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Tuesday Rockpile: The Many Faces of Success



"I'd rather be lucky than good." - Lefty Gomez

When I was quite a bit younger, I eschewed the concept of luck in sports.  I wanted to believe, especially at large sample sizes, that all results accurately deflected the skill levels of the players in question.  Naturally, realism has seeped in with age, and I recognize luck is large part of all sports, especially baseball.

The quote above is one most Americans have heard, though few know the origin.  I like the quote, but I often wondered:  couldn't I be lucky AND good?  The irony of the quote here is that Gomez is one of three pitchers to win 13 of his first 14 starts in a season.  Ubaldo Jimenez is one of the other two.  Among all the fracas at Fangraphs last week, it seemed to me that no one was aware that someone can be lucky AND good.   Either Jimenez is lucky upon historic proportions, or he is legitimately having one of the best seasons ever.

It is as if talent and luck are mutually exclusive.  They are most certainly not.  A player can be lucky and good, unlucky and terrible, lucky yet bad, unlucky yet good, lucky and mediocre etc. etc. etc.   Ubaldo has been decidedly lucky and good this season.  Most Rockies fans are probably aware of this.  Yet I believe many of us have presumed luck and performance to be mutually exclusive in another case:

Dexter Fowler.

Over the past two weeks, especially in recent days, there seem to be two very vocal camps.  One looks almost  strictly at Fowler's production stats - a .463 wOBA in AAA (1.099 OPS)  - and point out we could use that offense in the big leagues.  Translation: he's good.  Another camp is frightened away from Fowler's unsustainable .484 BABIP when he is hitting ground balls 53% of the time.  Translation: he's lucky.  The truth has been missed - he has been both.

I scrounged around the internet and found this xBABIP calculator by The Hardball Times.  It essentially takes line drive percentage, popup percentage, groundball percentage and flyball percentage and predicts BABIP, thereby removing the potential luck Fowler has had bleeding grounders through the infield.  His xBABIP is .331.  That might be 150 points below his actual BABIP, so he has been VERY lucky.  But it is also way above MLB league average.  Lucky and good.

Devil's advocate:  But his BABIP would go down with superior defenses in the big leagues!  Assuming that is true, I have an opposite adjustment.  xBABIP's formula includes a crude speed factor, increasing the xBABIP using stolen bases as an input for speed.  We all know Fowler is a gazelle, yet he has only stolen one base in AAA.  Adjusting his xBABIP based on his true speed pushes it closer to .340.

Here's another source for you:  You can adjust a player's numbers for his home park, adjust his numbers to neutral luck, and produce major league equivalents (MLEs).   Adjusting for both his home park and luck produces an .831 OPS, 61 points higher than his 2009 number (a season in which he posted a .351 BABIP, by the way).  Producing the MLE gives nearly a .900 OPS, higher than any Rockie this season.

So yes, Fowler has gotten lucky.  A .484 BABIP is unsustainable.  But that does not mean Fowler hasn't been legitimately raking.  With almost identically awesome lefty/righty splits in AAA, slightly better walk and strikeout raters and slightly worse line drive rate to career levels, there is nothing left to prove for Fowler at AAA.  You might notice my choice of "picture" in this post.  Ubaldo knows he witnessed the perfect storm of ability and luck in that moment.  The man on the other end of his gaze knows the feeling as well.  

With Carlos Gonzalez returning today, the urgency of bringing Fowler back has lessened.  But with Carlos Gonzalez moving to the 3-hole, the organization should really consider promoting Fowler to be a top-of-the-order bat.  Make no mistake - he is ready.

Links after the jump.

Slugging in Springs - The Denver Post - It's as if Irv Moss knew I wanted to write about Fowler today.

"I got all my hits left-handed (Sunday). That in itself lets you know I'm pretty comfortable in the box right now." - Fowler

Rockies' Street back in bullpen - The Denver Post
No word on the corresponding roster move so far, though DFAing Juan Rincon makes the most sense.

"From the last pitch of 2009, all I've thought about is being back with these guys.  This is why I worked so hard, because I wanted to pitch here. I signed for three years because I want to stay in Colorado, because I love Denver, and because I think we have a chance to win." -Huston Street (from Jim Armstrong)

Tracy admits lack of offense baffles him - The Denver Post - Jim Armstrong has some interesting stats to illustrate the Rockies' offensive futility in The Year of the Pitcher.

John Lannan Demoted to AA | FanGraphs Baseball
Corks were popped in homes of sabermetricians everywhere.  FIP had long predicted that John Lannan would fall apart.  His career ERA was just way too low for his FIP, and this season, his poor K/BB caught up with him.  More of note on this to Rockies fans - our old pal Joel Peralta has been promoted in Lannan's place.

Rox bring continuity into rematch vs. Red Sox | News
Well...if you ignore that three of the top four hitters in our lineup are gone.  And three of the top four hitters are no longer much of a hitting threat at the major leagues (not the same set).

Jay Payton’s Situation | FanGraphs Baseball
Fangraphs weighs in on the future of Jay Payton.

Minnesota Twins' Target Field hits grand slam for fans | All Things Rockies
Patrick Saunders from the Denver Post loved Target Field, though it took him until yesterday to share his experience with everyone.

I'll mention that Woody Paige has a column today and recommends what the Rockies should do.  However, I'm not going to link it.  Seek it out if you want, but only if you really think we need to start carrying 7 outfielders, 7 infielders and 6 starting pitchers.

Twitter / Mike Newman: All I can say is "Damn straight:"

You know you have a good wife when she asks if I can go to dinner with her friends Thursday night and all I have to say is.... but Matzek...