lost his power: .038 ISO, yet a .369 BABiP. However, he
is only 29 – even that is generally too young to go into a steep decline even
for a second-baseman, but it has happened.
Eric Hosmer – is not
living up to his hype. His power has completely vanished. In real life, he’s
too young to be called a bust, but I wouldn’t hang onto him, if he were on my
Justin Smoak – was never
the prospect Eric Hosmer is/was and may be very soon out of chances. His .279
BABiP is actually better than his career BABiP, while his OPS this year is only
Jhonny Peralta – Leading
indicators (BABiP, BB%, K%, ISO) are all pointing in the wrong direction. He is
31 – also the wrong side of a player’s peak.
Andy Dirks – His downturn
is not promising, but it may be too soon to give up yet: .235 BABiP.
Jeff Francoeur –
There is no statistical evidence this man still belongs in the Major Leagues.