Monday, April 11, 2011

Today's Stance: Trending Peripheral Stats Tell the Story

Heading into the second full week of the MLB season, there are more than a few surprises to note.  Some hitters have exploded out of the gate and some have faltered.  The sample size is small but a look at some hitters' peripheral stats have uncovered some noticeable trends.  I've selected three batters to discuss, New York Yankees' first baseman Mark Teixeira, St. Louis Cardinals' first baseman Albert Pujols, and Los Angeles Angels' infielder Howie Kendrick.

Mark Teixeira has been a notoriously slow starter, but he surprised everyone, maybe even himself, by hitting 4 home runs in the first five games this season and then abruptly took a nose dive into his familiar April territory, going hit-less in his last 15 at-bats.  His line through Sunday's game now stands at; .182 BA, 6 R, 4 HR, 10 RBI, .325 OBP, .545 SLG, & .870 OPS.  A look deeper shows where Teixeira is going wrong.  First of all if you're a believer in luck, and I hold some belief in it, Teixeira's current BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is .105 while his career rate is .302.  Apart from having very little luck, the most telling stat is his strikeout rate.  He has recorded a strikeout in 25% of his plate appearances.  Concurrently, his contact rate is nine percentage points lower than his career average.  Is it possible his home run barrage to begin the season got him thinking 'hit a home run' each time up?  Season after season Teixeira seems to begin in a funk, snaps out of it in May and it is usually all forgotten by October.  In order to turn it around again, he's going to have to cut down on the strikeouts and with some added luck he should round into form.

Albert Pujols is a quiet all-star and arguably the best position player in the game today.  He seems to prefer to go about his business on the field using his bat as his mouthpiece.  Pujols' bat has thus far been quiet too.  In the midst of a contract season, Pujols and the Cardinals decided to table discussions during the season so there is no distraction on the field.  Pujols will find it very difficult to avoid media distractions if his bat doesn't begin making some noise and demonstrate why he feels he is worth $300 million over the next 10 years.  Pujols' current line; .143 BA, 2 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, .225 OBP, .229 SLG, .454 OPS, is not what we have come to expect.  Pujols' current BABIP, like Teixeira's, is very low compared to his career line, .125 v. .313.  However, though luck plays a part, I noticed some glaring numbers.  First, Pujols' ratio of ground balls to fly balls is 1.20 when his career average stands at 0.69.  Secondly, his line drive rate is nine percentage points lower than his career average of 21%.  Pujols is seeing less pitches per at-bat (3.45 versus career 3.85) and his contact rate is down eight percent.  Lastly, he has drawn only 4 walks so far this season which tells you he may not be seeing the ball very well.  No hitter ever admits it, but is Pujols pressing?

Howie Kendrick has been a perennial choice among analysts to have a breakout season only to have it disrupted by injury or inconsistency.  He has begun this season on a tear.  His line; .389 BA, 9 R, 4 HR, 4 RBI, .488 OBP, .806 SLG, 1.294 OPS.  Some of his peripheral numbers suggest if he stays healthy (a big if) he may be able to put it all together this season.  His BABIP is high at .385, but his career average is .340, so there is less luck involved here than one may initially suspect.  So far, Kendrick's peripherals are consistent with his performance.  Kendrick's strikeout percentage is down from a career mark of 15.9% to 13.6% and his current walk rate is 13.6% versus a paltry 4% career average.  His line drive percentage is up 2% from his career rate and he is seeing 4.07 pitches per plate appearance compared with his average of 3.54.  While Kendrick may not sustain the high BABIP, if he can adhere to his current level of plate discipline, a full season of success could finally come to fruition.

Again, I stress that it's too early to draw conclusions for the season, but so far the peripheral stats for these players are in line with what the box scores read.  A trend is a trend and can not be ignored.  Mark Teixeira and Albert Pujols need to make adjustments at the plate in order to regain their form and Howie Kendrick must adhere to the modifications he has seemingly made already so he can maintain his current pace.