Baseball BeatSeptember 25, 2006
Making Sense of Stats - Hitting
By Rich Lederer

As the regular season winds down, I thought it would be instructive to take a close look at a number of players to see if their stats or trends might foretell us something about the future. Today, we start with hitters. Tomorrow, we will finish with a select group of pitchers.

Luke the Fluke?

Granted, Luke Scott has barely garnered 200 plate appearances this season but, get this, only seven players in the history of baseball have exceeded his .368/.454/.697 line this year.

AVG >= .368, OBP >= .454, SLG >= .697

                              YEAR      AVG      OBP      SLG    
1    Ted Williams             1941     .406     .553     .735   
2    Rogers Hornsby           1925     .403     .489     .756   
3    Rogers Hornsby           1922     .401     .459     .722   
4    Babe Ruth                1923     .393     .545     .764   
5    Ted Williams             1957     .388     .526     .731   
6    Larry Walker             1999     .379     .458     .710   
7    Lou Gehrig               1930     .379     .473     .721   
8    Babe Ruth                1924     .378     .513     .739   
9    Babe Ruth                1921     .378     .512     .846   
10   Babe Ruth                1920     .376     .532     .847   
11   Lou Gehrig               1927     .373     .474     .765   
12   Babe Ruth                1931     .373     .494     .700   
13   Todd Helton              2000     .372     .463     .698   
14   Babe Ruth                1926     .372     .516     .737   
15   Barry Bonds              2002     .370     .582     .799   

Source: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia

Larry Walker and Todd Helton both benefited by playing their home games at Coors Field when it was hugely advantageous for hitters. The other five names? Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Barry Bonds. Great Scott!

Another Bonds Controversy

Speaking of Bonds, with his 734th career home run, he (reportedly) broke Hank Aaron's National League record this past weekend. But did he really? Bonds may have hit more HR in a NL uniform than anyone else, but he has not slugged all of them against NL teams. As a result, one could argue that Aaron's record is still in tact, so help me interleague play.

Winn, Lose or Draw?

Randy Winn is a good example of the danger of extrapolating the past when it comes to older players. His age 28-31 seasons were pretty similar to one another. Anybody who expected Winn to put up his 2002-2005 averages of .296/.353/.453 in 2006 was badly mistaken as the switch-hitting outfielder has fallen to .262/.324/.399.

        AGE   AVG   OBP   SLG   
2002     28  .298  .360  .461
2003     29  .295  .346  .425
2004     30  .286  .346  .427
2005     31  .306  .360  .499
2006     32  .262  .324  .399

But wait a minute. Is Winn's down season owing to his age or is it a statistical aberration? If the latter, is there something in the numbers that would give us confidence that he may not be headed southward? Well, let's take a look at his BABIP the past five years:

2002    .345
2003    .345
2004    .321
2005    .334
2006    .279

Hmmm. Could Winn's lower BABIP be a function of changing home ballparks following last year's trade that sent him from the Mariners to the Giants? Oh, it's possible, I suppose. But how do you account for his 2005 splits when he had a .306 BABIP for SEA and .385 for SF? Perhaps Winn, with his lowest SB total and success rate since 2000, has lost some speed and is legging out fewer hits--thereby negatively affecting his BABIP?

Thanks to FanGraphs, we can verify if the above is the case.

       IFH   IFH%    BU   BUH   BUH%
2002    31   13.7    14     7   50.0
2003    15    6.0    12     4   33.3
2004    17    6.2    17     2   11.8
2005    17    6.6    11     0    0.0
2006    12    4.9     4     0    0.0

Winn has been getting fewer infield hits (IFH) and bunt hits (BUH) than in prior seasons. Although his infield hit percentage (IFH/GB) and bunt hit percentage (BUH/BU) are down, they only account for a small portion of his lower BABIP.

Drilling down a bit further with respect to Winn's batted ball data, we can see that he isn't hitting as many line drives this year as he has in the past.

        LD%    GB%    FB%
2002   22.2   46.1   31.6
2003   20.2   51.0   28.8
2004   18.2   52.4   29.4
2005   22.0   49.1   29.0
2006   16.7   49.4   33.9

According to Dave Studemund of The Hardball Times, league-wide BABIP generally equals LD% + about .110 in the AL and .100 in the NL. Using Winn as an example, his predicted BABIP = .167 + .100 or .267. Scrolling back up, we can see that Winn's actual BABIP in 2006 is .279.

Best Young Hitter in Baseball

Here are Miguel Cabrera's yearly stat lines since he broke into the big leagues:

        AGE   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
2003     20  .268  .325  .468   793
2004     21  .294  .366  .512   879
2005     22  .323  .385  .561   947
2006     23  .336  .427  .567   994

Do you notice a trend here? Think Cabrera is likely to exceed his career averages (.310/.383/.536) next year? At some point, his stats will level out. However, I wouldn't want to make the bet that he will regress next year at age 24. If anything, I think Cabrera's HR and BB rates have room for further improvement. The only obstacle in the way of a 40-HR season might be his home ballpark. Gary Sheffield (42, 1996) is the only one who has ever gone yard more than 33 times in a season while playing for the Marlins.

Nonetheless, Cabrera has reverse splits this year, albeit not significant. He is hitting better at home and vs. right-handed pitchers (despite playing in a pitcher-friendly ballpark and being a RHB).

        AVG   OBP   SLG
Home   .350  .449  .600 
Road   .324  .409  .543 
RHP    .344  .427  .578 
LHP    .310  .431  .540

Happy Holliday

Like Cabrera, Matt Holliday has been going up the elevator since his debut in 2004.

        AGE   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
2004     24  .290  .349  .488   837
2005     25  .307  .361  .505   866
2006     26  .332  .391  .592   983

Despite somewhat similar numbers, Holliday is no Cabrera. The Colorado outfielder benefits by playing in a friendlier hitting environment and is three years older than the Marlins third baseman. A good hitter for sure but unlikely to make his way into the great camp.

        AVG   OBP   SLG
Home   .376  .443  .681 
Road   .288  .336  .492

Sweeney Todd

Holliday's teammate Todd Helton is going in the opposite direction.

        AGE   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
2004     30  .347  .469  .620  1088
2005     31  .320  .445  .534   979
2006     32  .307  .408  .487   895

Helton has gone from being Lou Gehrig to Mike Sweeney (at his best) to Mark Grace in a matter of a few years. What kind of line would you predict the former backup QB to Peyton Manning at the University of Tennessee to put up in his age 33 season? I'll suggest the mid-points within the following ranges: .290-.300/.380-.400/.450-.480. At $16.6M per year through 2010 and $19.1M in 2011 (with a $23M club option or $4.6M buyout for 2012), suffice it to say that Helton has become a liability for the Rockies.

More Powerful Than. . .A Chicago Cub Middle Infielder

Carlos Zambrano slugged his sixth home run of the campaign on Saturday. He ranks seventh on the club in homers, with twice as many jacks in a Cubs uniform as Neifi Perez (2), Tony Womack (1), Jerry Hairston Jr. (0), and Cesar Izturis (0) combined in 371 fewer AB.

Since 1900, only seven pitchers have hit more roundtrippers than Zambrano in a single season. Three of them--Wes Ferrell, Don Drysdale, and Earl Wilson--had two or more years in which they went yard at least seven times. Bob Lemon ripped seven in 1949 and six in 1950.

MODERN ERA (1900-2006)

                              YEAR       HR     
1    Wes Ferrell              1931        9   
T2   Bob Lemon                1949        7   
T2   Don Drysdale             1965        7   
T2   Wes Ferrell              1933        7   
T2   Wes Ferrell              1935        7   
T2   Mike Hampton             2001        7   
T2   Don Drysdale             1958        7   
T2   Brooks Kieschnick        2003        7   
T2   Don Newcombe             1955        7   
T2   Earl Wilson              1966        7   
T2   Earl Wilson              1968        7   

Source: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia

Zambrano might become the most renowned Three True Outcomes pitcher at the plate (6 HR and 26 SO in 70 AB) and on the hill (first in the NL in BB and 2nd in SO).


Regarding Luke Scott, 200 plate appearances is just two months of play, or so. Lots of players get hot for a month or two. So, comparing his numbers to Ted Williams' season numbers is pushing it. It would be interesting to see how other players have performed (even just this year) over their 200 best consecutive plate appearances (or even their first 200 plate appearances).

Scott's season is what it is. He still has a week to go so his rate stats could change between now and then. But I still thought it was interesting to learn that only seven other players have exceeded his AVG/OBP/SLG with a minimum of 200 plate appearances.

It was not my intention to suggest that Scott is the equal of these players. First of all, anybody who *exceeded* Luke in all three areas had, by definition, a better season than him. Secondly, all of the other players on that list played full seasons.

Scott's stats have to be discounted owing to a small sample size. He wasn't called up until the middle of July. Nevertheless, he has had a terrific half season, if that's what you'd like to call it. Unfortunately, I don't have access to a database that could run the queries you asked about.

Going forward, I would be surprised if Scott even hit .300/.400/.500, much less the numbers he has posted this year. At 28 and with nothing in his background to suggest that he can produce at or near these levels, one would be best served by being skeptical. In other words, I believe Luke is a fluke.

Re the Bonds NL record comment:

I believe that MLB has come down with a "ruling" on this. The uniform of the player is all that matters in determining league records. Whether or not one hits the homer against an AL opponent is irrelevant.

Cabrera is a great hitter, no doubt.

But to say that he is the best young hitter in baseball is ludicrous. Albert Pujols is clearly the best young hitter in baseball, and perhaps the best in all of baseball.

First 5 Seasons
Hits - 982; HR - 201; RBI - 621; BA - .332; OBP - .416; SLG - .621;

Pujols stacks up with anyone, across the board in offensive categories, over the course of these past 6 years. His '06 numbers are right on par with this pattern, despite missing 15 games or so, due to injury.

I guess it depends on how you define "young." Pujols is 26 and Cabrera is 23. I have sung Albert's praises countless times over the years and, in fact, have no doubt that he has been--and continues to be--Cabrera's superior when it comes to hitting. As such, I guess it comes down to semantics more than anything else. Cabrera is young and poised to get even better. Pujols is a few years older and is in the peak years of his career right now.

With respect to Cabrera's prowess as a 23-year-old, I found the following excerpt from Lee Sinins' ATM Report noteworthy:

Cabrera reached 60 RCAA and, in the past half century, ranks 4th in RCAA through the age of 23.

1    Albert Pujols               206   
2    Ken Griffey Jr.             195   
3    Alex Rodriguez              144   
4    Miguel Cabrera              134   
5    Orlando Cepeda              122   
6    Rickey Henderson            119   
7    Cesar Cedeno                118   
8    Dick Allen                  109   
9    Vada Pinson                 104   
10   Frank Thomas                101