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Thursday, July 18, 2002

What is Bret Boone’s Problem?

Dan Werr tries to put a finger on Bret Boone’s slumping season. No, Boone fantasy owners, not that finger.

The midpoint of the baseball season inevitably inspires a little reflection   on the games gone by so far. It’s nice to take a look at your expectations,   and see where they’ve been met, exceeded, or not yet reached. But sometimes   it’s the most fun to look at the situations where you didn’t know what to expect—and   what player fits that description better than Bret Boone?

Before the season, I started the Bret Boone Pool, in response to what I had   thought was unreasonable pessimism on the part of—well, just about everyone.   The idea was to guess Boone’s unadjusted OPS. The guesses rolled in, 84 of them,   and ranged from .713 to .953 (Boone posted a 2001 OPS of .950, and his career   figure at that point was .756). Both the mean and the median of the guesses   were .818. It wasn’t too unreasonably low, I thought; the figure was well above   his career numbers, though below my guess of .875.

And now, through 93 Seattle Mariner games, we can see how the guesses have   stacked up against Boone’s performance so far. And so far, the guesses have   been a little high. Specifically, all 84 pessimistic Primer posters postulated   that Bret Boone would do better than he has so far. After the July 15 loss to   Baltimore, Boone’s OPS is at .707. Well below his career numbers. Well below   all but two of his full seasons. Boone has been a huge disappointment, even   by the most conservative expectations. What has his problem been?

To answer that question, it’s necessary to look at the different aspects of   Boone’s offensive performance separately. First of all, Boone is walking. His   BB/(BB+AB) rate is .087, which is well above his career rate of .071, and even   further above his 2001 rate of .060. Boone already has 33 walks, and his career   high was 50 in 2000. He is on pace to break that personal record easily.

What about strikeouts? Boone’s K/AB rate so far this year is his best ever   at .156. His career rate is .191 and his previous best was .164 in 1995. His   2001 rate was .177. Obviously, strikeouts are not the problem.

On the other hand, Boone’s HR/AB rate has slipped some. His .037 rate is still   just above his career rate of .036, but below the marks he set in 2001 (.059),   2000 (.041), 1998 (.041), and 1993 (.044 in 302 plate appearances). However,   that does not explain why Boone is below his career OPS. Similarly, Boone’s   bases per hit (1.683) is above his career rate (1.642), but not as high as it   was in 2001 (1.748), 1998 (1.723), and 1993 (1.765 in 302 plate appearances).

But the real problem is Boone’s hits per ball-in-play rate (or BIP average).   In other words, when he puts the ball in play, it results in an out far too   often. This is calculated using the formula (H-HR)/(AB+SH+SF-HR-SO). The actual   value of the formula is subject to debate (as to whether it identifies a specific   skill), but it does nicely isolate Boone’s single greatest problem.

How bad is Boone’s BIP average? It currently stands at .243, his lowest ever   (he reached as low as .258 in 1993 and 1996). His career rate is .288, and he   reached .342 in 2001. A .243 BIP average doesn’t stand up very well against   the rest of the league, either.

In 2001, three qualifying batters (at least 3.1 plate appearances per team   game) had BIP averages lower than .243. They were Marquis Grissom (.242), Brady   Anderson (.227), and Darrin Fletcher (.225). In 2002, through the end of play   on July 14, five qualifying players had lower BIP averages: Neifi Perez (.240),   Jeff Cirillo (.240), Matt Lawton (.230), Raul Mondesi (.225), and Greg Vaughn   (.202).

If Boone had a better BIP average, if more of his hits had fallen in, his season   would be drastically different. It’s interesting to apply his career BIP average   (.288) to his 2002 season. If 13 of his outs had actually resulted in hits—proportionally,   about 11 singles and two doubles—his BIP average would be .289, and his OPS   would be .784 (.274/.343/.441). Nothing to complain about from a second baseman   with excellent defense.

It should be noted that not much can be gleaned from Boone’s splits, except   that he remains devastating against lefties (.928 OPS). His home/road splits   are virtually identical, despite Safeco Field strongly favoring pitchers, and   there are no clear trends in his month-by-month stats (he had a relatively strong   May). He’s been better with runners on, and especially with two outs, for whatever   that’s worth.

Hopefully, Boone’s BIP average will begin to rise, and with it, his value.   If it remains low, however, I see little cause for concern. It would be so out   of line with his previous numbers that it could safely be dismissed as a fluke   season.


Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: July 18, 2002 at 06:00 AM | 8 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: July 19, 2002 at 12:36 AM (#605581)
There are some interesting numbers, Tim...

1.98 1994
1.21 1995
1.13 1996
1.70 1997
1.31 1998
1.11 1999
0.98 2000
1.13 2001
1.68 2002
1.29 Career

While 2002 does stand out lately, the correlation for the rest of his career between G/F and BIP average is .46... exactly the wrong way (though it didn't work that way last year). There's probably not enough here to form a conclusion on, but it is worth keeping in mind.
   2. Voros McCracken Posted: July 20, 2002 at 12:36 AM (#605598)
JasonRI wrote,

"Can you fill us in on how and who determines whether a ball is a line drive? I'm worried about possible bias in the reporting - stuff a ball that ends up being a hit getting called a line drive, and an identical ball that is caught being called a fly."

Whoa! Either me and Jason arrived at the same problem independently or we've had this discussion before and I don't remember.

In other words:


It's picking nits, really, but when you get to this level of fine tuning, nits start to count a lot.
   3. Walt Davis Posted: July 20, 2002 at 12:36 AM (#605602)
Luis Gonzalez at age 31. By the way, why focus on BA when determining "breakout"?

Or Sammy Sosa at age 25 in 94, 29 in 98, and 32 in 01. How many guys have had 3 breakout years?
   4. Steve Treder Posted: July 20, 2002 at 12:36 AM (#605604)
Some interesting breakout years by hitters in their 30s:

Bob Elliott, 1947
Walker Cooper, 1947
Sid Gordon, 1948
Ferris Fain, 1951

For some reason there seemed to be a flurry of them in that period.

A couple of impressive fluke years by hitters in their 30s:

Elston Howard, 1961
Jim Hickman, 1970
   5. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: July 22, 2002 at 12:36 AM (#605612)
...Which highlights how you can't really base predictions about Boone on other players. There's just not enough data.

I would suggest that the best case for a struggling player would be that he is maintaining K and BB rates and power but having trouble with BIP average. Boone fits that perfectly, and as a result, I would predict that his OPS ends up higher than it is now.

I'm not suggesting that Boone should be repeating 2001, but I am suggesting that Boone is likely a better hitter now than he was a couple years ago, and his numbers may reflect that soon.
   6. bob mong Posted: July 22, 2002 at 12:36 AM (#605614)
July 20, 2002 - Steve Treder

Some interesting breakout years by hitters in their 30s:

Bob Elliott, 1947 Walker Cooper, 1947 Sid Gordon, 1948 Ferris Fain, 1951

For some reason there seemed to be a flurry of them in that period.

That may be because of WWII. Seems possible that war service could set a bunch of players' development back 3-4 years, leading to later breakout/fluke seasons.
   7. bob mong Posted: July 22, 2002 at 12:36 AM (#605615)
By the way, here is a link to the <a >original thread</a> that Dan mentions.
   8. Steve Treder Posted: July 23, 2002 at 12:37 AM (#605623)
F. James,

I would say your criteria for defining a breakout season are unnecessarily high.

Some info on Jim Hickman:

Hickman was an outfielder with decent range and a good arm, and better-than-average power but a very high strikeout proclivity, when the Mets took him from the Cardinals' system in the October 1961 expansion draft. In other words, he was kind of a tools guy. He played pretty much the way tools guys tend to play in his tour of duty with the Mets (1962-66); showing flashes of power, but having his strikeouts keep his average down. Also, the Mets, without a legitimate center fielder, played Hickman mostly in center, which was really beyond his capabilities, and that may have not allowed him to focus entirely on his hitting. Also, let's remember that Shea Stadium in 1964-66 was a very difficult environment in which to hit.

The Mets traded Hickman to the Dodgers as part of the Tommy Davis-Ron Hunt deal, and the Dodgers pretty much let Hickman rot on their bench in '67. A wasted season for him. The Dodgers let him go, and in mid-1968 the Cubs picked him up from AAA. He filled in OK as a platoon right fielder in the second half of 1968.

In 1969 the strike zone was made smaller, and the pitchers' mound lowered. Combine this with playing his home games in Wrigley Field, and probably with just being a more mature hitter in general, and Hickman began to hit with new authority. He played himself into pretty much a regular role by the second half of '69, and wound up with 21 homers in 338 at-bats that year, despite a meager .237 average. 1970 was of course the year he was red hot with the bat all year long (it was his single that drove in Pete Rose with the winning run in the All-Star Game). He continued to hit well in 1971 and '72, but he was now nagged by age-induced injuries, and by '73 he was reduced to a part-time role again. 1970 remained the only year in his career in which he got 500 atbats.

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