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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

August 2007 Reds Review Part 2: Hitting

Apologies for the delay in this--I realize that this is now more for posterity than genuine interest. What can I say? It's been a wild couple of weeks with relatives visiting and the trip to Vegas. And the Reds haven't been real exciting, save for the unbelievably gratifying opportunity to sweep the Cardinals and effectively knock them out of the race...the Cards currently have a lower Pythagorean record than the Reds, so they have absolutely no business being considered contenders if the Reds are out of it!!! ;)

What a difference a month makes. The Reds' offense surged in July, posting a season-best mark of 6.0 park-adjusted runs per game, their best since April '06. Let's look at the individual player performances:
Name PA %K %BB BABIP AVG OBP SLG ISO OPS BIPaOPS wOBA SBRns RC
A. Dunn 115 20% 23% 0.268 0.276 0.443 0.621 0.345 1.064 1.099 0.423 0.2 24
K. Griffey 123 14% 13% 0.384 0.346 0.431 0.561 0.215 0.992 0.872 0.417 -0.5 23
B. Phillips 125 14% 2% 0.344 0.328 0.352 0.571 0.244 0.923 0.856 0.384 0.6 22
Keppinger 100 5% 10% 0.395 0.393 0.460 0.596 0.202 1.056 0.899 0.456 -0.3 21
Encarnacion 107 13% 3% 0.376 0.350 0.374 0.534 0.184 0.908 0.790 0.391 0.2 20
N. Hopper 77 5% 5% 0.449 0.425 0.455 0.479 0.055 0.934 0.667 0.408 -0.4 15
A. Gonzalez 56 18% 11% 0.457 0.404 0.482 0.660 0.255 1.142 0.920 0.471 0.0 13
J. Valentin 83 10% 7% 0.368 0.338 0.386 0.481 0.143 0.866 0.758 0.371 0.0 13
Hatteberg 90 7% 9% 0.297 0.296 0.356 0.457 0.160 0.812 0.817 0.354 0.0 12
J. Hamilton 69 14% 7% 0.265 0.274 0.333 0.532 0.258 0.866 0.914 0.355 -0.5 10
J. Cantu 18 6% 11% 0.429 0.438 0.500 0.688 0.250 1.188 0.982 0.507 0.0 4
D. Ross 22 18% 9% 0.188 0.150 0.227 0.150 0.000 0.377 0.555 0.188 0.0 0
R. Freel 4 0% 0% 0.000 0.000 0.250 0.000 0.000 0.250 0.782 0.188 0.0 0
J. Ellison 18 33% 0% 0.091 0.059 0.111 0.118 0.059 0.229 0.497 0.111 0.0 -1

The Good

In July, the group of Edwin Encarnacion, Ryan Freel, Jeff Conine, Norris Hopper, Javier Valentin, Alex Gonzalez, and Pedro Lopez created just 36 runs in 408 plate appearances (accounting for 42% of all Reds plate appearances on the month). In August, the same group (substituting Cantu for Conine) nearly doubled their output, producing a combined for 65 runs in 345 plate appearances (34% of Reds plate appearances).

Want more? In July, the Reds' top offensive contributer was Brandon Phillips, who created 17 runs. In August, five Cincinnati Reds (Dunn, Griffey, Phillips, Keppinger, and Encarnacion) bested that mark, all creating 20 or more runs! Furthermore, seven players posted OPS's over 0.900 on the month. It really seemed like a completely different team.

Adam Dunn, in particular, was nothing short of awesome. He posted an 0.443 OBP and an 0.621 SLG thanks to a ridiculous 0.345 ISO. And he did all of this while posting an unusually low BABIP of 0.268. His 20% strikeout rate was easily his lowest monthly rate of the year, which might be a big part of his success. The big lug is really turning it up as the season winds down.

The Lucky and Unlucky...

I hate to be a sourpuss, but aside from Dunn, most of the offensive explosions we saw in August seem to have as much to do with luck as good performance. Of Reds hitters with over 50 AB's in August, nine had BABIP's of 0.340 of higher, and two (Hopper and Gonzalez) actually topped 0.400. Those sorts of BABIP rates are nearly impossible to maintain over an extended period of time, and unfortunately indicates that at least a portion of the Reds hitters' success was due to luck. If we use my rough BIP adjusted OPS (BIPaOPS) to adjust singles to set all hitters to league average BABIP, the Reds hitting looks decidedly more mundane. To be sure, there were still some very good performances, with seven hitters posting 0.800+ BIPaOPS's. But only Dunn, Gonzalez, and Hamilton (who actually seemed a bit unlucky) come out above 0.900.

Edwin Encarnacion, unfortunately, was among those who look the worst after the BABIP adjustment. His power finally seems to have returned, which is a huge sign for him looking forward. My approach of adjusting for BABIP does nothing to take away from that. But he was also extremely aggressive in August, walking in just 2% of his plate appearances. If he continues to avoid walks as he did in August, and his BABIP drops below the 0.376 level he enjoyed last month, his overall numbers won't look particularly good. It's disappointing, because before I saw these numbers, I was ready to start parading his month around as evidence that things had finally clicked for him. I'm still encouraged by his new-found power, but there's a way in which I feel like I'm still waiting for him to put everything back together. Hopefully he can do that in September. Tonight was a step in the right direction.

The biggest discrepancy between actual OPS and BIPaOPS was Norris Hopper, whose unreal 0.455 OBP in August propelled him to an 0.934 OPS and the 6th-best runs created totals on the team. He did it, however, with a BABIP of 0.449! One has to think that this will drop substantially in the future. I wonder, however, if it will drop as far as his 19.3% line drive percentage would indicate that it should (0.193 + 0.120 = ~0.313 BABIP). A big part of Hopper's success in August stemmed from his ability to push bunt past the pitcher. As some of Dan Fox's work this season has shown, players with a combination of speed and excellent bunting skills can make the infield hit an extremely effective weapon. For example, perhaps the best bunter in baseball today, Willy Taveras of the Colorado Rockies, has had BABIP's in excess of 0.330 each of the last three years (and twice over 0.350) despite line drive rates between 17-19% (predict 0.290-0.310 BABIP). So I think, in Hopper's case, that as long as he can continue to use the bunt hit effectively, he has a chance to be a dependable offensive threat--but even so, he won't be a 0.900+ OPS type of threat, and thus shouldn't be taking AB's away from someone like Hamilton who can be just that (if he can just stay healthy).

The Ugly

The most remarkable thing about the Reds' offense in August was that, even after adjusting for BABIP, no one (except Hopper--but see above) had an OPS below 0.700 who had more than David Ross's 22 plate appearances. So I'm not going to even try to leverage a critique towards anyone in this space. Heck of a month to be a hitter in the Queen City.