Huff’s Continued Revitalization

Last night I brought up the subject of under appreciated hitters and am going to continue it tonight with Aubrey Huff in Baltimore.

Drafted by Tampa in the 5th round of the 1998 draft, Huff reached the majors in a scant two seasons and after a rough go of it for the first couple seasons, established himself as an offensive force in 2002 as a sometimes outfielder, sometimes third baseman. Over the next few years as he stuck with Tampa, and Tampa was still poorly run and bad, Aubrey Huff consistently came up in trade talks each summer only to stay put. Finally, in his last year of team control, Huff was dealt off at the deadline to the Astros for Ben Zobrist and Mitch Talbot. Huff would spend a few months with Houston hitting a little over league average and then depart for Baltimore at age 30 on a three-year, $20 million contract.

A shift to primarily being the DH last season seemed to do nothing to hold off Huff’s gradual decline, which makes 2008 all the more surprising. Huff isn’t really doing better at drawing walks as the slight up tick in his walk rate is due to an increase in the amount of intentional walks he receiving. His batted ball profile shows no departure from his norm either. No, Aubrey Huff has seemingly just re-learned how to hit home runs.

Is he hitting the ball harder? To look for an indication of that, I turned to his Hit Tracker numbers, but comparing 2007 to 2008 (and even comparing prior years as well) shows no significant difference in the average distance or average speed of his home runs. It could be that Huff is hitting the ball harder and thus some of what would have been doubles are now just creeping over the fence and keeping his averages low, but I’d still expect to see some higher numbers at the peak and he doesn’t have any home runs under 350 true feet this season.

What does all this add up to? I’m not sure, but given Huff’s age and track record, I am not overly confident that Huff will maintain this level into 2009 and beyond. However, his performance this year and one year left on his contract could make him a valuable trade target this winter if Baltimore concludes that their chances of overcoming Boston and Tampa next season are not high enough to warrant holding on to veteran players.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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You may not be an in depth Baltimore fan enough to keep track on everything Aubrey Huff related, but before Spring Training this year Huff had been working on modifying his batting stance to be more “upright”, and found that it was helping him drive the ball better to different parts of the field. Perhaps Aubrey cheated himself out of a couple of years where he could’ve been the same ball-mashing DH he was in 2004; he just started slouching a little too much and killed his rhythm.

Even though Baltimore is a horse-bleep town, most of Baltimore forgave the guy by about the second week of the season. They weren’t booing him for very long.