Brennan Boesch’s Disappointing Start to the Season

Brennan Boesch started the season as a fantasy sleeper for many people. He was to bat second for the Tigers, which he has in 14 games, with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder hitting after him. He looked to be great source of Runs and maybe a bump in batting average as he would see better pitches to hit. Some people even predicted him to be a top 30 fantasy player. His season so far has been a disappointment with him hitting .213 and scoring a total of five runs. Today, I am going to look to see if he can be the fantasy player some people envisioned.

When looking at hitters this early in the season, awlays remember that we are dealing with small sample sizes. It is getting to the point in the season when some stats start to become significant, though. Brennan is currently at 63 plate appearances. Pizza Cutter published an article while back with the number of PAs it takes before a hitter’s stats stabilize. Here are some stats that Brennan has passed or is very close to reaching:

Swing % – under 40 PA
Contact % – under 40 PA
Senstivity and Response Bias (one of my homemade stats) – under 40 PA
Pitches/PA – under 40 PA
GB rate – under 40 PA
LDrate – under 40 PA
K rate – under 40 PA
BB rate – under 40 PA
GB/FB – 100 PA
HR/FB – 100 PA
HR rate – 100 PA

The biggest change for him has been the decline in the number of walks. In 2010 he averaged a 7.8% BB% and 7.4% in 2011. It has dropped to 1.6% this season. This value should not be one bit surprising. Teams are not going to walk him and then have to face Cabrera and Fielder. They are going to make Boesch beat them. The number of pitches that he is seeing in the strike zone has gone from 43% in 2010-2011 to 47% this season.

Now that he is seeing more pitches in the strike zone and not being walked, what is he doing with those pitches? His Swing% is the same in 2012 as it was from 2010-2011 when it was at 53.3%. When he swings, he is making just a bit more contact in 2012 (82.5%) than he did in 2011 (82.1%) and 2010 (78.3%). He Swing% and Contact% have not really changed.

His main problem is that he has a .240 BABIP after having a BABIP over .300 from 2010-2011. With him not walking, his ability to be on base to be driven in by the two big boppers depends on him getting hits. A .240 BABIP won’t cut it. Using his batted ball numbers, his xBABIP predicts a BABIP of .276. He looks to be a little unlucky on balls in play. Last year’s higher BABIP (.315) was driven by a higher LD% (18.2%) compared to 2010 and 2012 when it was less than 16%. His BABIP looks to be suppressed at the moment, but his ability to rebound to 2011 levels will require him to hit more line drives.

Brennan Boesch has been a fantasy disappointment this season. He needs to get on base for Cabrera and Fielder to drive him in. Since no pitcher is walking him, he will need to get on base via hits. He is displaying the same level of plate discipline as in past seasons. His main problem in 2012 has been his low BABIP cause by part bad luck, part not hitting the ball as hard. I would look for some level of rebound, but he needs to hit the ball with more authority to have the season some people anticipated.

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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

18 Responses to “Brennan Boesch’s Disappointing Start to the Season”

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  1. CabreraDeath says:

    Spot in the order, in terms of seeing ‘more pitches to hit’, I believe, has never been proven and is a myth. Pitchers aren’t going to change from their strategy of attempting to get him out, however they may do so.

    You’re putting forward evidence of a myth based on a SSS. That usually isn’t sound logic.

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    • Dan says:

      I also believe it has never been disproven that hitting in front of 2 bona fide stars will lead to far more hittable pitches being thrown your way. Lack of proof isn’t the same as proven to be false.

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      • CabreraDeath says:

        That may be true. However, I believe there have been studies done that have failed to find any statistical evidence of the same. Therefore, at this point, it is a myth that has attempted to be proven that hasn’t.

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    • MLB Rainmaker says:

      While I agree, the logic behind batting order protection is weak, there are a few key benefits of Boesch’s spot in the 2 hole:
      1) Hitting behind Austin Jackson – AJs got a .360 OBP and is a SB threat, a combination that forces teams to either throw more fastballs to Boesch or risk a free bag for Jackson.
      2) Runs – When Boesch does get on base, he’s likely to score with Fielder/Cabrera behind him. There’s only three guys with a OBP below .250 with more Runs than Boesch.
      3) Finally, the idea of seeing better pitches in front of Fielder/Cabrera, which while weak, still means pitchers will be less likely to give Boesch a free pass — In 3 ball counts he can expect the ball to get a little more of the plate.

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  2. Daniel says:

    “Brennan Boesch has been a fantasy disappointment this season. He needs to get on base for Cabrera and Fielder to drive him in.”

    Ground breaking analysis here.

    Sorry, I’m not usually this cynical. But this article doesn’t really help anyone.

    “I would look for some level of rebound, but he needs to hit the ball with more authority to have the season some people anticipated.”

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  3. scottzdiamond says:

    I’ve seen some conflicting numbers of sample size stabilization thresholds. The article you link to (if I understand it correctly) states that contact rate doesn’t stabilize for individual players until around 70 PAs and BB rate until 200 PAs.

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  4. kid says:

    In the office we have a die-hard Tigers fan who doesn’t play fantasy but is always advising those of us who do to pick up as many Tigers as possible. He walked by my desk last week and simply said “Sorry about Brennan Boesch”, and walked away. ‘Nuff said!

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  5. CJ says:

    See, I know it says these things stabilize in 40 PA, but I still have trouble buying it. Major leaguers can go into slumps lasting 40 PAs on a fairly regular basis where they are seeing or hitting the ball as well.

    If this “slump” came in the middle of the season after starting off strong and then finishing strong, it wouldn’t be too much of a concern. Since it is at the start of the season though, stabilization is looked at though and much ado is made out of (what might be) nothing.

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  6. geo says:

    The problem with Brennan Boesch is simply that he’s not very good. Check his 2010 to find his true talent level.

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    • davisnc says:

      Yeah, it’s usually a great idea to totally discount 500 PA that are more recent than the ones you’re using to make your point. Especially when the ones you’re using are from a player’s first exposure to big league pitching. And he was still essentially league average in those plate appearances.

      Guys, Brennan Boesch is not very good. Geo says so.

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  7. byron says:

    Didn’t Pizza Cutter find when r^2 surpassed .50, ie when that many plate appearances could predict 50% of subsequent variation? Is that the same as “stabilizes”? Cause I would peg a stable number quite a bit higher than half the variation, but I’m no statistician.

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    • mcbrown says:

      You are correct to point that out. “Stabilization” is a terrible term to use for what Pizza Cutter investigated in that article – it greatly overstates the power of his findings (which are useful and interesting, but do not indicate, as so many people seem to conclude, that after N plate appearances we know to a very high confidence a player’s true talent at a given skill, such as walk rate or batted ball mix).

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  8. Chant says:

    Very interesting stats. Batting in the #2 slot in front of Cabrera and Fielder should have been a great opportunity for him, but I just checked his stats from last season, and maybe it was just a better BABIP rate, but check out these stats. He had most success by far hitting 3rd. His stats hitting second: .211/.277/.338 vs .339/.379/.575 hitting third. I’m not big on all the formulas to analyze a hitter’s performance (so what am I doing on this site? LOL) but I still enjoy reading other people’s views. All I can conclude from the large discrepancy between his hitting 2nd or 3rd is that it might just come down to a comfort level for him. Some guys can hit in any slot: others do better hitting higher or lower in the order. Maybe it’s time for Leyland to give Boesch a chance to hit lower in the order, maybe 6th. It may not make sense to the analytical guys but what he’s doing now is not anything like anyone expected from him. Just my two cents worth. Not an attack on the fan graphs.

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    • Mike Brystle says:

      That’s a little misleading. Leyland’s line-ups have typically gone against conventional wisdom. Last year Cabrera hit 4th and much weaker hitters were in the 3 spot. Boesch hit substantially better when Cabrera was behind him. That could just be a fluke, but I wouldn’t worry about the psychological difference of hitting 2nd as opposed to 3rd.

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  9. Chant says:

    Just dealt with the facts, Mike. If you are correct in your analysis, I guess it’s time to drop Boesch. But as you say, Leyland almost always goes against conventional wisdom. So maybe he’ll just stay with Boesch in the 2 slot and let him try to fight his way through the tough times. But for me, I’m dropping Boesch and may drop Duda too. I expected a writeup on Duda a day or two ago, but it never showed, or at least I didn’t see it. Now I’m wondering what’s wrong with the Angels 2bman Hendricks and also Kendrys Morales. I know he’s coming back from a lost season, but it looks as if he’ll need at least a half season to come anywhere near to what he was before his injury. Maybe he’ll need a full season to recover.

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