Fun With Small Samples & Statistical Anomalies

So today is normally American League starting pitcher day, but that’s going to be pushed back. Perhaps to Monday. That’s because we’re only a week and a half into the season and there are still some crazy performance metrics being posted. I wanted to highlight them, laugh at them, and discuss them. By next Monday, they could be less crazy and there would be less laughing to do. And nobody wants them.

Statistics as of April 12, but will weave in performances from yesterday’s games when relevant.

Brock Holt has a 100% HR/FB rate

That’s two home runs coming from two fly balls. Quite the efficient one that Holt is. Why hit a fly ball if it’s not going to sail over the wall? Holt has received two ringing endorsements this week from my fellow RotoGraphers, but I’m far less excited. Sure, in a deep league, he’s got an every day job, for now, so he’s playable. But he’s heavily reliant on BABIP to hold value, hit just two home runs all of last season, and isn’t going to be an asset in runs scored or runs batted in. The 10 or so steals are nice, but that may be the only category he contributes any real positive value in.

The three highest strikeout rates among qualified batters belongs to three Twins hitters — Byung-ho Park, Byron Buxton, and Miguel Sano — all of whom have struck out in 50% of their plate appearances

It was apparent during ranking and draft season that I was much more bearish on Park than the market. His appearance atop the strikeout leaderboard is precisely why. We cannot deny the power, but if he’s not making contact, he’s not hitting home runs.

As I type this, Buxton has struck out another two times in three plate appearances, to take over the sole lead for highest strikeout rate. At least he has shown strong plate patience to offset some of those strikeouts. Oh wait…he has walked a total of ZERO times this year. That’s now 13 strikeouts and no walks in 25 plate appearances. If there was ever an indication that a player was not ready to succeed at the MLB level, Buxton’s small sample Major League record at this point is it. I would be shocked if he was still the team’s starting center fielder by the end of May.

We knew Sano would strike out a lot, but so far in the early going, his SwStk% is even higher than last year’s inflated mark. However, he has supplemented those strikeouts with four walks, though has oddly failed to record an extra-base hit so far, and sports the same SLG as AVG, equating to a .000 ISO.

Miguel Sano also leads baseball with an insane 55.6% line drive rate

But it’s not all bad for Sano! He has been a line drive machine, hitting more of them than any other batted ball type. He’s doing his best to try repeating that crazy .396 BABIP of last year.

Daniel Murphy leads baseball with a .615 BABIP, with eight hits on 13 non-home run balls in play

With one hit in two at-bats last night as I type this, his BABIP actually dropped to .600. He also walked, which pushed his walk rate above 20%. He has never walked more than 6.8% of the time in a full season.

Bryce Harper might be even better?

While the majority figured the easy call was to expect regression this year after Harper enjoyed an historical offensive performance, there was a vocal minority who pointed to his age and thought there was a chance he could actually get even better. That seemed ludicrous, but could it be happening? Coming into yesterday’s game, he had walked seven times for a 25.9% walk rate, versus just one strikeout, or a 3.7% mark. He struck out twice yesterday without drawing a walk, so that brings his season walk rate down to 22.6% and strikeout rate up to 9.7%. That’s still ridiculous. Move over Joey Votto, Bryce Harper may very well be the new king of walks.

Besides Buxton, Nick Castellanos and Neil Walker have the highest strikeout rates among those who have yet to record a walk

After striking out once in four plate appearances without taking a free pass, Castellanos has now struck out in a third of his plate appearances and has failed to draw a walk all season. He wasn’t particularly good at either of those skills in his first two seasons, and he’s not making a case for improving those skills early on. His strong batted ball profile is intriguing and gives him a base from which to break out from, but that plate discipline is just awful.

Walker struck out another two times yesterday without walking, pushing his season strikeout rate up to 32.3%. He has remained remarkably consistent in the walk rate category, posting marks between 7.2% and 9.1% throughout his career, and has never struck out more than 19.6% of the time. He’s still just 30, so he’s not at an age you figure he would fall off a cliff offensively.

Manny Machado’s pop-up problem has not been cured…

In this year’s edition of my annual Bold Hitter League Leaders, Machado was my choice to lead the American League in batting average. In my blurb, I said this:

Of course, his batted ball distribution doesn’t lend itself to a high BABIP — his LD% is below average, while he hits too many pop-ups. But there’s your path for improvement and a jump in BABIP.

Machado has never posted an IFFB% below 12.5% in a season. That’s not good. His current mark sits at an astounding 40%. That comprises just four pop-ups, so the sample size is a tiny piece of tiny. But the early returns suggest that the batted ball profile is not going to improve.

…and 60% of Alexei Ramirez and Travis d’Arnaud’s fly balls have been of the pop-up variety

Like Machado, Ramirez has always had issues with pop-ups. He has never posted an IFFB% mark below 11.3%. It’s why his career BABIP sits at a below average .291. With declining power, a bad home park for the first time in his career, and waning speed, he’s not a buy low option.

d’Arnaud’s pop-up rate has increased each year, which is not a good trend. That certainly goes a long way toward explaining his pathetic .263 career BABIP. All those pop-ups will make it more difficult for him to tap into his home run power, as that’s fewer fly balls that even reach the outfield! Aside from health questions always lingering, his biggest problem from a fantasy perspective is that he’s been locked into the eight hole. That’s the worst lineup spot in the baseball. The Mets lineup is solid throughout, so there’s no guarantee he moves up in the order, even when he hits.

“If only Eric Hosmer would add more loft to his swing and a power surge would be in his future” is what we hear. Hosmer doesn’t care, he loves to hit grounders, and has done so on 76.2% of his batted balls

A first baseman with power has no business hitting ground balls over 50% of the time. But that’s exactly what Hosmer has done nearly every single season of his career. If Hosmer would just be able to get that ground ball rate into the mid-40% range and the fly ball rate into the mid-30% range, he would finally eclipse the 20 home run plateau. But it doesn’t appear that he is ready for a change. How about 16 ground balls and just four fly balls to open the season?!

By hitting the ball on the ground 75% of the time, Logan Morrison certainly know how to utilize his speed…oh wait…Morrison doesn’t possess any speed

Morrison is apparently taking the Eric Hosmer approach to hitting, by killing his power potential thanks to his insistence on hitting the ball on the ground. Morrison hasn’t been quite as groundballing as Hosmer has been throughout his career, though, and actually sports around a league average batted ball distribution. It’s a bit odd to see the nine fly balls versus just two grounders, though we’re in small sample territory enough that it’s probably a complete fluke. Hosmer’s sample was larger.

Trevor Story’s home run barrage has been the…story…, but his power has been boosted by an absurd 65% fly ball rate

How does one hit home runs? Make contact, hit a fly ball, hit that fly ball far. With a SwStk% of 14.1% and a strikeout rate of 32.4% now, Story is clearly not making contact. However, he’s hitting tons of fly balls, nearly doubling his liners and ground balls combined. That’s one way to hit seven homers in 37 plate appearances.

It’s going to be fascinating to see how this story (couldn’t resist) plays out over the next month. He has walked just once, struck out often, hit fly balls at an exorbitant clip, and hit everything hard. It’s a wacky profile indeed.

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Given Park’s obscene strikeout rate, would you drop him for a guy like Victor Martinez, even give age/health concerns, or ride Park a little while longer in the hopes of him figuring it out? He’s just a bench piece for me right now.