Remember when I told you about how to tell when streaks aren’t streaks anymore? You don’t? Well, here’s the refresher course. In that piece, you’ll find a nice story about Chris Shelton, a random aside on Mike Trout and, of course, some funky math. Well folks, the time has arrived, and our first major stat threshold has been met. And that threshold is Contact%, and it stabilizes at 100 PA’s. Contact Percentage is pretty much how it sounds. It is the total percentage of contact made when swinging at all pitches. With the majority of starting batters now eclipsing the 100 PA mark, I’ll be taking a look at some movers and shakers in fantasy that have new contact skill-sets, for better or worse.
Before we get started, please note that along with Contact%, I’ll also be referring to O-Swing% (Percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone), Z–Swing% (Percentage of pitches a batter swings at inside the strike zone), which stabilize at 50 PA’s. I might also mention O-Contact% and Z-Contact%, which represent the same thing, location wise, but are derived from Contact%. Also, I’ll make this format easy and simple. If you don’t want to read my breakdown of the numbers, just check out the conclusion blurb to get the short n’ sweet take.
Norichika Aoki – So far this season, Aoki has a very pedestrian .265 batting average. That’s to be expected with an underwhelming BABIP of .263. While we don’t have a three-year sample of data, the minimum number I like to compare to, we do have nearly 600 PA’s to draw upon, which still should give us a somewhat stable sample. Some peripheral changes to note; though we haven’t reached their threshold, Aoki has improved his BB% and lowered his K% so far, which is fueling a better OBP than last season, even with a lower batting average. Its become more difficult to say that his BABIP is just a case of being unlucky though, since he’s been pounding balls to the ground at a higher clip, and his LD% (Line Drive Percentage) and FB% (Fly Ball Percentage) are at a lower clip then you want to see. But I’m not worried yet, because in 97 PA’s, his Contact% is sitting at 94.3. In 2012, it was at 88.4%. When you look closer, his O-Swing% has dropped almost 10 full percentage points, which reflects a more selective bat. Conclusion: So far, I like what I see. Aoki’s hit tool is still the same, but he’s being more selective by laying off pitches on the outside of the zone. As a result, he’s swinging at more pitches in the zone, which leads to a higher probability of contact. I would venture to say that if his BABIP normalizes, he’ll improve on his rate stats from last year, and still provide something along the lines of 10+ homeruns and 30+ steals. He’ll be a fantastic asset in most leagues, especially those that use OBP.
Matt Carpenter – Granted, it’s a little risky making conclusions on a player with only 435 MLB PA’s, but we do have minor league numbers to provide certain confirmations on what type of player Carpenter is. For instance, looking over his minor league career, we know that he can take a walk, make contact, and has a little power and a little speed. While these are simple generalizations, it does give us a feel for the player. In only 340 PA’s last season, he was able to put up a slash of 294/365/463, which is solid. So far in 2013, he’s put up a similar line of 286/355/488. But Carpenter has already reached half his home run total from 2012, and in just a third of the time. That shows up in his improved ISO, which has risen .40 points. What can be gleaned from his Contact%? Well, it’s gone up, to the tune of 7.9%. When you go deeper, there are two big changes. First, his Z-Swing% has lowered by 7.3, and his Z-Contact% has risen by 5.1. What does it mean when a player swings at fewer pitches in the zone, yet makes more contact with them? It basically means that his pitch recognition is improving. Conclusion: Yes, Carpenter is swinging at a lower amount of pitches called for strikes, but what’s telling here, is that he may not like that certain offering, whether it be a ball or strike, and he’s comfortable with that. He’ll let it go by for a strike one, two, or three. But, when he sees his pitch, he’s making more contact, and with more power. While Carpenter’s talent can be considered bland for your corner spot, he’ll be very solid at 2B when he reaches eligibility, and is a good 3/4 outfield option already.
Allen Craig – You might be thinking, ‘Oh, Allen Craig is here. That totally makes sense!’ Afterall, he’s certainly been doing a great job putting the ‘ef’ before ‘my life’. Well, if you are thinking Craig’s here because there is something wrong with his contact skills, you would be wrong. Craig is actually here for the opposite reason, in that there is no problem. Contact% last season? 83.9% This season? 85.6% Career? 82.8% Anything drastically different in his O-Swing% and Z-Swing%? A shift up of 3.6% and 2.4%, respectably. That just shows Craig is swinging at more pitches total, but only at a slightly higher clip. No danger signs there. Even his LD%, GB%, and FB% are right in line with his career numbers. Craig’s GB/FB is also right in line with what he usually does. So what’s the deal? Well, nothing really. So just hold on and wait for the Craigsplosion to happen. But don’t stand too close, since his idea of exploding could be with the bat OR his ACL. Conclusion: Move along, nothing to see here. Everything will be fine. And yes, he sucks, right now, but it’s only a matter of time before he take’s off or hits the DL. So, err, yeah, he’ll be back to normal in no time.
Ryan Howard – Yes, we all saw this coming. Not exactly a news flash that Howard is fading away as most post-30-year-old sluggers do. And while passable as a power-only guy, his approach this year might even tank that one last asset he has. His walk rate is at 3.2%, which is silly. Another bad sign, his BABIP, so far, is right in line with his career. So the .219 BA seems likely to be a year-long albatross. Last season, his O-Swing% jumped up 5 points, and based on his 2013 number, that looks like a permanent shift. And while he’s swinging at more pitches in the zone than in 2012, by 8.1%, its not offsetting the fact that Howard is missing 12.2% more swinging at pitches on the outside of the zone. Conclusion: Howard’s wild approach and degradation of his contact skill appears here to stay, and will continue to get worse as time goes on. We knew this day was coming, but at the very least, maybe you could count on 25+ homeruns during his twilight years. If he continues to swing and miss at this rate on pitches outside of the strike zone, pitchers will be happy to oblige and Howard will never see a pitch down the middle again.
Matt Kemp – There is something wrong with Matt Kemp. What it is? I’m not quite sure yet. The easy answer is that something is wrong with the shoulder. Or that something is wrong with his mechanics. Or it could be both. Or none. Who knows for sure? Matt Kemp and his hitting data, that’s who. And that data, so far, is disturbing. Basically, he’s swinging at fewer pitches, total, which is sort of inconclusive. But it could mean that he’s wary or hesitant at the plate, which shows up in the fact that he’s watching 7.7% more pitches go by as called strikes. What’s also been adding to his struggles is the fact that his Contact% has dropped by 5.3. But what has me most worried is that Kemp’s flyballs and homeruns are going an average distance of 257.7 feet. Last season, they went 313.3 feet, which led the league. Where does Kemp rank this season? 161st. Conclusion: Not to sound like a broken record, but seriously bro, there is something wrong with Matt Kemp. It *could* be a lot of things. But with data showing that his power and contact skills have diminished drastically, I can only assume that his shoulder is still bothering him, or he has changed his mechanics because of the shoulder. We’d rather it be the former than the latter, as we would, most likely, see his skills return when full mobility has. But even that ETA remains a mystery. If he still continues to struggle after a few more weeks, that’s when I would start to worry.
Nate McLouth – There was once a time, in this great nation, when we first elected a Kenyan Socialist and/or Communist from Hawaii. Michael Phelps also won 59,000 Gold Medals. There were also high gas prices, a financial market meltdown, and O.J. was finally convicted of something. Do you ever feel like you could go back to 2008, and do it all over again? Well, who cares what you want, because Nate McLouth has already made his decision. And so far, he’s already eclipsed his WAR total from the last 3 years… combined. What? Totally man. He’s basically partying like its 2008, when he achieved a triple slash of 276/356/497, hit 26 homeruns, and stole 23 bases. His Contact% is up by 7.4 from last year, and 6.1 from his career. The secret? Cutting down his swings on outside pitches, to the tune of 7.7% from last season. On top of that, he’s making better contact with pitches inside the zone, 8.3% more than last year. He will regress a bit, as his LD% and FB% go back to career norms, and his BABIP stabilizes a bit more. But, for the most part, what he’s been doing can last. Conclusion: While he won’t hit .351 for the rest of the year, I’m not totally sure that regression will make him useless for the next 5 months. The power might not be what it used to be, but, according to the data, 10 homeruns and another 20 SB’s with a slash of 270/340/420 is not out of the question.
Martin Prado – While Justin Upton is busy proclaiming “How you like me now!” to Kevin Towers and his Aloha shirts, Prado is adding the salt over the wound by hitting 208/261/321 for the D’backs. Mostly known as a ‘stable’ option at the hot corner, Prado might have even been seen as an upside play this season, going to homer happy Arizona. But any semblance of the player he was supposed to be has yet to surface. What does the data say? Well, long story short, he seems to be suffering from the Allen Craig affliction. There really isn’t anything wrong with the numbers. Everything, for the most, is right in line with his career numbers. In fact, the only noticeable difference is that he’s swinging at less pitches on the outside part of the plate. 4.3% less, to be exact. Which is not a bad thing. And, like Craig, his LD%, FB%, and GB% are all right in line with his norms. Which makes this case simple. Conclusion: Prado’s woes are completely BABIP related so far. Have patience, and with some better luck, Prado will start to produce like the 15/10 guy that we know him to be.
Colby Rasmus – The secret to owning Rasmus is to always keep your expectations low. He’ll never be the player he was supposed to be, so you have to make peace with the fact that he’ll hit 20 homeruns, get 10 stolen bases with ugly rate stats. He’ll also disappear months at a time. But if you have him when he’s hot, he could carry your team two-weeks at a time. The problem with this season is that he might no longer be able to do that. Just to get this out of the way, so far, this year, he has a 41.4 K%. While that number has not stabilized yet, it’s still, nonetheless, astonishing. Like how a multi-car highway pile-up is astonishing. With the data that has stabilized, there are alarms going off on everything. His Contact% is down by 6.3. His Z-Contact% is down by 10.1. The O-Swing% is up, by 3.8. All of this is troubling. Conclusion: While Rasmus is known to be a free-swinger, it’s getting pretty redonkulous. The numbers support that Rasmus has lost any semblance of where the strike zone is or what it does, and has pretty much forgotten what to do with the bat after it leaves his shoulder. While not really a buy-low option, this cheap source of power is now totally broken.
Don’t worry folks. I shall return in about a month once the next set of stats stabilize. For Batters we’ll go over changes in K% and BB%, and for Pitchers, we’ll go over changes in K/PA and GB/FB. Until then!