Deep Digging: Aubrey Huff, From Gold to Mold

Enterprising fantasy owners who made a low-cost investment in Aubrey Huff were rewarded handsomely last season. Coming off an abysmal .241/.310/.384 season split between Baltimore and Detroit, he made a career revival in San Francisco, swatting .290/.385/.506 for the eventual World Series champs. There were reasons to believe his poor 2009 was an outlier, and reasons to invest in him last year, especially considering how cheaply he went.

This season? Well, those who doubled down on Huff have had less than desirable results. They can probably best be summed like this: sdoifnweoi[f nhellw[ion wsibfwuibwsnapdragonsiubfe uiarbdiddlydarnitwepuie

He's hitting .211/.268./.367 this season, and he just doesn't look like the same guy he was a year ago. So what's his deal, anyway? Was 2010 Aubrey Huff the real deal? Are his early season struggles a harbinger of things to come? Does using the word harbinger make me sound like a butthole? Or is this just early season, smallish sample size hullaballo? As always, follow the jump for our thrilling(ish) conclusion.

Right off the bat, let's take a peek at what happened in 2010. Which is to say, as far is Aubrey Huff is concerned, only good things. He absolutely crushed the ball at levels similar to those of his prime. His OBP was a career high, but not grossly so (.385 vs. .367), and he showed moderately better strike zone judgement, which improved his walk rate. His batting average on balls in play was a modest .303, and his HR/FB% was a reasonable 14.4%, around where he's been more often than not during his 11-year career. He had a healthy 18% line drive rate.

In short: he really just hit well and exhibited strong plate discipline last year. No smoke and mirrors, no lucky rabbits foot up his you-know-what. And by "you-know-what" I mean his rally thong. Wait, what?

Ahem. He'd pretty much always been a good (albeit under the radar) hitter, and the number he was tossing up as a 33-year-old weren't out of line with previous career successes. People who bought low did a smart thing, and that paid off with one of the best hitters in the National League. It stands to reason, then, that he came at full market value this offseason. Going into his Age 34 season and coming off a superb campaign a year ago it was fair for owners to expect a repeat of his 2010 success.

Lesson learned. Life ain't fair. Not even fantasy life. Which is a real kick in the rally thong nevermind.

Huff has been a complete disaster this summer, and I've got bad news for fantasy owners like, you know, me. (Ugh.) There are worriesome trends aplenty drilling down into Huff's performance:

#1 - Walks are down and strikeouts are up. Way up. His walk rate has dropped from 12.4% last year to 7.7% in 2011. His current walk rate isn't far removed from his career levels before 2010, so that's not a huge surprise. But the fact that his K% has jumped from 16% to 21.9% is alarming. 16% was already his highest rate since 2001, when he posted a 17.5% mark, and a 5% jump so suddenly is telling. Looking further into his PitchFX data things only get worse. The 2011 version of Aubrey Huff is swinging at more pitches outside of the zone than at any point in his career (34.8%), swinging at way more pitches in general than a year ago (13.5% more, in fact) and swinging and missing at a career high clip as well (9.5%). He's making less contact across the board: in the zone, out of the zone, you name it. Not good. Not. Good. At. All.

#2 - The Giants outfield is rather crowded, and he's showing nauseating platoon splits this season. With Andres Torres and Mark DeRosacoming off the DL this week, and strong play from Aaron Rowandthis season it's getting tough to get playing time in San Francisco.  There's Cody Ross, Pat Burrell and Nate Schierholtzto contend with, as well. DeRosa is filling in for Pablo Sandovalat third for the time being, there are plenty of question marks for the other players in the Giants' mix, and Huff can get time at first base as well, but I fear the dreaded P-word is not far from entering the discussion here. His triple slash line is actually a respectable .316/.325/.447 against lefties, but it's being propped up by a high BABIP (.367). His triple slash numbers against righties are far worse (.167/.245/.333) but are suffering from an absurdly low early season BABIP of .174. Career-wise he hits about .80 OPS points better against righties, and as his early season BABIPs stabilize more his splits will as well. But the fact is right now Aubrey Huff is posting pitiful walk and line drive rates against lefties, 2.5% and 3.2%, disrespectfully, and he was never great against them to begin with. In such a crowded roster, on a team that has championship aspirations, you have to wonder how long the Giants will let him dangle in the wind against southpaws.

#3 - Try as you might, there aren't that many signs that his early season struggles result from bad luck. His .232 BABIP is low, for sure, and most of that is the aforementioned BABIP against righties. That'll change, and his average and on base will improve accordingly. His HR/FB rate, though, is pretty fair at 10.5%. His utter lack of line drives against lefties is dragging down his LD% to a rather poor 12.6%. He's hitting more ground balls than he ever has in his career. His ISO is way down.

Aubrey Huff, right now, is just not the same player he was a year ago. Maybe he's hurt, maybe he's aging quickly, maybe he's pressing as a result of his early struggles. Whatever the reason, he's just not the same. If you're an Aubrey Huff owner (like me) I feel you. Really, I do. In lieu of a hug to cheer you up, here's a picture of a unicorn. If that doesn't work, purcashing one of these might help.

Wait, you want actual advice? Oh. I see. Well ... if you can stomach waiting around a tad longer to see if Huff can straighten out his plate discipline issues/decision making, and see how far his BABIP stabilizing brings him back, do it. But if you can get someone to bite on a "buy low" trade, thinking Huff's merely been unlucky based on his balls in play? Do it. Do it and don't look back.

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