Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Nick The Stick

Ted Cook over at OriolesHangout had an interesting article about Nick Markakis.

The gist of it was that Nick's BABIP and ISO-D (OBP - BA) should both go down next year (lowering his BA and OBP), but he may have an increase in power. This conclusion was reached by looking at other players who have seen increases in there BABIP and ISO-D, as Nick did going from 2007 to 2008. Is there anything to explain those increases, and allow for the possibility of further improvements (or even staying where he was) being likely? For the record, I'm personally largely in agreement with Ted. My projection was .301/.401/.493, and he had .303/.391/.498. That means that the BABIP side is spot on in my opinion, but that I think he'll maintain his great OBP skills to a higher degree. To FanGraphs we go...

Nick's BB% has increased every year, from 8.1% to 8.7% to 14.3%. That makes a lot of sense, since his percent of pitches swung at that are out of the strike-zone fell dramatically last year. In 2006 and 2007 it was at 23.8% and 23.4% respectively. In 2008, it looks like he finally put that great batting eye to use, as he only swung at 18% of pitches that were out of the zone (that's 15th in baseball for all players with at least 400 PA). His swing rate at pitches in the zone stayed the same (64.1% in '07 and 64.2% in '08). It also seems that pitchers were more careful with Markakis, as the % of pitches in the zone he saw at all fell from 52.6% and 52.3% in '06/'07, to 50.1% in '08.

He was thrown more balls and he swung less at them. The spike in walk-rate makes sense. Does that mean it won't go down in 2009? Not necessarily, but I don't see any reason to think that he'll start chasing pitches more. I also don't see any reason to think that pitchers will start throwing him more strikes again; the opposite may happen, in fact, if his power increases as was posited earlier.

The only way I see his walk-rate going down is if he starts swinging and missing more (and thus gets more strikes thrown to him). This may be the thing, as his contact rate has dropped from 88.5% to 84.9% to 84.6%. The first decrease makes some sense, as after his first year pitchers didn't challenge him as much (% of pitches that were fastballs fell from 66.7% to 60%). The second (small) drop is likely random variation (and he saw about the same percentage of fastballs; 60.9%). Even then, the extra swings and misses should have some effect on his BA too, so his ISO-D shouldn't change all that much. Ted said "Based on this study, it certainly isn’t unreasonable to expect Markakis to see his ISO-D drop back somewhere between .079 and .094. I should also add, for argument’s sake, that it also isn’t unreasonable to see go up a second straight season." Given the size of the sample he was working with (and readilly admitted as much) I think the underlying skills Markakis has shown make it fairly safe to assume a similar ISO-D in 2009 (I have .100) to the one he had in 2008 (also .100).

On to the batting average on balls in play issue. The Hardball Times recently developed a more comprehensive version of expected BABIP, which goes beyond the old LD% + .120 and incorporates things like handedness, speed, and groundball rate. In 2006 they have Nick's BABIP at .309 (it's different than FanGraphs, but I'll stick to all THT figures here for consistency) and his expected BABIP at .316. For 2007 it's .327 and .321 (so he did get a little lucky). For 2008 it's .348 and .328 (so he got even more lucky). That indicates that Nick will indeed see a drop in BABIP for 2009, and thus a lower batting average. Of course, it (his BABIP) probably shouldn't drop that much, and if it comes along with an increase in home runs then his batting average may even stay the same. [Say in 10 AB you have 3 H and 1 HR. That's a .300 BA and a .222 BABIP. If it's 10 AB, 3 H, and 2 HR, then the BA stays at .300 but the BABIP falls to .125. Less balls in play fall for hits (1 in 8 instead of 2 in 9), but the BA remained unchanged.]

This was all to say that Ted's investigation was interesting and well done, but I still think Nick Markakis is going to walk a little more than Ted does (about one extra base on balls every couple of weeks) and we agree on everything else. Considering random fluctuations that we can't even take into account currently, I'd say differing procedures led to largely the same result. Now watch him turn into Ben Grieve. Or Ted Williams.

1 comment:

Crawdaddy said...

Yeah, I think his understanding or awareness of Markakis' pitch ID metrics was lacking. It was an interesting exercise, but I wanted a little more.