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May wOBA Leaders: Buy High?

A new month is always a good time to look at splits. Actually, the ‘Last 30’ split available on the site allows you to look at the last “month” at anytime you would like, but there is something arbitrarily pleasing about looking at totals from a calendar month.

One of the more interesting things about May splits is how different the reactions are to stats in the second month of the season compared to the first. For example, there was plenty of concern for Eric Homser, Asdrubal Cabrera and Allen Craig after an April in which they had wOBAs of .288, .288 and .287, respectively. However, there isn’t a ton of panic concerning Justin Upton, Carlos Santana and Starling Marte who all had wOBAs under .300 in May.

Hosmer, Cabrera and Craig had all enjoyed their share of major league success prior to their bad month, but they didn’t get as much benefit of the doubt because their success was not so recent and because their bad month also made up their total line for the season. But Upton, Santana and Marte get more of a pass because their success was just last month and because their total season line doesn’t look so bad.

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When looking at May wOBA splits, there were obviously a lot of hitters at the top of the list with high BABIPs and HR/FB rates for the month. But there were a few whose BABIP and HR/FB for the month of May weren’t all that different from what they have done since the beginning of 2010. Below are the six guys who were top 25 in May wOBA but did not have a BABIP or HR/FB rate too far away from their three year averages. The idea is that their success may be somewhat more sustainable.

 

May wOBA BABIP Gap HR/FB Gap
Mike Trout 0.45 0.006 -0.024
Carlos Gonzalez 0.421 0.029 0.022
Hunter Pence 0.415 0.019 0.013
Mitch Moreland 0.413 0.036 0.035
Matt Carpenter 0.402 0.043 0.002
Nick Markakis 0.396 0.027 0.027

Good luck trading for Trout at this point. I dealt Upton for him a month ago, but that window has certainly closed. And it should have been shut to begin with. Same goes for Gonzalez. Gonzalez was an option in the preseason if you had the 4th overall pick, and it would be hard to argue against him there if we redrafted today. But three of the other four are definite targets.

Pence’s BABIP and HR/FB rate may be close to his career averages, but a lot of his other numbers have improved. He’s hitting more line drives, he’s being more selective at the plate, and he’s making more contact. Perhaps most importantly for fantasy owners, he has found his legs again. He stole ten or more bases in each season from 2007-2010. But he was never a particularly efficient base stealer as he only had a 60% success rate in those years. But the last two seasons he improved his success rate to 76%. Unfortunately, it appears to be because he was being much more selective and cautious about running as he stole just 13 bases on 17 tries. But it appears that he may have learned how to steal a base and is using the new found skill.

Of the group, Moreland has been the ‘luckiest’ and is the one I might not be targeting. The surge in power (SLG, ISO and HR/FB are all up) is backed up by an increase in the average batted ball distance of his fly balls. But his other skills haven’t improved so much. Specifically, his plate discipline has not improved. He’s striking out in 2% more of his PAs than he has for his career, and he’s not walking much more. He has been more patient and swung less, but really only on pitches in the zone as his O-Swing% is unchanged. His Z-Swing% has dropped about 8% while the number of first pitch strikes to him has jumped about 10%. Mitch may be just taking too many first pitches.

As for Carpenter, I love his approach. He is very selective (8th lowest Swing%) and makes a ton of contact (10th in Contact%, 9th in SwStr%). As a result, he walks almost as much as he strikes out. He also has the rare batted ball distribution that is fairly close to evenly split between the three categorizations, which allows him to maintain a high BABIP and average while still hitting for a bit of power here and there. If there’s one concern, it’s that he didn’t hit the ball on a line quite as much in the minors. Regardless, his OBP skills are still well above average, and he hits at the top of a top ten St. Louis offense according to wRC+.

Markakis is similar to Carpenter in that he walks about as much as he strikes out and hits a lot of line drives. But he is different in two ways. First, he walks less and strikes out less. Second, he hits third in the lineup. Before Monday’s games, his lineup was tied for the best offense in the league according to wRC+. Markakis has 67 R+RBI and Carpenter has 62, but the distribution is obviously different. Despite that, they’re similar players. High average, a little pop, not much speed, and good counting stats in good lineups. They’re both worth acquiring.