One of the greatest things about baseball is its unpredictability. One of my favorite things to do both during the season and the offseason is explore the unexplainable and unpredictable statistics in baseball. There is actually a website for weirdos like myself called You Can't Predict Baseball that serves as the Ripley's Believe It Or Not of baseball. If you are someone who participates on Twitter and you ever see the hashtag #ycpb used by myself or any of the other RotoWire writers, that is what we are referring to. Some examples of #ycpb in 2012 include:
*Fernando Rodney (enough said)
*Juan Pierre hit one home run, off James Shields
*The third-longest home run of the season was hit by Cameron Maybin
*Edwin Encarnacion had as many multi-steal games as Desmond Jennings, Ichiro Suzuki, and B.J. Upton did last season.
*Mike Trout having one of the five best seasons of all-time, as a rookie
The unpredictability of baseball is what makes it a fascinating sport to follow. Even the best fantasy prognosticators and projections are approximately 70 percent accurate in any one season because too many surprises come up over the course of one year. While it is at least twice as accurate as meteorology, there are still things that happen in baseball that nobody sees coming because they happen for no rhyme or reason, as Fernando Rodney proved last season.
The frustrating part about these surprises is they go away as quickly as they appear. Within seasons, long hitting streaks become ugly hitting slumps. Joe Mauer hits 28 home runs in a season and hits 22 combined over the next three seasons. Then you get someone like Wilson Betemit. Betemit is a switch hitter in name only, as he has never really been able to hit lefties from the right side of the plate. Yet in 2010, he hit .312 against them with a .930 OPS only to hit .189 in that split since then in 175 at-bats, while walking just 15 times and striking out 63 times during that span.
I thought it would be helpful to go back into 2012 and look for some more #ycpb moments to see if there were any patterns to their arrival and if the change in numbers is real or just single-season noise that will disappear in a bigger picture.
Robinson Cano versus lefties: Coming into 2012, this was not an issue. In his previous 1,393 plate appearances against lefties, Cano owned a .300/.338/.475 slash line with a five percent walk rate and a 13 percent strikeout rate. He did not show great patience against lefties, but he hit them for average and above average power. Last season, he hit just .239/.309/.337 against lefties in 269 plate appearances. The good news is, he walked a bit more at a seven percent clip, but his strikeout rate also rose five percentage points to 18 percent. This is where sample size comes into play; Cano's splits were rather neutral in every previous season until last season's hiccup.
In terms of Cano, you should be more concerned about his declining flyball rate. From 2006 to 2010, his flyball rates rose each season from 28 to 37 percent. In 2011, that number dropped to 31 percent and last season, it fell to a career-low 26 percent. Despite that decline, Cano became the only hitter from 2002-2012 to have 30 home runs in a season in which they hit so few flyballs thanks to a 24 percent HR/FB ratio. Only Cano and Jacque Jones (in 2006) have hit as many as 20 home runs in a season with a flyball rate of 26 percent or lower so if Cano wants to repeat 30 home runs, he needs to loft more balls in the air because a 24 percent HR/FB rate is unsustainable no matter what park you play in. After all, his previous career high was 17 percent.
Michael Young hitting at home: Young hitting in Rangers Ballpark was pretty much death & taxes territory. From 2003 to 2011, he hit .300 or higher at home and had a slugging percentage over .500 in all but two of those seasons. Then, 2012 happened. In 321 plate appearances at home last season, he hit .261/.312/.325 and hit just one home run after hitting no fewer than eight in any of the previous eight seasons. If you want to look at a reason why the Rangers ended up choking away their lead to Oakland, look no further than the empty at-bats they gave Young all season. The 36-year-old moves over to Citizens Bank Park which is a hitting environment, but not to the extreme that Texas is. Young looked 46 years old last season so despite the massive numbers throughout his career at home, this looks like a case of declining bat speed leading to diminishing returns rather than a single-season anomaly. He should hit more than one home run at home in 2013, but the days of .300/.500 are over.
Russell Martin vs RH Starters: According to his Baseball-Reference splits, Martin has been rather consistent against righties as his average was between .246 and .276 from 2006 to 2011. Last season in New York, that fell down to .190 and his .627 OPS was 30 points worse than any other season for the split. His 2011 and 2012 seasons were nearly identical in terms of plate appearances, but everything else from there differs: