Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Much Too Early Season Review: Offense Part 1

As mentioned in the review of Bryce Harper’s season so far, that point in the season where signal starts to peak its head out of the noise has arrived for some stats. A lot can change between now and the end of the season, obviously, but there might be some trends to pick out of the early season stats. Let’s take a quick run through the regulars in the Nationals’ lineup to see what we find. Part one on Ian Desmond, Wilson Ramos, and Ryan Zimmerman is here. Part 2 with Jayson Werth, Yunel Escobar, and Danny Espinosa/Dan Uggla will be up tomorrow, so check back in for that.

Ian Desmond

Desmond’s 2014 was highlighted by disappointing trends: an increase in strikeout rate, a decrease in contact rate, and increases in groundballs and infield flies. The start to 2015 hasn’t been kind to Desmond either as he checks in with a .227/.292/.364 line and 2 homeruns. On a positive note, Desmond’s walk rate (while not what one would call good) is higher than normal for him at around 7%. After a spike in strikeout rate to nearly 30% in 2014, Desmond has righted that ship, sitting close to his career average at 23%. Coupled with a BABIP of .288 that would mark the lowest average in 5 years, and that batting average is poised for a breakout. Desmond’s plate discipline stats are also back closer to his career norms after his 2014 season saw him hit a career high swinging strike rate and a career low contact rate. So far in 2015, Desmond’s swinging strike rate is hovering around 11% (after nearly 14% last year) and his contact% is 77% (after a 2014 rate of 72%).

Unfortunately, it’s the batted ball profile that’s killing Desmond’s stats. After a slightly elevated groundball ball rate last year, Desmond is now hitting groundballs at a career high rate of 59%, not what you want from a power hitter. Tack on an awful infield fly ball rate of 17% and you start to see why the average is so low. The source of those struggles may be Desmond’s results on fastballs. He is hitting only .250 against hard pitches (as classified by BrooksBaseball) with a minuscule ISO of .085. Those results are way below his career norms and continue the disturbing trend of his performance versus the fastballs identified in the 2014 season review.

Wilson Ramos

Ramos has, most importantly, stayed healthy so far in 2015 (knocks on wood, throws some salt over the shoulder). He hasn’t exploded out of the gate, but he hasn’t been an utter disappointment. The power hasn’t been there (only 1 home run and 3 doubles) and he still can’t recognize a walk if it hit him in the face (BB% of 3.3%), but he is playing games and hitting for average (.310 batting average). Ramos continues his impressive run of putting the ball in play on a consistent basis, as he his strikeout rate continues to sit around 15%. Unfortunately, that high batting average is being driven by a .351 BABIP. While not on the absurd side you might find at this point in the season (like Dee Gordon’s BABIP of just shy of .500), it would mark a career high for Ramos by over 20 points. The hope would be that Ramos sacrifices a couple of those seeing eye groundballs for a homerun or double in the gap. Ramos’s batted ball profile still looks pretty ugly, as his groundball rate is sitting at 60% and his line drive and fly ball rates continue to drop. The plate discipline stats for Ramos are almost identical to last year (swinging at pitches out of the zone a smidge less), so the hope would be that the power comes around eventually.

Ryan Zimmerman

Ryan Zimmerman has been the victim of BABIP crime. He’s sporting a .211 batting average, but his peripherals are all in line with expectations. He is walking slightly less and striking out slightly more, but only by a few percentage points. He is hitting slightly fewer line drives and a handful more groundballs. He’s actually swinging at fewer pitches out of the strike zone by a few percentage points. But it’s hard to have a good batting line with a measly .236 BABIP. The lowest BABIP in Zimmerman’s career came back in 2007, at .295. All signs point to a mid-season turnaround in the batting average category for Zimmerman.

If there is one area of concern for Zimmerman, it will be in the power department. He is battling a foot injury that isn’t bad enough to keep him out of games but is clearly restricting his movement. It’s still early for this stat, but his HR/FB% is a career low 6%. Additionally, Zimmerman is only pulling 27% of his batted balls. Now, Zimmerman has always been a good hitter to all fields, but this year he is hitting more balls to center and right field than pulling pitches to left field. He still seems to be able toget around on a fastball, so this could be a function of pitchers targeting Zimmerman away with pitches. Either way, it’s something to keep an eye on.

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