Thursday, April 26, 2012

Some Interesting Early Season Trends

The fun part about small sample sizes is the room for interpretation they leave when analyzing a player's numbers and trying to identify what he's doing right or wrong.  It's pretty easy to look at a full season's worth of stats and break down exactly what a guy did to end up with the numbers he had, but a much smaller sample can leave some ambiguity in there.  Here are some examples of early season trends for some Yankees and the varying levels of support that their stat profiles give in explaining those trends.

* Note- Stats referenced below do not include last night's game *

1) Derek Jeter's Resurgence

I went into this one fully expecting to see a huge change in contact percentages for Jeter this year compared to the last few.  When a 37-year-old shortstop who turns 38 in 2 months is sporting a .416/.439/.649 tripleslash and a .460 wOBA, I think that's a fair expectation.  I was thinking something like 25/45/30 LD/FB/GB.  Surprisingly enough, Jeter's contact breakdown so far in 2012 isn't all that different from his splits in 2011 or even 2010.  His current LD rate of 20.0% is only slightly better than the 19.0% he posted last season, although it is still higher and his highest LD rate since his last great year in '09.  His GB rate of 61.4% is only slightly lower than the 62.4% rate he had in 2011, and his FB rate of 18.6% is exactly the same.  While things like a much lower K rate (8.4%), much improved performance against RHP, and more power are obviously big contributing factors to Jeter's hot start, I really expected the contact splits to show a more dramatic increase in line drives and fly balls and they don't.  Jeter appears to still be hitting the same balls, he's just hitting them where they ain't.

2) Russell Martin's Lack Of Pop

Russell Martin has done next to nothing at the plate this season.  The guy has a .195/.400/.293 slash line right now.  Were it not for the 20.0% BB rate he's sporting, his wOBA (.339) and wRC+ (111) would look way worse and you could remove the "next to" from the first sentence of this section.  The biggest thing hurting Martin early on is his glaring lack of power.  A year after the home run was a big part of his offensive contribution, Martin has hit just 1 this year and has only 1 other XBH to speak of out of the 8 total hits he's accumulated, good for a .098 ISO.  His .241 BABIP, a career low, suggests some bad luck in there, but the dramatic increase in GB rate (63.3%, up from 47.3% in 2011) suggests something fundamentally wrong with Martin's swing.  It's worth mentioning that Martin's current K rate of 20.0% would be a career high, but judging from his BB rate he's clearly seeing the ball well, so maybe a session with Dr. Long is in order to bring a little juice back to Russ' bat.

More after the jump.

3) Cory Wade's Dominance

This one has to be considered pretty unexpected, as Cory Wade was arguably the worst out of the pool of legit bullpen candidates in Spring Training (20 H, 3 BB, 10 ER allowed in 12.2 IP), and could very well have been at risk of losing his roster spot were it not for some injuries.  Once the games started to count, Wade did a complete 180 and has been absolutely lights out in his 7 appearances this season.  In 9.1 IP, Wade has allowed just 8 total unintentional baserunners (only 1 via walk) and 2 earned runs, and has struck out 12 batters.  He has a 0.99 FIP, and his 54.5% GB Rate and minuscule 9.1% LD rate suggest that Wade isn't just getting lucky, he's flat out fooling people with his stuff and generating a lot of weak contact.  His decrease in fastball usage (career-low 44.1% according to PITCHF/x) and more of the offspeed stuff may have something to do with that.  These numbers won't last all year, especially when teams start to adjust to Wade's new approach, but I'll certainly take them right now given how abominable Wade pitched in Spring Training.

4) Nick Swisher's RISP Magic

Swish is the AL leader in RBI right now.  Argue about the merit of that stat all you like, but tell me you were expecting Swish to be leading that category on April 26th and I'm calling you a liar.  The fact that he's the current leader is surprising enough, but it's made even more surprising when you take a gander at his overall statistical profile.  His .265 BA isn't all that impressive, and his .269 BABIP suggests that he should have fewer RBI than he does.  Even his 8 hits in 33 PA with RISP isn't all that great.  What Swish is doing to drive in runs is cashing in big on the hits he does get with RISP.  Of those 8 hits, 5 of them have been for extra bases and 20 of Swish's 21 RBI have been accumulated on them.  On the one hand, it makes you think about how many more he could have if a few more hits dropped in here or there.  On the other, it makes you think about how much more pedestrian Swish's numbers would look right now if you just took a few of those hits away.  It's not a recipe for long term success hitting less than .250 with RISP, but Swish is certainly getting the most bang for his buck right now.

5) Rafael Soriano's Luck

Admittedly, I hadn't paid very close to attention to Soriano's outings in the box scores this season.  I knew he hadn't given up many runs and I knew he had good strikeout numbers, and I was fully prepared to give him some props in this post for getting it together this season and earning his paycheck.  Boy, would that have been stupid because the guy has been lucky.  I'm talking "book a flight to Vegas, STAT!" lucky.  Soriano has made 6 appearances this season and has thrown 6 innings in those appearances.  In those 6 innings of work, he has faced 30 total batters and 15 of them have reached base (7 via hit, 6 via walk, 2 via intentional walk).  On balls in play, he's got a 37.5% LD rate against him right now.  Yet somehow, some way, Soriano has allowed only 1 run.  He doesn't have any command (9.00 BB/9) and isn't fooling anybody with the pitches he throws in the strike zone and somehow only 1 of those 15 baserunners has crossed the plate.  His FIP (3.58) is over 2 full runs higher than his ERA (1.50), so Soriano better start to fix things or that high strand rate of over 92.0% is going to come down in a hurry.

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