Fear & Loathing in Small Samples

by Bill M on June 11, 2014 · 2 comments

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After looking at pitching performances, I’m turning my attention toward offense.

Like using xFIP for the pitchers, I’m going to use an advanced statistic for the hitters as well.  Pulled from FanGraphs again, I’m using Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) for the hitters.  To quote FanGraphs, “Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) is one of the most important and popular catch-all offensive statistics. It was created by Tom Tango (and notably used in “The Book”) to measure a hitter’s overall offensive value, based on the relative values of each distinct offensive event.”  I’m going to use OPS as the more conventional measure as a check.  The data was pulled following 06/09/2014.

Name Team wOBA OPS
Lonnie Chisenhall Indians 0.503 1.185
Edwin Encarnacion Blue Jays 0.485 1.165
Yasiel Puig Dodgers 0.483 1.139
Miguel Cabrera Tigers 0.474 1.140
Nelson Cruz Orioles 0.468 1.136
Brandon Moss Athletics 0.466 1.104
Alex Gordon Royals 0.455 1.045
Khris Davis Brewers 0.444 1.043
George Springer Astros 0.442 1.039
Jonathan Lucroy Brewers 0.436 1.008

The first thing I noticed is that the two lists are almost identical.  Puig and Miggy are flipped in OPS, and they’re only one thousandth apart.  The list begins to veer apart after the top 10, but I still found it interesting that they were right on for the top 10.

Lonnie Chisenhall is likely at the top of the list because of when I pulled it…hence the danger of small samples.  He literally went berserk in Monday’s game with a historic performance (5-5, 3 HR, 9 RBI).  That’s a quality month for decent hitters in one game!  He’s having a nice season, but he doesn’t really belong in this list.  He had a nearly 0.400 BABIP for the period, and he’s at 0.420 for the season with a 0.305 career mark.  Not likely to continue.  Although he has the lowest K rate (8.7%) of the top 10, he’s also walked a mere 4.9% over the period casting some shadow on his approach.  I’d sell high.

Edwin Encarnacion had a meteoric May hitting 16 HR, and much of that month is still apparent in this sample, leading the period with 14 HR.  His performance is all the more impressive given that he’s done it with a 0.212 BABIP.  He’s always had relatively low BABIP because he makes a lot of contact, just not always good contact, but this is still far lower than normal.  E5 has established himself as one of the premier power hitters in the game the last 2.4 seasons, and there is no reason to think he’s going to slow down now.

Yasiel Puig has made the progression from phenom to bona fide this year in my mind.  His wOBA was driven largely by his actual OBA during this period (0.465), thanks to a fantastic 14.0% walk rate and 0.400 BABIP.  His athleticism and whip-quick bat have allowed him to establish a 0.385 BABIP for his career, so in his case, this is not batted ball luck.  He’s just damn good.  His increasing walk rate shows he’s the one making the adjustments.  He’s likely too expensive to buy at this point, but keep him high on your radar for re-draft leagues next year.

Miguel Cabrera had a slow start (719 OPS in April), but he’s been vintage since.  His walk rate is down this year, and it’s even a little low for this period, but that’s the only sign of slowing down.  He’s likely to be the best hitter in baseball for the rest of the season as long as he’s healthy because he’s just putting up normal numbers right now.  Just about everyone else is doing something out of the norm to accomplish this production.

Nelson Cruz was much maligned this offseason in the wake of the Biogenesis scandal and having the qualifying offer (QO) albatross around his neck.  I also read a couple of studies using comps to say that he was a very risky proposition leaving Texas.  Well, Cruz’s performance has shoved it right up the asses of those authors and the 28 teams that decided not to sign him.  He’s been great all year, not just this sample, leading the league in HR and RBI so far.  He has a career high and likely unsustainable 28% HR/F, but the BA and OBA are looking real.

Brandon Moss has been one of the more surprising performances of the year for me, but the question I have now is why?  He’s having a great season so far, but he’s been pretty darn good for 923 at bats since the beginning of 2012.  Well, to my defense, he’s been a strictly platoon player prior to this year, and he’s actually raking lefties to an OPS of over 1000 now.  His power is for real, the HR/F is in career norms.  Keep an eye on the performance against lefties…if that’s for real Moss becomes incredibly valuable.

Alex Gordon is an interesting player.  His appearance here is driven by an otherworldly 16.8% walk rate, putting the ball in play with just an 11.5% K rate, and 0.361 BABIP.  He had just a 0.222 ISO, which is actually higher than his career figure but 2nd lowest on the list.  The key here is that all of those ratios that are feeding his wOBA far exceed his career norms.  He’s not a new player, he’s just riding a hot streak.

Khris Davis was a sleeper target coming into 2014 because of a power spike in a small sample to end 2013.  He showed some power in the minors, but his MLB power was driven by a 29% HR/F ratio.  A slow start made fantasy owners nervous, but as this sample shows, he’s been much better since.  The number that jumps out to me in this sample is his 10.4% walk rate.  This is really something to keep your eyes on.  If it’s the root of a maturing approach, adjusting to what MLB pitchers are trying to do to him, he’s a player.  It’s too early to tell, but it’s well worth watching.

George Springer has been one of the more visible stories of the young season because of the obvious Super 2 manipulation the Astros were trying to pull and eventually gave up.  His contact issues are the biggest worry of the non-believers, and it has been an issue with a 31.8% K rate for the season and 29.3% for the sample.  He actually has a decent approach, however, drawing 13.8% walks for the sample.  That along with his prodigious power (0.368 ISO) are likely to outweigh the contact issues…or at least that’s the way I sway.  If he has another slow stretch, do whatever you can to get him.

Jonathan Lucroy is a ball player.  He’s an excellent defensive catcher, and now he’s establishing himself as one of the best with the stick as well.  He makes excellent contact (just 9.8% K rate in the sample), and he got on base a few extra times per batted ball (0.400 BABIP).  I don’t think you can expect him to remain on any sort of overall top 10 list for offense, but he’ll surely be on any list that adjusts runs above replacement by position.  He’s a buy for me.


Sites used for this blog: FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, Baseball Prospectus, BaseballHQ, and MLB.com

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