There are a lot of ways to break down a season, from looking at OPS to lefty/righty splits to you name it. I have found that looking at month by month home run production is a quick and dirty way to see if someone had a great month or if they consistently drove the ball. Obviously, limiting sample sizes comes with it's own perils, but if you allow for reasonable fluctuation there is valuable information there when taken in context. To that end, I'm taking a look at four players who broke out in the home run category, and whether those power out bursts are sustainable going forward. I'm going to give you two guys who I'll dare you to take next season, and two guys whose 2012 season represents a true reflection of their abilities.
Trevor Plouffe - SS/3B - Twins - I'm predicting that we hear a lot of talk about Plouffe's before/after ASB splits next year, in that he had 19 home runs before the break and 5 after. There's something to be said for that, but I find it more instructive to look to Plouffe's monthly splits in home runs. While we know that he had a
walk June to remember, Plouffe's home run output in his other months was spotty at best. He whacked 11 dingers in June, but only 13 the rest of the year, never hitting over 4 home runs in any other month, and only 1 home run in two separate months. What this says to me is that Plouffe had one great month, but if he had produced a home run total more in line with his other months, we wouldn't even consider him an option come next year. Again, when working with monthly data, one is absolutely subject to small sample sizes, but the difference between Plouffe's most productive month (11) and his second most productive month (4) is one of several factors that indicated that he's more of a fluke than he is an emerging power threat. I often heard during the season that Plouffe's power was "for real," and it may well be that. But it's not 11 home runs in a month for real. It's not even really with the range of reasonable outcomes given his normal production. For example, Adam Dunn had an 11 home run month, but also produced three months of 7 or more. So when he hits 11 in one month, we know it's an extra special month, but it's also not quite so stunning. Trevor Plouffe's power may be for real, but it's far more likely that it resides in the 15-18 range rather than anything close to 25.
Chase Headley - 3B - Padres - I originally wanted to use this space to discuss what I called one month wonders, such as Plouffe above, but I also wanted to talk about Headley and he blew up my spot with two great months of home run production this year. Headley was having a better than average year hitting 12 home runs (matching his career high) before the dog days of August rolled around. Instead of giving in to the length of the season though, Headley mashed a combined 19 home runs in August/September. Our own Bret Sayre wrote about September production previously, so I won't cover that ground here. While two months of superb power is better than one, Headley still fails to inspire confidence that this season is more than an aberration. Aside from August/September, Headley's highest home run total in a month was 4 and included a 1 HR June. Additionally, he posted a HR/FB ratio of over 21%, more than double his career high and 5 times his 2011 numbers. Again, does Headley have power? Certainly. His slash line away from Petco Park is a stellar .300/.395/.541. However, as of now, he continues to call Petco home and unless that changes, Headley remains more of a 18-22 homer guy at his peak, than a 30+ masher.
Josh Reddick - OF - Athletics - I had an argument about Reddick with one of my dynasty league-mates in July about whether he was legit or not. It's time for me to eat my words, as I was doubtful then, but I'm singing a new tune now. At the time I was adamant that Reddick's 10 home run outburst in May had skewed his overall numbers and that while I liked his ability to hit for power, that the one month made his season look better than his true talent level. That may still be the case for Reddick, but his consistency outside of May has made me a believer. Reddick cranked at least 4 home runs in every month this season, and if give him 4 home runs for month of the season, that's a minimum of 24. So his 32 home run season doesn't shock me given the consistency he's shown outside of his one-month explosion. Additionally, while his HR/FB rate of 14% is just about double his previous career high - similar to Headley - 14% isn't an elite rate, and thus would seem more sustainable going forward. He's not converting an unusual number of flyballs into home runs - a la Headley - he's just hitting a TON of flyballs. The high number of fly balls is also something to keep in mind before you go projecting an increase in batting average for Reddick. While he's young enough to see an improvement in a number of categories, his fly ball tendencies (combined with his home park) are likely to keep his average closer to .250 than .275.
Andrew McCutchen - OF - Pirates - Perhaps McCutchen doesn't belong on the same list as the rest of these players, given that he's a bona fide stud, and there are very few people who would argue otherwise. However, he did post a career high in home runs, and posted some interesting power numbers in doing so. McCutchen smashed 31 home runs in 2012, with some odd month by month splits. He hit a combined 2 home runs in April and August, but hitting no less than 7 in any other month. His ability to hit at least 7 home runs in four different months leads me to think that his power is for real, and the other two months were aberrations. McCutchen has also posted a career high in home runs every single year of his career, so emerging power is nothing new to him. However, I do question whether this level of power is sustainable for McCutchen due to his 19% HR/FB rate. Again, McCutchen has not proven himself to be a power hitter in the mold of Adam Dunn, so it's not reasonable for us to think that he's going to continue to convert almost 20% of his fly balls into home runs. I don't anticipate McCutcheon breaking the 30 home run barrier every year, though he has yet to reach his prime. If he can rest in the 14-15% HR/FB range however, McCutchen will likely be a 25+ home run threat year in and year out. I consider McCutchen to be one of the best players in baseball, but purely in regards to his home run hitting abilities, I see a small regression coming in 2013.
Verdict: Truth (with a caveat)
If I had to choose one of these players to repeat their 2012 power numbers, I'd have to go with Josh Reddick. While he's not the complete player that Chase Headley and Andrew McCutchen are, he's always had power in his swing and the sheer number of fly balls he hits portends many trips around the bases at a leisurely pace. I don't like to be in the position of betting against Headley, or especially McCutchen, but if we're looking at home runs only I don't have much of a choice. What say you? Who do you think is most likely to repeat their success in 2013?