Sunday, April 24, 2011

Carlos Quentin: I'm Not a Player, I Just Crush a Lot.

The headline really says it all. Carlos Quentin has some pretty astounding power. As I watched him swiftly deposit two hard belt high Justin Verlander fastballs deep into the bleachers of Comerica Park, all I could really think was “Wow, THAT is some power!”

CQ hit 36 home runs in 2008 during a season that was cut short by injury. He followed that up with 21 and 26 home run seasons that were also somewhat impeded by injury.

Projecting Quentin going forward can be a bit tricky. He has flashed extreme potential offensively but he has not put up consistently great numbers. In addition, he has somewhat consistently been plagued by some nagging injuries. One could argue that Carlos’s body does not seem to agree with his career choice to be a professional athlete. As a result, it is hard to say the extent to which his production has been or will continue to be affected by injury problems. That said, I will try and come up with an accurate projection anyway.

I want to analyze various aspects of CQ’s game in turn. First, his batting average currently sits at .308, a number that almost definitely will not stand the test of a full season. He is a career .254 hitter. His batting average on balls in play sits at .310, his career BABIP is .254. His line drive rate is 14.1% as compared with a career mark of 15.3%. So far, CQ has hit more fly balls. His ground ball and fly ball rates are 28.1% and 57.8% respectively as compared with career rates of 39.2% and 45.5%. CQ has become more fly ball happy the last few years with his FB rate going from 43% to 47% to 49%, however a long term jump to almost 58% percent is very substantial and probably unlikely. When thinking about likely batting average, a higher fly ball rate and lower ground ball rate would generally cause a players’ batting average to decrease. CQ has a fairly static strike out rate, it sits at 17.9% this season as opposed to 18% for his career. Finally, CQ has BABIP’s of .703 for line drives, .108 for fly balls and .207 for ground balls for his career. However, his current BABIP in a very small sample is extremely elevated for fly balls almost 3 times the normal level.

Adding up all of the above rates, we see that not much has changed except that so far, CQ has hit a disproportionate number of fly balls. Increasing fly ball rates are associated with decreasing batting averages because in almost all cases, fly ball BABIP is the lowest rate among the three trajectories. As a result, the early season bump in batting average is probably a bit of a fluke that will normalize.

If we then look at Quentin’s power, it will be apparent that he has also slightly overproduced in that department as well. His current 16.2% HR/FB rate is only slightly above normal about 15.6% for his career (20.7% in his best year in 2008, but this increasingly has appeared to be an outlier). In addition, CQ has a career doubles per fly ball rate, DB/FB, of 7%, and doubles per line drive, DB/LD, rate of 22.6% whereas he sits at 20% and 40% this season. In fact, in CQ’s career, he has routinely hit more home runs than doubles. As a result, CQ should see a stark decrease in his output of doubles but not necessarily in home runs.

It is possible, even likely CQ could have a long term shift in his rates for hit trajectories. His increased fly ball rate could be more than just a fluke based on short term results because his fly ball rate has seen itself steadily increase. However, BABIP largely does not fluctuate for players, especially fly ball BABIP. As a result, when projecting CQ going forward, those rates should be normalized. Similarly his expected output of doubles must also be adjusted.

Assuming CQ continues his GB/FB trend with his current rates, CQ’s BA, DB, and HR output looks something like this assuming 450 at bats (highest total since joining the majors):

SO = 450 x .179 = 80, BIP = 450-80 = 370

HR = 370 x .578 x .162 = 34 or 35 home runs (increased fly ball rate will obviously help CQ a lot here)

DB = ((370 x .578 x .07) + (370 x .141 x .226) + (370 x .281 x .024) = 28 doubles (increased by the FB rate increase when GB rate is the offset rate because it is the lowest producer of doubles)

BIP – HR = 370 – 35 = 335

BA = ((335 x .578 x .108) + (335 x .141 x .703) + (335 x .281 x .207) + 35) / 450 = .242

The end result is clear, if Carlos continues his fly ball rate trend, his home runs and doubles go up while his batting average falls south of .250. Because CQ hits almost no triples, estimating his 450 AB OPS is pretty simple assuming his career BB/9 rate and his astounding HBP rate continue.

AVG = .242, OBP = .340, Slugg = (28 x 2 + 35 x 4 + 46)/450 = .537, OPS = .877

Carlos Quentin would actually stand to benefit from an increased fly ball rate as his extra base hits would increase, including home runs, while his batting average would stay at its 2010 level through the support of the increased home runs. Either way, what is almost certain through all of this is that CQ cannot maintain both a very high batting average and an extreme amount of home runs and doubles power. Based on his recent trends, I would bet on and increased amount of extra bases for CQ with an equal or lower batting average, a net positive trade-off in the end.

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