Thursday, July 13, 2006

Not Quite Convinced

There is no doubt that Joe Crede is having a great, if not quite spectacular, year. His current batting line of 294/331/512 would give him career highs in average, on-base and slugging percentage. His 50 runs and 58 rbis at the break are both just 18 short of his career highs.

However, the way in which he has improved his numbers lead me to question how much is luck and how much of the improvement is sustainable.

Often when a slugger makes a leap like Crede has it comes with improved patience at the plate. The hitter waits for his pitch and when he gets it he drives it. When he doesn't get his pitch he takes more walks and strikeouts. The strikeouts are usually a necessary trade-off when hitting for power (for example, see Paul Konerko's historical trends).

But this year Crede is actually walking and striking out at the lowest rates of his career. He continues to be a very impatient hitter only seeing 3.53 pitches per plate appearance. His walk rate didn't have too far to go down but his strikeout rate has decreased by 33% (see the blue line in the chart below).

I included two other numbers on the chart: isolated power and batting average of balls put in play (BAPIP). The isolated power number has a lot less noise than slugging percentage and itshows that Crede has improved his power-hititing the past couple years. However, the BAPIP number is known jump around from year to year and might suggest that Crede is just happening to "hit them where they ain't" this year.

Not only is Crede getting more hits on balls put in play, but as previously mentioned, he is putting many more balls in play this year. Crede has a career strikeout rate of about 15% of his plate appearances and this year he is below 10%. That alone would cause his average, on-base and slugging percentage to increase. The table below shows Crede's percentage of hits per plate appearance the last few of years and reflects this increase.

The chart shows that Crede is getting more of all types of hits per plate appearance. But looking at his hits for only when he makes contact (plate appearances minus walks and strikeouts) tells a little bit different story. The results when he makes contact are largely the same.

Crede is getting a few more doubles and singles this year but his rates are not out of his career range and can be explained by normal variataions in his BAPIP.

If Crede's ability this year to get more hits on balls put in play can be chalked up to luck than the big question is whether he can keep his strikeout rate below 10%. He will need to continue to make contact to sustain his improvement.

The truth of the matter is that Crede has not been a very good hitter for most of his career. While he has always hit for some power, his low batting average and inability to draw a walk has prevented him from becoming an asset on the offensive end.

I believe that Crede has improved his hitting over the past couple of years but not to the extent that his current numbers would lead you to believe. I hope I'm wrong, but I think his low strike-out rate is flukish and will return closer to his career norm in the second half of this year. Crede's power numbers will continue to make him a nice complimentary player, but he will keep making too many outs to become a true offensive force.