Exactly one year ago today, Tigers outfielder Brennan Boesch was hitting .312/.376/.530 — good for a .907 OPS. What happened next is not for the faint of heart.
Impressive as it looked, that slash line was actually depressed a bit after Boesch started out 2010’s second half by going 4-for-36 from July 16th to the 26th. While some owners shrugged it off as a slow start to the season’s latter portion, others who had been skeptical that Boesch would keep up his out-of-nowhere year started with the I-told-you-so’s. Except even Boesch’s harshest critics and most unabashed non-believers couldn’t have predicted he would go on to have such a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad second half.
After slashing .342/.397/.593 (.990 OPS) with 12 HRs, 19 doubles and 49 RBIs prior to the All-Star Game, Boesch may or may not have literally forgotten how to swing a bat and/or hit baseballs as his production cratered to the following slashes: .163/.237/.222. His .458 OPS marked the lowest second-half output by any big leaguer since Prince finished partying. And his batting average trailed only the unmatchable Andy LaRoche‘s .162 in 2008.
Boesch’s production — er, lack thereof — from mid-July through early-October last season made every last fantasy owner a hater, and the 26-year-old went largely undrafted this past March. And yet, here we are, again on July 26th, and Boesch is coming off another strong first-half performance, with a slash line of .306/.360/.490, and 12 HRs, 22 doubles and 44 RBIs. Since the break, though, he’s gone just 8-for-40 (.200), so you know there are some owners out there who fear Boesch is doomed to repeat history.
Is there a chance? Yes. Should we expect it to happen? No. After all, there are some signs Boesch will avoid completely crapping out from here on out for a second year in a row.
For one, Boesch has shown a tendency toward having a reverse platoon split. That is, as a lefty-swinger, he actually fares better against same-sided pitchers. To wit, in his career so far (818 at-bats), Boesch owns a .335 BA and an .889 OPS against southpaws and a .253 BA and a .739 OPS against right-handers. This, despite hitting a disproportionately high number of his homers versus righties (24 of 28 career), considering he has approximately only three times as many ABs against right-handers (621) as he does against lefties (197).
For another, Boesch has displayed some fairly drastic home-road splits. For his career, he’s hit well (.289 BA, .836 OPS) and shown a solid eye (10% BB rate, 17% K rate) at home, while struggling to hold his own on the road, where he declines across the board in average (.256), OPS (.714), walk rate (7%) and strikeout rate (23%), despite a near-even split in at-bats.
The key takeaway from both of the above struggles, however, is that they can be largely attributed to Boesch’s 2010, when the gaps in production were astoundingly wide. This season, on the other hand, Boesch has been much better — or more accurately, much more consistent — in both of these aspects. He’s not struggling mightily against right-handers anymore — his .830 OPS against them in 2011 is actually slightly better than his .820 versus lefties — and he’s showing he can perform away from Comerica, with his homers, RBIs, runs, K:BB and OPS all just as good on the road as they are at home.
Through this point in 2011, these improvements in both facets — against righties and on the road — are strong indications that Boesch has been able to make adjustments and fill in the gaps of his game that were at the root of his second-half nosedive last year. That’s the sign of a still-developing player turning into a good player. Given his advancements at the plate, an encore performance of 2010’s second half isn’t likely. In this case, that’s a good thing.
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