Counting Rocks: Banana Splits

It hasn't been a pretty month.  Seven wins and fifteen losses* have stunted the promise built in the first month.  No need to rehash the low moments, and it's no surprise that there were some unsustainable performances in March-April.  An important thing to remember is that over-your-head performances are usually necessary for great seasons. 

The interesting thing is that the over-the-head performances from hitters only brought the team up to middle of the pack offensive output.  In March-April, Rockies hitters posted a cumulatively mediocre .316 wOBA; middle of the pack for the NL.  They followed it up in May with a composite .321 wOBA, but that is heavily aided by the 14-3 drubbing of the DBacks. 

The hitters can law some blame a low BABIP relative to the rest of the NL - .280 in March-April wasn't particularly unlucky, but it was the fourth lowest in the league.  Similarly, .275 in May doesn't sound that bad, but it was, again, fourth lowest in the league.  The big difference for Rockies hitters has been patience.  They went from leading the league with a walk 10.2% of the time to a middling 8.4% walk rate. 

A lot of this makes sense when you think about individual hitters.  Cargo started slow; Herrera was hot.  Stewart/Lopez have been terrible; Iannetta was not.

While Herrera and CDI are still posting more than acceptable overall lines, the room for negative regression was going to be greater than the room for positive regression.  CDI, Herrera, Smith, and Tulo posted wOBAs in March-April between 16 and 67 points higher than their career averages.  Cargo and Lopez were the biggest under-performers vs. career, Wigginton's was 14 points below, and Helton was actually more of an over-achiever based on recent history.

A closer look shows that the sky is not falling on the former category.*  To the contrary, if some negative regression was always assumed, there are encouraging signs that some of the surprisingly good performances could be repeated at times in coming months.

*Team record and all statistics are through May 24th.

Herrera

Player

Month

OBP

K%

BB%

LD%

IFFB%

HR/FB

wOBA

Herrera

April

.424

17.2%

11.4%

21.7%

15.8%

5.3%

.377

May

.288

17.1%

4.9%

28.3%

7.1%

7.1%

.272

 

This is not meant to pick on Herrera.  Much like parts of last summer, what he did in April will be invaluable to the Rockies in September, because regardless of his contributions in the meantime they needed someone to hit like he did in April.

However, his May doesn't give any confidence that the thirteen year itch at second base is finally scratched.  His walk rate tumbled month to month, and the season like is getting closer to his career minor league rate (9.3%).  Unsurprisingly, there was a corresponding drop in OBP.  Does this mean he's going to be close to his .346 career minor league OBP? 

On a positive note, Herrera fans can point to a nearly 40 point drop in BABIP from March-April to May, and the spike in LD rate.  Even if that's illusory, it's a positive sign that he's hitting fewer IFFB and FB (something that's not likely to benefit him given the miniscule .065 career ISO) and more LD and GB.

If he can level out at his career minor league OPS, and play positive defense at second (something that TZ and UZR say he has not done this year), it will be adequate.  Perhaps most importantly, it could provide stability.

Fowler

Player

Month

OBP

K%

BB%

LD%

IFFB%

HR/FB

wOBA

Fowler

April

.368

35.8%

14.8%

30.5%

10.5%

0.0%

.336

May

.340

25.6%

11.6%

15.3%

4.8%

0.0%

.289

 

Maybe what jumps out the most is that Fowler has yet to hit a home run.  Or that he replaced a lot of the April LD with May GB (12% increase in GB month to month).  Given his speed that could have been a good thing, but his BA actually fell nine points, along with with the 28 point drop in OBP.

Like Herrera, he can point to a substantial drop in BABIP (~60 points), but that only serves to remind fans that he could only muster a .336 wOBA in March-April with a .387 BABIP.  To give that some perspective, his March-April wOBA was five points above career with a BABIP 50 points above career.  Naturally, with the BABIP and LD drop, he saw a substantial decrease in wOBA. 

May's silver lining is harder to find for Fowler.  The five percent increase in Ks over his career average so far this year limits the number of balls he puts in play.  Along with a maintaining a walk rate at or above his career 12% rate, he needs to put balls in play to be useful to the team.  His May BABIP is only ten points below his career norm, so he can't really blame it on the BABIP drop.

Iannetta

Player

Month

OBP

K%

BB%

LD%

IFFB%

HR/FB

wOBA

Iannetta

April

.384

40.0%

21.9%

12.1%

13.3%

20.0%

.375

May

.382

26.3%

14.7%

23.3%

0.0%

10.5%

.355

 

If it wasn't already apparent, I love Iannetta and think players like him are essential.  In the last post, I suggested that "maybe a .261 BA is not part of CDI's portfolio."  For the season, that statement still appears to be accurate, as he is only batting .232.  However, he's hitting .281 in May.  For comparison, in months where he's played in 10 or more games, he's only had a higher BA three times (Sep. 2007, Apr. 2008, Jun. 2008).

All of that said, a quick look at his .341 May BABIP (~70 points above career average) is proof that there's some good fortune inflating the batting average.  His OBP and SLG stayed pretty close to his March-April numbers, and if you get granular you can see why:

 

Apr.

May

1B

3

12

2B

3

2

3B

1

0

HR

3

2

BB

16

10

 

Basically, he's replacing some walks and power with singles.  This explains the substantial drop in ISO (.255-.140). 

While the month-to-month view is a little baffling, it makes some sense when you look at the change in GB and LD rate.  A lot fewer ground balls (-9.8%) and a lot more line drives (+11.2%) meant fewer ground outs and more solid singles (mostly up the middle - batting .464 to center for the season).  Above all, while his otherworldly March-April walk rate dropped it is still at a very good 14.3%.

-----

Where does that leave us?  Well, the team needs to get on base more.  While power increased substantially (thank you, Cargo), collective OBP remained almost unchanged - .319 vs. .318.  That's been good for league average or slightly below.  The top three teams are the Cardinals (.357 OBP, 14 W, 9 L in May), Cubs (.346 OBP, 9 W, 11 L), and Reds (.331 OBP, 12 W, 10 L).  It's quite simple: more people on base means more opportunities to score runs, regardless of how the team hits with RISP. 

The biggest difference between the first two months was the pitching (and this is before considering the devastating loss of DLR).  The team posted an above league average 3.53 ERA and 3.81 FIP over the first month; those numbers fell to 4.19 and 4.18 for May.  That's a story for another day, but when you have two regulars experience significant drops in productivity (Fowler, Herrera), it exacerbates the drop in pitching from good to below average.

As mentioned at the beginning, good teams - playoff teams - will need to rely on fantastic monthly performances from average players to rack up the necessary wins to make the post-season.  Think Pablo Sandoval's ugly 2010.  As bad as the final line looked, without his .384 wOBA in August, do they have an even worse August (13-15)?

Needless to say, the Rockies have been in much worse positions at the end of 57 games.  Here is hoping that, relative to other successful seasons, the 24-23 record is only extra cushion before a huge summer.

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