Early in the season, a player’s statistics fluctuate greatly from game to game. An 0-4 night could take a hitter from Triple Crown-type of numbers to below the Mendoza-line. Seeing stat lines at such extremes is such a fascinating part of baseball in April for me. Slightly more fascinating than games that get snowed out, but not quite as fascinating as fan overreactions to the aforementioned extreme stat lines.
As I’ve mentioned before, relying on small sample sizes can be dangerous in projecting for the rest of a season. Even so, I always find it fun to look at the numbers this early in the season to see what kind of crazy stat lines different players have, and see how far off they are from the players’ career averages.
For example, Billy Butler is off to an odd start. He has an OPS of .792, which is lower than his career average by about 40 points. His batting average is .225 so far, which is 75 points below his career .300 average. However, he has a walk percentage over twice as high as his average, piling up 10 walks in his first 51 plate appearances. Based on his established track record, we should expect his batting average to climb and the BB% to fall.
The other main cog in the Royals’ lineup, Alex Gordon, is also having a strange April. His triple slash line of .350/.371/.467 looks very solid, until you do a double-take and look at his OBP again. Normally, Gordon is the best player on the team at drawing a walk. His career BB% is 9.8, and yet this year it sits at 3.4. Gordon also has a BABIP of .429, which is roughly 100 points higher than his career norm. Part of that is due to a decreased FB%, which I would expect to normalize, along with the BB%, as the season goes on.
Alcides Escobar isn’t having a great season at the plate thus far. His average and on-base percentage are both lower than his career averages, but the interesting number in Escobar’s stat line is his strikeout percentage. In his career, Escobar has struck out in 13.3% of his plate appearances. In 2013, that number is only 6.6. He still isn’t one to take a walk, with a BB% of 4.9, but the lack of strikeouts is a startling change from what we’ve gotten used to over the last couple of seasons. Even though he is striking out less, Escobar doesn’t seem to be getting better results. His LD% is only 16.3, which, combined with a higher FB% of 32.7 has resulted in a career low BABIP of .224. For a player with speed like Escobar, you would expect a higher BABIP, so look for that to improve in the coming months, even if he doesn’t make it all the way back to his 2012 line.
With younger players like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, projecting from small sample sizes is even more difficult because you don’t have as much data to compare against. However, Hosmer’s current slugging percentage of .273 is 86 points lower in 2013 than it was in 2012, which was a dreadful season, so you would expect that to improve at some point. For Moose, the biggest outliers are his FB% and IFFB%. His current FB% is 65.7, which is insanely high, especially considering that last season Moose led the majors with a FB% of 49.8. If you watch the games, you know that Moustakas has had far too many infield popouts this season. His current IFFB% is 26.1, which is 7 points higher than the 2012 leader in that category, Jimmy Rollins. I have to think that those percentages will normalize some. Moose will always be a guy that hits a lot of fly balls, so hopefully we start to see his raw power push a few balls over the fence pretty soon.
Wait, you were expecting someone else?
Dyson, in his 14 plate appearances, has amassed a slugging percentage of .571. While I do think Dyson can be a productive hitter, that level of play might be just a little bit over his head. As long as he keeps hitting the ball on a line or on the ground, Dyson should continue to put up solid numbers at the plate, but we shouldn’t expect him to maintain that kind of power over the course of a full season.
As for Getz, he’s collected 6 extra-base hits in his first 45 plate appearances (including his first home run since 2009), which has pushed his slugging percentage to .488. For reference, he hit 13 extra-base hits total in 210 plate appearances in 2012, and 9 extra-base hits in 429 plate appearances in 2011. His ISO is currently at .209, while his previous high in that category was .085. His FB% is 51.5, which seems even more out of place when you remember what kind of a hitter he has been for the bulk of his career. His GB% of 24.2 is less than half his career average.
If you’re not a fan of numbers, I’ll put it this way: Chris Getz is overachieving, and he’s going to regress.
Don’t get me wrong. I love what Getz is doing at the plate, especially since other players haven’t done so well early on, and while it’s possible that Getz has figured out a better way to hit a baseball, that’s a highly unlikely scenario. At some point, maybe very soon, Getz will start to slide away from that extreme level of production. The good news for the Royals is that players like Hosmer, Moose, and Butler should start to improve, based on the statistical anomalies their seasons have been to this point. If and when they pick it up, they can fill the offensive void left by Getz – which is a very strange statement that I never expected to type. They don’t even need to all put up MVP-caliber statistics, but they absolutely must step up from their current production levels in order for this squad to have any hopes of contending in September.
All in all, when looking at stats that are at extreme levels, remember that those levels of production (or lack thereof) are considered extreme for a reason. It’s very difficult to sustain insanely high or insanely low numbers, particularly when they don’t line up with a player’s career norms. There are exceptions, of course, but when players overperform or underperform by a significant amount, regression to the mean is the typical outcome.