The Angels may have Dan Haren now, but are the Rangers worried? Should they be?
Their rotation wasn't exactly chock-full-of-slouches, even before they added Cliff Lee, and they score enough runs that they could conceivably win with a pitching machine on the mound. One might assume that the Rangers' mighty offense, which ranks third in the majors in runs scored, is built on high-octane power hitting, but they rank just 13th in Isolated Power. And while they're far from emulating the free-swinging Diamondbacks or Marlins, they are also not stocked with contact hitters the way that the Royals, White Sox and Twins are. Something is not adding up here.
What the Rangers have excelled at is getting hits on balls in play, as only the Tigers have a higher team BABIP. As I mentioned in this column a few weeks ago, Josh Hamilton will have a hard time keeping his batting average in the mid-.300s (though here he is, still hitting .357), and two other prominent bats in the Texas lineup also have some suspicious hitting stats. Like Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler are top-shelf major league hitters, but both have benefitted from some positive trends that looks unsustainable.
If you think there might be something special about hitting in Rangers Ballpark in Arlington or playing in the mid-summer Texas heat, the evidence suggests otherwise. If their home environment helps hitters, it's hard to explain the low BABIPs of Julio Borbon, David Murphy or Justin Smoak (pre-Mariners), not to mention the low BABIPs of much of their pitching staff. What, then, is going on with Cruz and Kinsler, and is there reason to be concerned about their Fantasy value over the next two months? We'll let the data do the talking.
Players stats are for all games played through Sunday, July 25.
Who has probably been lucky?
Nelson Cruz, OF, Texas: Cruz is extremely valuable in Fantasy, because he can hit for power and steal bases, but hitting for average has never been his thing. While he has reduced his strikeouts somewhat this season, it's hard to understand how he could be hitting .330 after 221 at-bats. He has accomplished it through a .270 BABIP on flyballs, which is currently the fourth highest rate in the majors. As Cruz gets more at-bats, it is likely that this rate will fall, as no one has established a flyball BABIP over a full year higher than .252, going back to 2007. Don't be surprised to see Cruz hit in the .270s overall from this point forward.
Ian Kinsler, 2B, Texas: Kinsler has been a .300-plus hitter before, but that was back when he was an above-average line drive hitter. Over the last season and a half, Kinsler has not been very proficient at hitting liners, amassing a line drive rate of 18 percent. Last year, he paid a price for his change in approach with a .253 batting average. This year he has made up for the lack of line drives with a high batting average on those hard shots. Kinsler currently sports an .844 batting average on liners, a rate that only three players have exceeded over the previous three seasons. Kinsler's power output has been disappointing this season, and unless he can start turning a few more grounders into laser shots, expect his batting average to fall below our expectations as well.
Luke Scott, DH, Baltimore: For a streaky hitter, Scott is awfully consistent from one year to the next. For each of the last three seasons, he has compiled batting averages between .255 and .258, while delivering a home run at least every 21 at-bats. He has kept the power coming this season, but he is getting many more hits on the balls that stay in the park, even though he is not hitting more line drives or fewer flyballs. Not only is Scott due for an inevitable power slump, but his .296 batting average and .335 BABIP have a lot of regressing to do.
Neil Walker, 2B, Pittsburgh: There is nothing in Walker's minor league record or current batted ball profile (20 percent line drive rate, 46 percent flyball rate) or whiff rate (21 percent) that suggests a .300 hitter, but that's what Walker has been in his rookie season. Pitchers have had a hard time retiring him on ground balls, allowing him to post a .392 batting average that is about 150 points above the major league norm for grounders. Walker is actually much more of a flyball hitter, but his ground ball average is so aberrant, that we should expect his overall batting average to take a serious hit. On the plus side, his home run per flyball rate (HR/FB) of 4.4 percent is uncharacteristically low, so Walker's owners should expect more power in his future.
Who has probably been unlucky?
Curtis Granderson, OF, N.Y. Yankees: As he is on pace for a second straight season with a sub-.250 batting average, the opinion that the Tigers won the offseason swap that shipped Granderson to the Bronx has been catching on. Austin Jackson is an outstanding talent to be sure, but owners should not get too down on Granderson. Like Jackson, he has provided no shortage of gap power, and he already has four triples to prove it. Yankee Stadium was supposed to be a boon for the flyball-hitting Granderson, but it hasn't worked out that way. He is leaving the yard on only nine percent of his flyballs and hitting just .064 on the ones that don't leave. Whether Granderson will take his power game up a notch remains to be seen, but sooner or later, more of those flies are bound to drop in for hits.
Jorge Cantu, 3B, Florida: Cantu's depleted power output in 2009 was attributed in many corners to his recovery from a wrist injury, but he still has yet to rediscover his power stroke. Maybe we were wrong to expect him to repeat his 29-homer season from '08, but was his batting average a mirage as well? After hitting .277 and .289 over the last two years, his average has dipped to .260 this season. Cantu's batted ball rates have been extremely consistent, so while he is striking out a bit more often, he shouldn't be a significantly worse hitter for average than he has been the last two years. Even without a power surge, Cantu should have at least a mild rebound over the rest of the season.
Everth Cabrera, SS, San Diego: It would be easy to dismiss Cabrera's '09 rookie season. He was a Rule 5 player with no experience above Class A. His .255 batting average and .342 on-base percentage were aided by a .328 BABIP, which could have been wholly undeserved due to his 14 percent line drive rate. Before you take this year's .202 batting average as proof that Cabrera was rushed, realize that his overall average is being sunk by a .087 average on ground balls. No one between 2007 and 2009 had a single-season ground ball average below .139 – not Adam Dunn, not David Ortiz, not even Jim Thome. Now that he has brought his line drive rate up to 18 percent, there is no reason to expect Cabrera to be any worse of a hitter than he was last year.
Bill Hall, 2B, Boston: Hall's tenure as the Red Sox's second baseman will only last as long as Dustin Pedroia's DL stint, and a .228 batting average would suggest that he hasn't made the most of the opportunity to play every day. In fact, Hall should be having his best season in years. Not only has he mashed 10 homers in 197 at-bats, but resurgent line drive and contact rates tell us that his batting average should be considerably higher. His peripherals are better than the ones he posted in 2007, which was the last time he hit above .230. His .254 average from that campaign was still mediocre, but it's a big improvement over what he has done since, and he should be exceeding even that level. Hall is worth giving a try in deeper leagues as long as he remains a regular.
Who has been neither lucky nor unlucky (based on current batted ball rates)?
Adam Lind, OF, Toronto: With a .261 rate, Lind has been something of a BABIP victim this year, but the real cause of his struggles has been a soaring strikeout rate. After back-to-back seasons in which he struck out less than once every five at-bats, Lind's rate this season has climbed to 27 percent. His power is diminished as well, but with similar power numbers in 2008, he still mustered a .282 batting average. His difficulties with making contact this season have led Lind to a batting average that is still languishing in the .210s.
Jhonny Peralta, 3B, Cleveland: Peralta has typically been an above-average hitter on balls in play, so this year's .294 rate might look like the result of bad luck. Especially given his stagnant power numbers, the last thing you might suspect is that Peralta's batting average is suffering under the weight of a soaring flyball rate. That, however, is exactly what has happened. When batters start hitting the ball up more often, they typically trade off batting average for more homers, but Peralta is only getting the short end of this exchange. Given the steady downward trend of his HR/FB ratio, the surest way for Peralta to increase his Fantasy value would be to cut back on flyballs, but unfortunately for owners, he has gone in the opposite direction.
Jack Cust, DH, Oakland: Cust is hitting .300? Really? Not only is it true, but it is potentially sustainable. He is still striking out in more than 30 percent of his at-bats, but whittling his rate down to that level represents significant progress. Meanwhile, he has taken his tendency to hit line drives and made it even stronger. I would be remiss if I didn't issue a small sample alert here, as Cust has accumulated only 160 at-bats so far, and chances are that he will regress somewhat. The point is that Cust's improved batting average is backed up by favorable strikeout and line drive trends, and best of all, he hasn't sacrificed his power in the process.
Buster Posey, C, San Francisco: As with Cust, Posey's stats are small sample artifacts, so as good as he is, he won't maintain his current breakneck pace (.371, eight home runs, 33 RBI in 178 at-bats). What he has managed to do in his short time in San Francisco is to hit with home run power while maintaining a modest 28 percent flyball rate. Over time, either his batting average or home run pace will likely give way, but at least owners can know his strong rookie performance has been backed up by some serious gap and home run power.
| Runs Created per 27 Outs (RC/27) -- An estimate of how many runs a lineup would produce per 27 outs if a particular player occupied each spot in the order; ex. the RC/27 for Miguel Cabrera would predict the productivity of a lineup where Cabrera (or his statistical equal) batted in all nine spots; created by Bill James |
Component ERA (ERC) -- An estimate of a what a pitcher's ERA would be if it were based solely on actual pitching performance; created by Bill James
GO/AO -- Ground out-fly out ratio
GB/FB -- Ground ball-fly ball ratio
Batting Average per Balls in Play (BABIP) -- The percentage of balls in play (at bats minus strikeouts and home runs) that are base hits; research by Voros McCracken and others has established that this rate is largely random and has a norm of approximately 30%
Left-on-base rate (LOB) -- Also known as strand rate. The percentage of baserunners that a pitcher allows that does not result in an earned run scoring. The research that established LOB norms and benchmarks was conducted by Ron Shandler. His research established that a certain level of variation in LOB can reflect differences in pitchers' abilities to prevent baserunners from scoring.
Isolated Power -- The difference between slugging percentage and batting average; created by Branch Rickey and Allan Roth
Walk Rate -- Walks / (at bats + walks)
Whiff Rate -- Strikeouts / at bats
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