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Aubrey Huff’s Dead Cat Bounce

With the Detroit Tigers in 2009, it looked like Aubrey Huff‘s career might be done. The 32-year-old hit .241/.310/.384 in a much more lively run environment, compiling an ugly 77 wRC+ and -1.8 WAR. It certainly wouldn’t have been the first time a slugger in his 30s just lost his ability to hit for power, nor will it be the last (hello, Adam Dunn?). But then, Huff gave the nation a front row seat to what looked like one of the most fantastic recoveries in recent baseball history. His 26 home runs and .290/.385/.506 line resulted in +5.8 WAR and made him one of the most important pieces on a World Series winning Giants team.

Fast forward to the 2011 All-Star Break. Huff is 25% through a new contract rewarding his services during the Giants’ run to the Commissioner’s Trophy. A full $17 million remains on the 34-year-old’s contract, and much to the dismay of Brian Sabean and the Giants, Huff picked up the new season right where he left off in 2009. In this brave new low-scoring run environment we find ourselves in, Huff’s first half slash line of .238/.291/.370 is an equivalent 77 wRC+ to his awful 2009 season; his -0.9 WAR in 375 PA just under his pace of -1.8 WAR in 597 PA with Detroit and Baltimore.

This odd spike from Huff brings to mind a term used on Wall Street: “dead cat bounce.” This term, at least in one usage, refers to a stock which has a sharp decline off a low, similar to what Huff showed in 2010. As they say, even a dead cat bounces.

That may be, but Huff bounced like a dead cat stuffed with flubber. Particularly given his struggles this year so far, Huff’s fantastic performance in 2010 is baffling. The power came back, and it wasn’t completely luck driven, either. Only 7 of Huff’s 26 home runs were labeled “Just Enough” by the ESPN Home Run Tracker, and AT&T Park isn’t a hitters’ haven by any stretch of the imagination.

Here we are, though, and Huff’s back to the kind of performance we’d expect out of a 34-year-old who couldn’t hit his way out of a wet paper bag as a 32-year-old. Maybe 2010 was just Aubrey Huff’s year, for some reason that I just can’t figure out. But even a dead cat can bounce. Aubrey Huff just bounced as high as possible.