Los Angeles Dodgers v Oakland Athletics

There is nothing better than the early days of the season for statistical oddities. Though the season isn’t exactly young (right, Blue Jays/Angels fans) it is still too early for many commonly referenced stats to have normalized – and for each slump or hot streak send the numbers swinging wildly.

It’s a time where a bad start still lords over the season line and makes for some odd stat lines. Not real representations of the present and future of these players but weird snapshots of this moment in time.

Today: the unsluggers.

Batting average on balls in play is a funny stat for batters – there is no defined baseline as different types of hitters can expect different types of “normal” BABIPs. Mike Trout can expect consistently higher than average BABIP rates because he’s faster than everyone. Joey Votto and Miguel Cabrera aren’t fast but their in-play averages are high because they square the ball up more than most – as one would expect from the two best hitters in the game.

Power hitters who tend to hit a lot of fly balls will post consistently low BABIPs because fly balls are easily caught while home runs and strikeouts (two staples of the power hitter diet) don’t count in the BABIP calculation. Other than the best hitters in the game, high BABIP hitters tend to be speedy slap-and-run guys who put the ball in play a ton and maybe lay down a bunt or two. They don’t slug the ball often as it works against their skill set.

Over the past three seasons, five qualified hitters posted slugging percentages within 40 points of their in-play rate: Ben Revere, Jamey Carroll, Michael Bourn, Drew Stubbs and Juan Pierre. For the most part, the very slap hitter defined above (Drew Stubbs is the opposite, he strikes out a ton with decent power and speed – he just doesn’t put the bat on the ball enough to rack up the non-homer hits).

Over the span of 1000+ plate appearances, the oddities work their way out. But not after 30 games! After 30 games, you get all sorts of weird and wacky names if you create a similar list. Slumping guys and power hitters gone awry.

The 2013 list features some very un-Jamey Carrol names. To wit:

Jay Bruce 148 34 1 6.8% 32.4% .101 .371 .246 .297 .348 .280 71 -.023
Eric Hosmer 101 23 0 9.9% 20.8% .067 .333 .258 .337 .326 .295 82 -.007
Denard Span 127 32 0 9.4% 15.0% .052 .333 .278 .346 .330 .306 91 -.003
Matt Kemp 131 31 1 7.6% 23.7% .077 .341 .265 .321 .342 .288 83 .001
Donovan Solano 118 30 1 6.8% 12.7% .046 .315 .278 .333 .324 .287 78 .009
Justin Smoak 124 25 1 13.7% 20.2% .075 .300 .236 .347 .311 .304 94 .011
Dustin Pedroia 144 38 1 13.9% 14.6% .073 .363 .306 .403 .379 .349 114 .016
Melky Cabrera 142 34 1 5.6% 15.5% .061 .300 .258 .298 .318 .274 67 .018
Jeff Francoeur 109 25 1 3.7% 24.8% .107 .320 .243 .284 .350 .276 69 .030
Pete Kozma 111 27 1 7.2% 14.4% .069 .302 .267 .315 .337 .286 80 .035
Drew Stubbs 108 26 2 7.4% 28.7% .131 .358 .263 .315 .394 .311 96 .036

Drew Stubbs rides again!

What a weird collection of names. Slappy hitters like Stubbs, Solano, and Denard Span mixed with crappy would-be sluggers like Eric Hosmer and Justin Smoak. This is not the place you want to see your first baseman of the future, me thinks. Melky Cabrera is a player who derives most of his value out of his ability to put the ball in play, while Jeff Francoeur is a very charming man.

Misfiring outfielders like Jay Bruce and Matt Kemp are not long for this esteemed company, as they are too talented to remain mired in this odd ghetto. Neither player has their timing quite right in 2013, resulting in far more ground balls than usual for them to go with their expected high strikeout rates.

Dustin Pedroia is the only player who manages to produce at an above-average rate thanks to his patience and batting skill – he’s a good hitter going through a weird power outage. He did clout his first homer of year last night and will be crashing doubles into the Green Monster again in no time.

Does this mean anything? Nope. It does, perhaps, hint that things might get worse before they get better for the likes of Eric Hosmer and Justin Smoak. Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur once played in the same outfield, which should take care of any “why haven’t the Royals made the playoffs in X years?” questions you might have. It also shows happens when players of a certain profile don’t hit home runs – it pretty much ruins their whole day.