On Friday, I posted about how Miguel Olivo‘s horrific August dramatically changed his seasonal line, and what should (and shouldn’t) be concluded from that situation. Today, I want to look at a player whose seasons has taken the opposite path: the Detroit Tigers’ Ryan Raburn.
Back at the end of June, I suggested that the Tigers should be prepared to give some of Brennan Boesch‘s playing time to Raburn. To put it mildly, that statement did not meet with universal agreement. It is easy to see why that was the case. Through the end of June, Raburn’s seasonal line was .211/.290/.358, and Boesch’s was .332/.380/.602. I can’t take credit for figuring anything out, really. But CHONE still had faith in Raburn’s bat on the strength of previous performance, he hadn’t had that many PA so far in 2010, and Boesch’s overall minor league track record and major league BABIP in 2010 both suggested that he was playing over his head. This isn’t a post about Boesch, so I won’t belabor the point, but almost immediately after that post (at which point his wOBA well was over .400) he put up a .265 wOBA (.209/.311.253) in July and a .234 wOBA (.185/.227/.304) in August. Boesch’s seasonal wOBA is still a respectable .336, but expectations have probably been tempered quite a bit.
As I wrote above, though, this is about Raburn, not Boesch. While Raburn was okay in April (.333 wOBA), he was absolutely dreadful in May (.117), recovered a bit in June (.339), but was still horrible in July (.247). Then August rolled around, and Raburn busted out a .408 wOBA (.308/.357/.606), including 8 home runs. The hot streak hsa continued into the first few games of September, and raised his previously putrid seasonal line to a respectable .339 wOBA (.257/.323/.457). It’s worth noting that Raburn got about twice as many plate appearances in August (112) has he did in any other month. This isn’t to say that “consistent playing time” are what caused his streak, but simply that it is the reason one hot month was able to change his seasonal line so dramatically from the where he was at at the end of July: .211/.287/.329.
This isn’t about cherry-picking August as Raburn’s true talent or dismissing it as a “fluke.” Rather, it’s about a) accepting whatever a player’s “true talent” may be, his performance will be distributed more or less unevenly through time, and b) the old “small sample size” issue (in this case, in relation to impatience with Raburn after his first ~200 PA this season). It isn’t as if Raburn had never hit in the majors before. Yes, in 2008 he was terrible in the majors (.295 wOBA), but in only 199 PA, and the year before he was good (.365 wOBA) in almost as many PA (148). The most recent sample in 2009 was also the largest (291 PA), and he had an impressive .378 wOBA (.291/.359/.533), showing a decent amount of walks and very impressive power (.241 ISO).
Despite his ups-and-downs early in the season, Raburn’s overall 2010 line shows that 2009 was not simply a fluke. Yes, it was probably above his true talent level, but if he had a 8.9% walk rate in 2009, a 7.1% rate isn’t hard to believe for 2010. Just because most of his power came in August doesn’t mean that his very good .200 ISO in 2010 is less believable than his .241 in 2009. Taking into account his performance so far in 2010, both ZiPS RoS and CHONE’s August 28 update see Raburn as a solidly above-average hitter.
Raburn isn’t a long-term solution in the Tigers’ outfield. He’s 29 years old. He has been platooned pretty heavily in the majors, although not so much this season, and properly estimating his platoon skill shows that his split isn’t much larger than average and that he can hold his own against RHP. He’s been moved around defensively, he’s probably about average in left field — average left fielders are generally in left field because they aren’t impressive looking defensively.
Still, Raburn’s bat is good enough that combined with his outfield skills he’s probably about an average player (~2 WAR over a full season), and could make a decent stopgap starter or very good fourth outfielder. He’s going into his first year of arbitration, and probably will get an award that makes him quite affordable for at least one year. One great month isn’t enough to radically change our evaluation of any player, but in context, it should be enough to keep Raburn from being an automatic non-tender.