As Time Goes By

I was watching a Cubs/Brewers game about a month ago, when Steve Stone mentioned that Scott Podsednik‘s average had declined because he was hitting more balls in the air than he had earlier in the season. Steve went on to say that the Milwaukee coaches were working with Podsednik to try and get him to hit the ball on the ground and take better advantage of his speed.

Now, I have to admit that there’s something about Steve Stone that makes me wince. It might be that flukey Cy Young award he won, but it’s more likely just something about his voice. He kind of sounds like a salesman who knows everything about that software he’s trying to sell you, very friendly and interesting to a certain degree. But you sort of have this feeling that he can’t talk about his product in depth. You ask if it will run on Linux, and he responds with several paragraphs of fine words, but you don’t quite trust the answer.

Of course, I’m not being fair here. So I thought to myself, “Hey, I can figure this out with the Hardball Times stats. I can calculate Podsednik’s GB/FB ratio by month to see if Steve Stone really does know what he’s talking about.”

So I did, and he does. Here are a few monthly stats for Podsednik: his Groundball/Flyball ratio, the percent of his hits that have been line drives (LD%), his Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP; doesn’t include strikeouts or home runs) and his On-Base Percentage.

             Apr     May    June    July
GB/FB        1.7     1.4      .7     1.5
LD%         .128    .140    .143    .168
BABIP       .341    .227    .278    .277
OBP         .383    .325    .312    .262

Keep in mind that Steve Stone spoke to me in the middle of June, and you can see that he was right on at the time. Podsednik’s ground ball ratio had declined dramatically. Give them both credit. Stone knew his stuff and Podsednik started hitting the ball on the ground again. Unfortunately, his bottom line hasn’t improved — his July OBP was the worst of the year.

The BABIP tells you that Podsednik had a lot of hits go his way in April, and they didn’t go his way in July. BABIP is typically a result of how many line drives a batter hits — adding .110 to a batter’s LD% is a good rule of thumb for BABIP — and the Pod was extremely lucky in April, unlucky in May and just right in July. Really, those coaches should work on his ability to draw a walk — he only received four bases on balls in July.

Of course, the Pod wasn’t the only batter to get off to a hot start and subsequently see his performance decline. Here’s a list of players whose second two months were appreciably cooler than their first two. To compute this list, I computed each player’s :GPA: for each month, and then looked at the biggest declines from the first two months to the second two months.

Player     Team     Apr    May    Jun     Jul     Diff
Wilson     PIT     .366   .347   .198    .269   -0.123
Uribe      CHW     .350   .278   .231    .153   -0.122
Giambi     NYY     .325   .302   .210    .176   -0.120
Berkman    HOU     .354   .435   .255    .299   -0.118
Payton     SDP     .240   .322   .147    .186   -0.115
Johnson    COL     .407   .269   .201    .247   -0.114
Harvey     KC      .326   .312   .224    .228   -0.093
Lowell     FLO     .329   .389   .223    .317   -0.090
Casey      CIN     .364   .344   .288    .246   -0.087
White      DET     .318   .294   .179    .260   -0.087
Posada     NYY     .363   .338   .251    .277   -0.086
Mora       BAL     .331   .387   .258    .295   -0.083
Palmeiro   BAL     .300   .280   .213    .222   -0.072

Of course, Jason Giambi and Sean Casey have good excuses. And you knew some of those other players, like Craig Wilson, would find their way to earth. My prediction: Juan Uribe‘s GPA will go up in August. You can quote me on that.

How about the positive spin? Here are the guys whose second two months were significantly better than the first two:

Player     Team     Apr    May     Jun     Jul    Diff
Nevin      SDP     .273   .258    .328    .419   0.108
Kotsay     OAK     .204   .252    .331    .328   0.101
Edmonds    STL     .317   .278    .328    .452   0.092
Vidro      MON     .236   .216    .358    .275   0.091
Winn       SEA     .212   .235    .291    .325   0.085
Sheffield  NYY     .281   .266    .391    .325   0.084
Rowand     CHW     .239   .262    .349    .317   0.083
Lee        CHC     .267   .252    .367    .317   0.083
Polanco    PHI     .251   .075    .259    .232   0.082
Beltre     LAD     .348   .231    .344    .387   0.076
Jeter      NYY     .182   .261    .352    .236   0.072
Ortiz      BOS     .313   .271    .370    .350   0.068
Cameron    NYM     .263   .200    .253    .345   0.068

This list is insightful — we often remember the guys who had the hot starts, but we tend to overlook those with the hot middles. For instance, Jim Edmonds’ .452 GPA in July has been the best month of any major league player not named Bonds this year. On a team with Scott Rolen and Albert Pujols, that might get overlooked. And while Phil Nevin only had 50 plate appearances in July, he has been sizzling since returning from knee surgery in the middle of the month. Modern medicine is amazing.

So who have been the most consistent batters this year? Here’s a list of those players with the lowest variance, or standard deviation, in GPA for each of the first four months:

Player     Team     Apr    May    Jun    Jul      SD
Konerko    CHW     .300   .301   .301   .301   0.001
Kendall    PIT     .274   .271   .277   .266   0.005
Jimenez    CIN     .245   .260   .250   .258   0.007
Gonzalez   COL     .222   .240   .238   .229   0.008
Drew       ATL     .330   .340   .356   .333   0.011
Martinez   SEA     .269   .237   .252   .245   0.013
Hall       MIL     .231   .254   .219   .223   0.015
Bellhorn   BOS     .278   .273   .273   .307   0.016
Molina     ANA     .237   .261   .227   .258   0.017
Guzman     MIN     .234   .246   .219   .260   0.017

Friggin’ Paul Konerko. After an abysmal 2003, he has been the very model of consistent run production this year. And J.D. Drew has been consistently even better. Kudos should also go to Mark Bellhorn and Jason Kendall for their dependable, above-average production this year. Unfortunately, Bellhorn was just sent to the disabled list.

Of course, consistent doesn’t mean good. Check out Billy Hall in Milwaukee, or the Twins’ Cristian Guzman.

Speaking of good, I’d like to finish with a couple of New York Yankees. After slow starts, both Gary Sheffield and Derek Jeter have turned it up this season — especially Sheffield — and I thought a little more monthly detail might be in order. Hopefully, all of these stats are familiar to you by now:

Sheffield     April     May    June    July
GPA            .281    .266    .391    .325
SLG            .393    .422    .730    .612
GB/FB           1.8     1.1      .9      .7
LD%            .192    .155    .239    .180
BABIP          .319    .280    .300    .256

Sheffield was just hitting too many groundballs in the beginning of the year. He is a line drive/flyball hitter (check out the line drives in June), but he wasn’t finding his groove the first two months. Obviously, he’s found his groove since, and he now leads the American League in Win Shares Above Average. You can see it in the results (GPA, SLG) and in the underlying stats as well (GB/FB, LD%).

Jeter         April     May    June    July
GPA            .182    .261    .352    .236
SLG            .248    .492    .622    .388
GB/FB           2.5     1.1     1.3     1.5
LD%            .221    .163    .208    .165
BABIP          .214    .307    .394    .286

Derek Jeter also hit too many groundballs in April, but the real story was his BABIP. It appears that Jeter actually hit the ball well in April — he was hitting line drives at a .221 rate — but hits were falling in at only a .214 rate. In retrospect, that was the clue that his April was an aberration.

A comparative study on an unwritten rule of baseball.

On the other hand, his June was tremendously lucky, as his BABIP far exceeded his LD%. Unlike Sheffield, you can’t really say that Jeter is in a groove. All you can say is that his luck has evened out. That’s what tends to happen in the fourth dimension.

References & Resources
If you haven’t read Stephen Hawking’s book, I highly recommend it.

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