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Aubrey Huff and the Dead Cat Bounce

Aubrey Huff will continue to bat in the middle of the batting order, says his manager. It’s no surprise, either, given the organization’s predilection for veterans. Even though it’s clear that this will be one of Huff’s off years, he’s been better recently. Has it been the colloquial ‘dead cat bounce,’ though?

First, a definition! Our own Joe Pawlikowski seemed to nudge towards a definition of the ‘dead cat bounce’ term in his writeup of Jorge Posada. Mr. Pawlikowski hinted that an unsustainable blip on the way down might be a fully BABIP-driven occurence. If a player has the same flaws in the good months and the bad months, and a large BABIP fuels the difference, it makes sense that once the BABIP subsides, the player will return to his free fall. The dead cat returns to being dead.

Now, in order to apply this term to Aubrey Huff, we need to determine what his best approach at the plate looks like. A chart that once brought consternation to these pages nevertheless does some good to illustrate the point. There are two Aubrey Huffs:

Of course, there’s no way he can continue to yo-yo from one Huff to the other, but it’s worth outlining what these two personalities look like. Good Huff (2004, 2006, 2008, 2010) has a .216 ISO, Bad Huff (2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011) a .149 ISO. Good Huff does this on the back of a 1.17 GB/FB ratio while Bad Huff suffers the burden of a 1.28 GB/FB ratio. Good Huff walks 9.6% of the time and strikes out 12.7% of the time. His evil twin walks 8% and strikes out 14.5%. 14.8% of Good Huff’s fly balls leave the yard, while only 9.4% of Bad Huff’s fly balls go out.

Correlation does not equal causation on global scale, but we do have two fairly clear profiles for this one man. In his good years, he walks more, strikes out less, and gets the ball in the air more with better results. This year is a bad year for the Giants first baseman, and his numbers all line up with those of the Bad Huff.

So let’s get back to the last eight games for Huff. It’s an impossibly small sample, but it’s what we have. In the last two days of July, Huff sat. Then he returned to the lineup and has hit .308 in August. Let’s look at the components. His BABIP is .318, which is not insane. He’s walked 10.3% of the time and struck out 10.3% of the time. Call that a win too. Best of all, Huff has hit 1.11 ground balls per fly ball so far in August. 11.1% of his fly balls have gone for home runs, even if that’s one home run against nine fly balls. This doesn’t quite look like a dead cat bouncing if our definition is to be believed.

It appears that Huff is legitimately returning to skills he’s shown many times before, if this eight-game sample can be believed. And before the sample is poo-pooed, remember that our rest-of-season projection systems all call back on performance in recent years to predict the rest of the current season. So when ZiPs calls for a better walk and strikeout rates and a higher ISO the rest of the way, it’s calling back on both Good Huff and Bad Huff for its information.

This year will certainly fall into the Bad Huff bucket. But a little more Good Huff the rest of the way would be very useful. The worst offense in the National League needs his help.