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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
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 expectand 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.
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