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Jason Bartlett Off To MVP Like Start

MVB! MVB! MVB! Few people agreed with the Tampa Bay chapter of the BBWAA's decision of Jason Bartlett as team MVP of 2008. When Joe Posnanski, one of America's smartest and best sportswriters questions the move you tend to agree with him. However, this article isn't mean to rehash those old arguments, but to look forward to Bartlett's start in 2009.

To say a .980 OPS and a .441 wOBA from Bartlett is surprising is simply an understatement. Bartlett isn't a bad hitter, but you'd expect him more in the .700 OPS range than the Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena like 1.000 levels. While he will more than likely regress to that .700 level by season's end, there's no reason to shake a stick at the start of the reigning team MVP.

Last year Bartlett was one of the leagues best hitters versus left handed pitching. The splits weren't even close in terms of batting vs. righties and lefties.

2008

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

VS. LHP

132

0.379

0.411

0.508

0.919

VS. RHP

322

0.248

0.296

0.301

0.597

Now I know there is quite a discrepancy in plate appearances since almost two thirds of starting pitchers are right handed, but those extreme splits are usually reserved for a left platoon player a la Gabe Gross. However, in 2009 Bartlett has turned those splits around and even though we are dealing with a small sample size, he has shown a nice turn around vs. righties in the first few weeks.

2009

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

VS. LHP

43

0.429

0.442

0.643

1.085

VS. RHP

21

0.294

0.429

0.294

0.723

Again, tremendously small sample size and nobody is expecting JB to OPS over 1.000 vs. LHP all season, but still worth noting. Also worth a note is the "power" he has shown against righties. Last season Bartlett hit just one home run in the regular season and that was off a lefty. This season he has doubled that total with two home runs in his first 16 games with both of them coming off right-handers.

For MVB's early season hot streak there doesn't seem to be a big Ben Zobrist like mystery. As is the case with most hot streaks, a bit of luck can be attributed to the success. His .422 BABIP is around .100 points higher than his career number of .320 and his 33.3% line drive percentage is just unsustainable. In fact, if you look at Bartlett's line drive percentage, fly ball percentage and ground ball percentage for 2009 you will see a perfect symmetry. He has 17 of each giving him a 33.3% in each category. Going off career averages, the line drives and fly balls should drop off pretty soon with the grounder taking over as the majority.

However, luck isn't the only thing factoring in Bartlett's good start. It seems that he's learned a little bit of plate discipline early on. He has cut his O-Swing% down from 26.3% a year ago to his current rate 17%. With that improved O-Swing has come a near 4% drop in strikeouts and a 2% increase in walks. Sure they are small numbers now, but if this holds true over the course of the season then we most likely will see a nice increase in on-base percentage from him.

Defensively, it's too early to tell if Bartlett is back to his 2005 or 2006 form, but so far he's rating at as above average which we all expected for him to be after a down year. While it's much to early to be calling for back-to-back "MVP" seasons for Bartlett, at least in 2009 he's actually playing up to the title, for now.

 

*statistics do not include 4/25/09 game.