Early Season Trends Worth Monitoring – NL Edition

Last week I set out to examine some early-season trends and what they may mean for the season ahead. Incidentally, the list was entirely comprised of players on the junior circuit, so today, let’s examine a couple trends that are taking place in the NL, and if we feel they’re worth monitoring. As usual, the “blah blah small sample size blah blah” still applies, though feel free to mention it in the comments if it tickles your fancy.

Chase Headley – .263/.420/.553 (.418 wOBA)

In addition to a ridiculous 22.0 percent walk rate, tucked neatly inside these figures is that Headley is still firmly a road warrior. In fact, take a peek at these insane home/road splits:

Home wOBA Road wOBA
2009 .298 .356
2010 .294 .335
2011 .293 .376
2012 .350 .530
Career .300 .357

Headley’s been a full time big leaguer since 2009, but this year it’s almost as though he’s suggesting someone get him out of Petco fast, and that he’s really capable of so much more. But on a more serious note, with Headley eligible for free agency following next season, and with third base depth on the low side — league-wide 3B are only ahead of 2B, SS, and LF on OPS totem pole — is there potential for a win-win-win deal that’s good for the Padres, Headley, and whomever acquires him? Especially with Jedd Gyorko — off to a slow start in Double-A, but already has a half season of success in San Antonio — likely ready sometime early next season?

What may make a deal hard to finagle is the fact that the Padres have pretty much the best farm system around, and shortstop excluded, is pretty well stocked/balanced at every position with top-tier talent. Additionally, if you’re Headley awaiting your first big free agency payday, do you push for a deal to give yourself a year or more of time in a better offensive environment?

Jason Heyward – .375/.444/.656 (.488 wOBA)

The revitalization of 22-year-old Heyward has been swift and strong; he’s already one-third the way to replicating the WAR from his disappointing 2011 campaign. And while the man I predicted would be the NL MVP last year has made some strides 10 games into the 2012 season, it may not be where you’d think. Oftentimes a big change in a player’s results will come from an improved approach — as you’ll see with Mr. Young below — but for Heyward, he’s simply stopped hitting the ball on the ground so darn much. For Heyward, who’s 1.6 GB/FB last year was actually lower than his rookie campaign, this biggest part of his re-birth has been reintroducing line drives to his batted-ball mix, along with slashing the incredibly high 21.8 percent IFFB rate he carried last year. Let’s contextualize for just a second, as this is what happened on batted balls across the major leagues:

2011 MLB Batting Average On-Base Slugging BABIP
Grounders .237 .237 .256 .237
Fly Balls .218 .212 .575 .137
Line Drives .723 .719 .972 .714

Considering the fact that popups have virtually no BABIP and no slash-line, it’s not hard to combine that with the league’s rates to see why 2011 was so disappointing for the young lefty. It’s pretty unlikely that Heyward’s GB/FB will remain at or near 0.67 — and that’s for the best, anyway — but with improved line drive rates and popup and HR/FB rates right where they were his rookie campaign, it looks as though he’ll avoid becoming the new Casey Kotchman. That alone is cause for celebration.

Chris Young – .405/.500/.892 (.584 wOBA)

Young’s start is full of all kinds of gooey SSS goodness, but the slick-fielding centerfielder has thus far turned a very important corner 10 games into his 2012 campaign. Young’s always been pretty adept at drawing the free pass — 10.1 percent career mark entering play today — but he’s managed to improve on that front, now walking in just under 14 percent of his plate appearances. But that’s not the most impressive improvement the fleet-afoot 28-year old has made this year.

Young’s K rate right now stands at an impressive 11.4 percent. And while that’s not a whiff rate that’ll make Joe Mauer or Placido Polanco blush, Young has managed to nearly HALVE his 2011 rate, which was a career best for a guy who’s played in nearly 800 big league games. The last time Young posted a whiff rate in that same vein was in his time in Reno back in 2006, where he exploded for a .276/.363/.532 triple-slash (.392 wOBA). Equally impressive is that Young’s diminished whiff rate is coming at a time where he’s seeing way fewer fastballs than his career mark, with the slack being picked up by two swing-and-miss type offerings in sliders and changeups. This suggests to me that Young has refined his approach, and while his .370 BABIP won’t continue (hopefully his 9.4 percent line drive rate won’t either), he should continue to be a force as long as those line drives settle back into his typical 17-18 percent rate.



Print This Post



In addition to Rotographs, Warne is a Minnesota Twins beat reporter for 105 The Ticket's Cold Omaha website as well as a sportswriter for Sportradar U.S. in downtown Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Warne, or feel free to email him to do podcasts or for any old reason at brandon.r.warne@gmail-dot-com


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Bob in SF
Guest
Bob in SF
4 years 1 month ago

As a Braves fan I feel immediate involuntary puckering when Jason Heyward is mentioned in the same sentence as Casey Kotchman.

barthM
Member
barthM
4 years 1 month ago

Chris Young is raking the ball right now. So much for those who passed on him in fantasy after his down year in 2011.

Anon
Guest
Anon
4 years 1 month ago

Nice article.

M
Guest
M
4 years 1 month ago

May the Chris Young / Mike Cameron comps be gone forever! Go Chris.

Vin
Member
Vin
4 years 1 month ago

blah blah small sample size blah blah

Anyway, Young’s been fun to watch so far this season. I wonder if there’s any precedent for this kind of improvement in contact for a player of his ilk at this age. Definitely something I’d like to see FanGraphs dig into if he can keep this up.

And good article Brandon!

brendan
Guest
brendan
4 years 1 month ago

with young playing so well, and lincecum struggling, it doesn’t look as close as I thought in the NL west. Right now, dbacks look to be a clearly better team. Hopefully that’s just a SSS impression (I’m a giants fan)

Governator
Member
Governator
4 years 1 month ago

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Phillies make a run at Headley either this July or in the winter

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
Well-Beered Englishman
4 years 1 month ago

Entire Nationals pitching staff? Team FIP of 2.29; team K/9 of 9.3.

maguro
Guest
maguro
4 years 1 month ago

No shout out to the Pirates for their amazing offensive ineptitude?

johnnycuff
Guest
johnnycuff
4 years 1 month ago

how about this: if you add up the OPS numbers for jose tabata (.276), clint barmes(.325) and rod barajas (.286) it is still less than chris young’s OPS.

dave g.
Guest
4 years 1 month ago

How about David Wright’s early season success? Only 2 Ks in about 30 PAs and hitting line drives everywhere.

Table
Guest
Table
4 years 1 month ago

As a Dodger fan I’ve been thinking that I want the Dodgers to trade for Headley for about a year now. It would definitely have to be a deal built around pitching prospects…and you can never have too many of those right? I wonder if they would be ok with trading inside the division. I don’t see why not…winning a trade is winning a trade.

ChuckO
Guest
ChuckO
4 years 1 month ago

I don’t know how much credence one can give to Heyward’s 2011 numbers. If the Braves’ narrative is to be believed, he played the season with an injured shoulder that led to a degradation of his swing. With his injury now healed and his swing reconstructed, he looks more like the player we saw in 2010.

Greg
Guest
Greg
4 years 1 month ago

I guess David Wright hitting over .500 with the second best wRC+ in the majors is no big deal. Oh, and his strikeouts are way down.

TKDC
Member
Member
TKDC
4 years 1 month ago

I think the author was looking for guys where there was more to say than “this guy is just hitting the ball amazingly right now.”

If that were the case, Wright and of course Matt Kemp would be on the list.

pbjsandwich
Member
pbjsandwich
4 years 1 month ago

Holy crap at Headly’s splits

Feeding the Abscess
Guest
Feeding the Abscess
4 years 1 month ago

Will Venable has a similar split. He’s Shane Victorino on the road, and unrosterable at home.

evo34
Guest
evo34
4 years 1 month ago

So Heyward’s line drive “rate” is higher, huh? Let’s see: he has grand total of five (5) line drives this season. So his supposedly improved rate is the result of exactly one extra line drive this season, raising his rate from 16% to 20%. Great analysis.

Undocorkscrew
Guest
Undocorkscrew
4 years 1 month ago

I like how you put ‘5’ after saying ‘five.’ Nice touch…

DudeMan
Guest
DudeMan
4 years 1 month ago

Clayton Kershaw’s groundball % is 61.4, something else worth motoring.

Jon L.
Member
4 years 1 month ago

Up the coast would also be worth motoring.

Michael
Guest
Michael
4 years 1 month ago

Chris Young is who he is – a guy who is going to strikeout, not hit for much average but help you with his best tool – his power.

Jason Heyward, some forget, reached the majors so fast and is still developing. There are going to be struggles in this game. He still profiles as a plus-player. Some had him ticketed for Cooperstown but talent and production are two different things.

Heyward is going to be, at bare minimum, a very solid starter for a long time. You don’t even have to reach to his ceiling to realize he can be an All Star. He just needs time, work and discipline. The higher quality and consistency will come.

David
Guest
David
4 years 1 month ago

Heyward posted 2.2 WAR in a year in which he hit .227. So even in such a down offensive year he was an average player. He could make just SOME improvement and already push 4 WAR. His ceiling has to be far higher than that. The future is bright for Mr. Heyward.

wpDiscuz