Atkins Non-Tendered

Garrett Atkins is an intriguing addition to the free agent pool. His career has been on a pretty steady downward trend for the past four years — from his six-win season in 2006 to his below-replacement season in 2009. His wRC+, which adjusts for Coors, has gone from 145 in 2006, to 117 in 2007, to 98 in 2008 and finally an ugly 65 this past year.

A repeat of his 2006 season is pretty unlikely, but still, a rebound to 2007 or 2008 form — a league average third basemen — could help many teams. So will we see such a rebound?

In 2009 his problem was batted-ball based, not plate discipline based (his walk and strikeout numbers were fine). His FB/HR rate dropped to a career low 7.3%, which is troubling when playing half his games at Coors, but the bigger problem was his BABIP of just .247. Before this year he averaged a BABIP of .320. What happened there? Turning to Baseball Reference’s BABIP by batted ball type:

|              | Atkins Career | Atkins 2009 | League Aver. |
| Ground Balls |         0.247 |       0.256 |        0.235 |
| Fly Balls    |         0.108 |       0.055 |        0.142 |
| Line Drives  |         0.711 |       0.600 |        0.718 | 

The problem was definitely with balls in the air. They not only went for HRs much less often but they dropped in for hits at a much smaller rate. Below I broke up the playing field into ten zones, counted the fraction of Atkins balls in the air to each zone and color coded each zone based on its BABIP (darker the better). The image on the left is for 2006 to 2008 and on the right is for 2009.
Atkins is just not hitting the ball as far: the four closest zones have more balls in play in 2009 than in 2008 and all but one of the farthest six zones have fewer. Atkins plays serviceable defense at third base and walks at an above average rate while striking out at a below average rate, but if he wants to have a job as a starting third basemen he is going to have to get back to hitting the ball with some authority.

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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.

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It’s surprising how quickly his numbers plummeted.

However, he did have some bright spots during the 2009 season.

It will be interesting to see if he can bounce back next year.