The Rays Should Hit Better

Don't leave just yet! The Rays may get even HOTTER this last month and half!

After an uncommon four-game sweep (against the Royals, albeit), we Rays fans have begun thinking playoffs again. Well, one thing that might help them see October: The Rays, as a team, should hit better through the end of the season.

I assume many readers here diligently read pretty much everything I write on the internet, but in case some of you have missed my recent introduction of Should Hit (or ShH) on Fangraphs, I will offer a quick primer.

Basically: A hitter's performance can be adequately predicted using only his walk rate, strikeout rate, homer rate, and BABIP (batting average on balls in play). This is a pretty crazy finding, and led me to discover the Should Hit formula, which allows us to regress or predict a player's performance given a change in one of those four elements (BB%, K%, HR%, and BABIP).

Well, of those elements, only BABIP stays pretty much the same through a player's career -- though it fluctuates the most wildly on a year-to-year basis.

Think of BABIP like a pendulum, always trying to reach the center, but carried by momentum in opposite directions; while the rate statistics stabilize quickly, but can change yearly as players adjust their approach. The rate stats are more like an adjustable diving board, which stops moving quickly, but can stop at a different area.

Anyway, using the Should Hit (Advanced Predictor!), cutely named ShHAP!, we can adjust for BABIP fluctuations and effectively guess how a player will hit the during a regression. (If you'd like a copy of the ShHAP! tool, I've created a Google Doc which any user can copy or download.)

Well, the news is good: The Rays, as a team, should hit 11% better.

Below, I've created a Tableau document demonstrating each players' difference between their present hitting (in the form of wRC+) and what they should hit given their career BABIPs (minimum 150 plate appearances). It may be a bit hard to decipher at first, but play around with it, and I think it will reveal its secrets to you:

Some notables:

  • Given his peripherals, Evan Longoria should be killing it right now (151 vs. 117 wRC+). That is very hope-bringing. Also: Kelly Shoppach, B.J. Upton, and Sean Rodriguez look poised for helpful late-season surges.
  • I imagine this thread -- like all threads -- will devolve into a Casey Kotchman love/hate-fest, so I'd like to get my thoughts in first: If Kotchman does indeed return to his career BABIP -- and I think he'll at least come close to it -- then he will still be a not-terrible part of the offense.

    A 103 wRC+ is not great, but his defense helps make it much more digestible. Also, his different hitting profile may indeed make him more valuable to the Rays lineup more so than most other teams.
  • Both Ben Zobrist and Matt Joyce are due for regressions as well, but promise to be well above average if and when that happens.
  • Keep in mind: The thicker the line, the more plate appearances. I think both Elliot Johnson and Reid Brignac are better than they've showed this year, but it's still hard to say how much better.
What are your thoughts?
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