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February 18, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Donnybrook - Corey Hart

by Michael Jong and Michael Street

BP readers, it's time to leave the benches and bullpens and join the Donnybrook! Leave your comments below about which side you're on, or suggest another Donnybrook question for two BP writers to tussle over. Today's question: "Has Corey Hart finally arrived?"

Michael Street: Milwaukee fans and fantasy owners have had a love/hate relationship with Corey Hart. Check out his performance since his 2007 breakthrough:









































As BP 2010 pointed out, Hart’s scuffling in 2008 and 2009 may have come from increased patience. Perceiving that 2008’s backsliding came from his career-low walk rate, Milwaukee tried to make him less aggressive in 2009. He responded with a career-best walk rate, while also producing the line above along with the unexpected results BP spoke of: he improved against righties but began to struggle against southpaws. An appendectomy effectively ended his 2009 season on August 2 just as he was beginning to heat up (.329/.393/.487 in 84 PA), so those missing months might have shown us further development.

In 2010, he finally found a groove, equalizing the above trends. His walk rate regressed, remaining above his 6.6 percent career average, and he returned to slapping around lefties to the tune of .318/.378/.595 while putting up a very nice .271/.327/.500 line against fellow righties. The only down stat, his seven SBs, had a lot to do with Ken “Red Light” Macha. His .324 BABIP suggests some luck helped, as did his 16.8 HR/FB ratio, but neither are that high compared to his career averages of .310 and 12.4 percent. The latter could hold him below the 30 HR barrier, but new manager Ron Roenicke (a Mike Scioscia protégé) should boost his SB total.

PECOTA’s .271/.331/.473 projection feels good, if a bit low, even if his decreasing contact rate suggests BA instability. His .282 TAv ties him for 26th among all outfielders and places him firmly where he belongs, as a good, but not top-tier, fantasy option who will contribute in all roto categories without carrying any of them. His herky-jerky history and small-market status could keep other owners away, but you shouldn’t be fooled: Corey Hart has arrived.

Michael Jong: The esteemed Mr. Street pointed out the very problems I have with believing that Corey Hart has "arrived" in any significant fashion. Hart has performed at a 2010 level before in 2007, only to fall back down to earth for two straight seasons. His last power packed year in 2007 had all the trappings of a fluky strong year, including a career-best BABIP (.321) and HR/FB rate (13.0 percent). In 2010, he had almost a carbon-copy repeat, with a .324 BABIP and a 16.0 percent HR/FB rate that represent new career highs. How can Hart be expected to maintain his 2010 numbers when those numbers represent career highs and are coming at a more advanced age (Hart will be 29 in 2011) than his first breakout in 2007?

One major difference that is noticeable between Hart's two career seasons is his strikeout rate. In 2007, Hart's free-swinging ways netted him a 17.5 percent strikeout rate, while in 2010 his renewed hacking approach saw him whiff in 22.8 percent of pitches. The majority of these extra strikes came via the swing-and-miss variety, as Hart missed on a career high 28.5 percent of pitches swung at. In fact, Hart never really returned to swinging freely in the first place; he saw 3.84 pitches per plate appearance in 2010, which was almost identical to his 2009 numbers, and swung at only 1.3 percent more pitches this past season than the last.

Hart won't repeat his 2010 season or even come really close to doing so without some assistance from the luck dragon. But PECOTA's 2011 projected line of .271/.331/.473 also seems appropriate, if a bit high, to me. The 20.2 percent projected strikeout rate represents a number higher than his career 19.4 percent mark, but if the two-year trend of increased strikeouts continues, that slash line will plummet and all of his categories would suffer. Whether that qualifies as "arriving" is up to the reader to decide.

Michael Jong is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Michael's other articles. You can contact Michael by clicking here

Related Content:  Corey Hart

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