Monday, May 5, 2014

Is Carlos Beltran Slumping Or Not?

The recent dearth of offense from the revamped lineup has been driven primarily by the lack of production from the middle of the lineup.  Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Alfonso Soriano have been swinging cold bats for the better part of the last 2 weeks, and there simply hasn't been enough production from the other 6 spots in the batting order to make up for that.  McCann and Soriano have never really found their stride since Opening Day, even with a few big power days mixed in, but Beltran was arguably the best hitter in the lineup for the first few weeks.  He's cooled down to the point of being frigid at the plate, and with him being older and having a history of leg problems, I thought it was worth investigating the legitimacy of his downtrend in production similar to how I looked at Derek Jeter over the weekend.

That there is Beltran's spray chart from Opening Day through the doubleheader against the Cubs on April 16th, the first 14 games of the 27 he's played so far.  You'll notice a very clear concentration of balls being hit back up the middle and to left field, both on the ground and in the air, and surprisingly few balls pulled to right.  If you break that split down to his PA versus right and left-handed hitters, you'll see that it wasn't a case where the right-handed swings were producing more of the contact to left field.  Beltran was playing to hit the ball back up the middle or the other way from the left side and pulling for power when he got pitches he could handle and that approach worked very well for him.  He went 17-57 in his first 14 games (.298 BA) with 6 doubles, 4 HR, 8 R, 9 RBI, 4 BB, and 11 K.

That spray chart shows Beltran's BIP distribution from 4/17 through yesterday's game.  In this 13-game sample, there's a noticeable shift in his pull contact to right field.  He's grounded out more to the right side, flied out much more to right field, and hit fewer balls the other way.  Beltran's production has suffered mightily as a result of this shift: 10-61 (.164 BA), 3 2B, 1 HR, 3 R, 4 RBI, 1 BB, and 10 K.  He doesn't have an extra-base hit since 4/25, doesn't have a run scored since 4/24, and hasn't driven in a run since 4/22.

To answer the original question in the title of the post, yes, Beltran is definitely slumping right now.  The spray charts show that he's making more of a concerted effort to pull the ball when he's hitting from the left side of the plate and the results shown suggest he's changed his approach to try to hit the ball in the air more.  For the season, Beltran's contact splits are 15.6% LD/38.9% GB/45.6% FB, which supports the theory that he's swinging to elevate the ball more based on his 19.9/41.4/38.8 career average.  It appears Beltran is falling victim to an unsuccessful change in approach rather than bad BIP luck.

What this analysis doesn't factor in is how much he's been hitting against the shift lately, and I admittedly have not watched enough games to see how often opposing teams are shifting against Beltran.  Given how much success he had hitting the ball to left in the first 2 weeks, I have to imagine he isn't facing the shift as regularly as McCann.  Perhaps Carlos got a little too comfortable pulling for power towards the short porch in those first 2 weeks and has tried to incorporate that more into his approach.  Perhaps he's a little tired like Jeter may or may not be and hasn't been able to drive the ball as well as he wants to lately.  Whatever the reason, Beltran isn't hitting the ball the way he was in the early part of April and the Yankees could use a turnaround from him quickly.

(Spray charts courtesy of Texas Leaguers)


Dan Sonners said...

Also, a significant increase in strikeouts/AB and decease in BB/AB from career averages. Unless there's an injury slowing his bat speed this suggests he's pressing to pull the ball.

Unknown said...

I'm not overly concerned about the increase in K rate. It's the decrease in BB rate that's a problem. That trend started last year and it suggests he's cheating and starting his swing earlier to make up for lost bat speed.