Hot Streaks & Home Runs; A Look At The Other Side Of The Rays Hitters

The regression thing that we're constantly talking about works both ways. Yesterday, I looked at the "unluckly" players, or players that should regress upwards. Today, thanks to the idea from nyyfaninlaaland, we're going to at the opposite. We all know we've had some batters on the team hit way above career norms: Jason Bartlett, Ben Zobrist and even Evan Longoria come to mind. We also know that while they won't turn into pumpkins over the next few weeks, their incredible starts are a little too incredible to sustain over the course of the season.

The Rays have five players who are doing well with the stick: I think we can all agree that Jason Bartlett, Ben Zobrist, Evan Longoria, along with Carlos Pena and Akinori Iwamura have all lived up to or exceeded expectations. Here are their numbers on the season along with BABIP and career BABIP.

Player

AVG

OBP

SLG

BABIP

C.BABIP

DIF.

Bartlett

0.429

0.478

0.643

0.457

0.322

0.135

Longoria

0.391

0.417

0.826

0.419

0.318

0.101

Pena

0.28

0.357

0.68

0.267

0.298

-0.031

Iwamura

0.308

0.388

0.419

0.406

0.35

0.056

Zobrist

0.308

0.333

0.731

0.357

0.244

0.113

Not surprising, but four of those players are playing a little above their heads in terms of BABIP. Bartlett, Zobrist and Longoria are hitting extremely well. Bartlett has seen his numbers rise across the board and has been the biggest beneficiary of a kind BABIP. Like Bartlett, Zobrist has been a very lucky fellow so far with a BABIP that is over .100 points higher than his norm. In terms of Longoria, we don't have a real "career" BABIP to compare. His BABIP in 2008 was .318, but that's all we have. Maybe he was unlucky in 2008 and his BABIP should actually have been higher, but we don't know. This is why we like to have a few years of BABIP data for comparison. However, I don't think any of us expect Longoria to hit near .400 and slug over .800 in 150+ games like Babe Ruth in 1921 (ok maybe some of us do).

Iwamura has benefited from a bump in BABIP, but Aki has somehow been able to maintain a high number over the course of his two seasons. He should regress slightly, but not toward the level of a Jason Bartlett. In some fantastic news, despite hitting .280 with an OPS over 1.000 and six home runs, Carlos Pena is performing BELOW his BABIP norm. This doesn't mean Pena will hit like he did in 2007, but it's a pretty good sign that his early season hot streak is not a fluke. Another thing to watch is Pena's walk rate. Pena is only walking 10% of the time now. That number should increase to around 16% as we get deeper into the season which would push his OBP closer to the .380 mark.

While we have some guys outplaying their BABIP and should see some regression downward over the next few weeks, there is some promise in terms of line drive percentages. An absurdly high BABIP and LD% are not a good mix in terms of sustaining success. However, if a player has a high BABIP, but is maintaining a fair LD% their hot streak could last a bit longer. Here are the same five players, but with 2009 LD% compared to career.

Player

LD%

LD%Car.

DIF

Bartlett

38.9

21

17.9

Longoria

22.2

20

2.2

Pena

19.4

18.8

0.6

Iwamura

21.9

20.1

1.8

Zobrist

5.9

17.8

-11.9

Oh, MVB please sustain this hot streak for as long as possible, because according to BABIP and LD% when it's over, the decline is going to be fast and steep. The good thing is we really shouldn't be depending Bartlett's stick anyway, and his glove has been better this year. Other than Bartlett, there really isn't anybody else on this list that has seen an abnormal increase in line drives and that's a very good thing.

The one thing I want to point out is what a statistical anomaly Ben Zobrist continues to be. Despite a high BABIP, Zobrist is hitting 12% less line drives than normal. The reason for the decrease in the liners is simple; Zobrist is mashing home runs at Ruthian rates. Zorilla currently has a 30% home run to flyball ratio. In 2008, there were two players who had a HR/FB% around 30%. Jack Cust finished second in the bigs with a 29.7 HR/FB% just behind Ryan Howard with a 31.8%. Howard, Cust... Zobrist? Yes, Benzo continues to baffle even the most advanced units sabermetrics and at this point I'm willing to just ride the wave of late inning lightning rather than try and figure it out.

Just like yesterday, I must warn you that we are dealing with very limited sample sizes. Also, BABIP and LD% aren't exact sciences or indicators of slumps and streaks. If this were the case then Major League Front Offices would be much easier to run if you knew exactly when a player was going to do well and when one was going to drop off. But for now we have a better idea of who's been slightly "lucky" and who has been treated a little unfairly by the baseball gods in terms of our Tampa Bay Rays during this young 2009 season.

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