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Maybe it’s Time to Move on from Your Struggling Sluggers

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Baseball is all about patience, but sometimes too much patience can hurt your team. Maybe we have waited enough for some of the former All-Stars.

Fielder, you had a great run. Please Rest in Peace (off my team).
Fielder, you had a great run. Please Rest in Peace (off my team).
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

This is a tough spring for many former All-Star sluggers. Prince Fielder, Joey Votto, Jose Abreu, and Nelson Cruz to name a few. This is an article about those few specific hitters, and I want to show you that their slow starts are not something to sleep on.

It's very tough for a player to be a power hitter with accuracy, and that's why we go crazy at the draft for those who can do both. Last year, there were only 11 hitters who ranked in top 40 for both HR and BA.

Name

HR

AVG

GB/FB

HR/FB

Nolan Arenado

42

0.287

0.8

18.50%

Mike Trout

41

0.299

1.0

25.30%

Bryce Harper

42

0.330

1.0

27.30%

Andrew McCutchen

23

0.292

1.0

13.60%

Yoenis Cespedes

35

0.291

1.1

18.60%

Josh Donaldson

41

0.297

1.2

21.80%

Paul Goldschmidt

33

0.321

1.2

22.30%

Joey Votto

29

0.314

1.3

21.60%

Prince Fielder

23

0.305

1.3

12.20%

Nelson Cruz

44

0.302

1.3

30.30%

Jose Abreu

30

0.290

1.5

19.70%

As you can see, this is the list of truly elite hitters, and they all went expensive in many draft boards this year. Except the obvious fact that they are extremely talented, how did they achieve such excellence last year?

It's a no-brainer that fly balls are better for HR and worse for BA. Since the most fly balls will get caught unless they go beyond the wall, more fly ball generally means lower BA (lower BABIP). Last year, the average GB/FB ratio of 141 qualified hitters was 1.4. The top 40 HR hitters' average GB/FB was 1.0 while the top 40 BA hitters' was 1.7.

There are two ways (there is third which I will explain shortly too) to achieve both high in HR and BA at the same time. The first is to be super athletic. If you runs well, than you can create more hits from your limited GBs while still creating HRs from your numerous fly balls. Harper, Trout, Cespedes, Goldschimidt and McCutchen are the first case examples. All these guys put up less than 1.2 GB/FB, but because they are young, athletic, and fast, they were capable to run for hits even within the limited opportunities.

The second way is to roll as many grounders as the other regular hitters, but clear the wall more often from their limited fly balls. This way, the player can keep his BABIP high despite his slower leg, because he can limit the number of fly balls that land inside the park while hitting stronger grounders with higher qualities. This requires great hitting technique and more importantly enormous power, and Cruz, Abreu, Votto, and Fielder can be included in this group. They are obviously not as fast as or lift as many balls as the other guys on the list, but because they roll more quality grounders for hits (all put up higher than 1.3 GB/FB) and have amazing power to crush the balls, they successfully stayed as renowned well-balanced hitters of the league despite their relatively slower feet.

Josh Donaldson is the guy right in the middle of these two groups. He rolls more grounder than the first group and runs better than the second group, but he doesn't really do either of them particularly well. I personally think his .297 BA of 2015 was little bit of luck involved, and I won't be surprised to see him hitting somewhere near his career average, .275 this year (Steamer projects him to hit .270 for the rest of the season. I know it's not a popular opinion, but I agree with Steamer here. He is extremely talented hitter playing in the hitter friendly environment, but I expect little bit of regression from last year. I still think he is an easy top 10 hitter regardless).

(The third way is to play at Coors. The Rockies hitters' power isn't as inflated as it seems, but their BA gets great help from the thin air. Arenado's HR numbers are very similar in both home and away, but his .316 home BA was much higher than his .258 away BA last year. There is no question that Arenado is a great hitter, but his high BA while hitting millions of fly ball is a product of the Rocky Mountain. I wrote little more about the Coors effect in my other Tulowitzki related article, which you can read more here)

The intro was little longer than I anticipated, so let's get back to our main point. You probably have guessed it, but this article about the second group: Cruz, Abreu, Votto, and Fielder. I don't have to list any numbers to let you know that these guys have been struggling mightily this year.

2015

Age

ISO

BABIP

AVG

GB/FB

HR/FB

Joey Votto

31

0.228

0.371

0.314

1.3

21.60%

Prince Fielder

31

0.158

0.323

0.305

1.3

12.20%

Nelson Cruz

34

0.264

0.350

0.302

1.3

30.30%

Jose Abreu

28

0.212

0.333

0.290

1.5

19.70%

2016

Age

ISO

BABIP

AVG

GB/FB

HR/FB

Joey Votto

32

0.145

0.271

0.214

1.5

17.90%

Prince Fielder

32

0.087

0.223

0.195

1.4

5.00%

Nelson Cruz

35

0.232

0.316

0.283

1.1

19.50%

Jose Abreu

29

0.165

0.286

0.253

1.3

13.30%

The interesting part of this experiment is that I didn't handpick the sample, but somehow I successfully filtered out these four. They have been known to us as both accurate and power hitters for a long period of time, but they are currently doing neither at the plate (Cruz is still posting okay numbers, but still not as good as last year).

We know that from their long track records that they weren't just lucky last year, but how come they suddenly have become terrible in everything? Since everybody is over 30 (except Abreu), we know they are closing into their decline phase of their careers, and their power supposed to be the first thing to suffer.

When a regular fly ball hitter starts to lose power, he will start to hit less HR but the decline will be less noticeable because they will keep many balls in the air to maintain their HR totals (most of these guys own low BA unless they are speedy). At same time, a regular high BA hitters can either run fast or roll tons of grounder, and their numbers won't be hugely correlated to their powers (most of these guy hit less HR).

Those four hitters are unique, because their high BA and HR are essentially coming from the very same skill set, power. Without power, their fly balls will travel less and their grounders will roll slower. The first group, Harper and the rest get their BA from their legs and their HR from their powers, but the second group's both BA and HR relies on power. Therefore, when they are in their primes, they are the best hitters on earth, but once they start to decline, it hits them really fast because their assets aren't diversified enough.

Similar thing happened to guys like Pablo Sandoval and Billy Butler. They both had been high groundball / high HR hitter with slow wheels for a long period of the time, and their disappearance from the league was faster than anybody. I don't want to say that those four are next Pablo Sandoval, but we have to notice the similarity here. They have enough talent to rebound any time soon, but if you miss the window, they could be a serious disaster on your team. If I were you, I will rather get rid them while I can and cut my loss right here. I am sure you can find suitors who will still pay for their names (I think Cruz and Votto are relatively fine. They might not be same as last year, but their HR/FB indicates that they still possess decent power).

Steamer Rest of the Season Projections

Util Hitter Rank (no positional value)

Player

PA

HR

RBI

R

AVG

SB

15

Jose Abreu

494

23

74

65

0.281

1

36

Joey Votto

478

16

55

64

0.276

5

37

Nelson Cruz

463

24

70

59

0.256

2

44

Prince Fielder

464

16

62

58

0.282

1