CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

There will be a very short planned maintenance outage of the site tonight (7/22) at 11 PM ET

<< Previous Article
Fantasy Article Value Picks: Outfielde... (05/11)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Ev... (05/09)
Next Column >>
Pebble Hunting: The On... (05/14)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Prospectus Game of the... (05/11)

May 11, 2012

Pebble Hunting

No Fastballs for Emilio

by Sam Miller

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

On Wednesday, Albert Pujols Emilio Bonifacio finally got his first extra-base hit of the season. It was his 138th plate appearance, which is fortunate, in that it kept him from matching Juan Pierre (144 plate appearances, 2010) for the longest such streak to start a season during this century.

Reporter: Did you know you just matched a record set by Pierre?
Bonifacio: Wow! Awesome!
Bonifacio: Oh, Juan Pierre?
Bonifacio: Oh ok
Bonifacio: This is a trick, right?
Reporter: Yes.
Bonifacio: Juan Pierre.

It was a double. Bonifacio is now hitting .238/.341/.246, which looks like a phone number with one number missing or like a batting line with one number wrong. His OBP is higher than Miguel Cabrera’s, Jose Bautista’s, Mike Napoli’s, or Giancarlo Stanton’s. His isolated power is lower than everyone, ever. Since 1945, just 232 players have had an isolated power lower than .050 (minimum 400 plate appearances). Just six have had an isolated power lower than .025. None have had an isolated power in single digits.

Reporter: Sorry about earlier, but seriously this time
Reporter: Did you know you’re on pace to do something even Juan Pierre never did?
Bonifacio: Wow! Awesome!
Bonifacio: Oh, Juan Pierre?

Is it possible to be a good baseball player hitting, say, one extra-base hit every 50 plate appearances? Yes, it is! Ninety-nine players since 1950 have had an isolated power lower than .050, at least 400 plate appearances, and produced at least 1.0 WARP. Sixty of them were over 2.0 WARP. You’ll recall that we had 232 players in our sample without the WARP requirement, so more than 25 percent of those pathetic weaklings were actually above-average players and, if actual weaklings, not actually pathetic. It is possible to be a good player with extremely negligible power.

But is it possible for Emilio Bonifacio to be a good baseball player hitting, say, one extra-base hit every 50 plate appearances? Our 99 were generally very good at defense, which Bonifacio doesn’t appear to be, but it’s far too soon to say; or extremely good at baserunning, which Bonifacio has really not been in his career or this year; or extremely good at putting the ball in play, which Bonifacio is not; or extremely good at getting on base. Which means drawing a s***-ton of walks, or hitting for a crazy-high BABIP. This is what Bonifacio is going for.

The interesting thing about Bonifacio isn’t really his isolated power or his slugging percentage. It’s that he has managed to draw walks in 11 percent of his plate appearances, despite this spray chart:

This would seem to be unsustainable, and pitchers would seem to be prepared to challenge him with a steady stream of hittable strikes once they realize that Bonifacio is not actually able to hit them. But there’s a pretty good tradition of players with no power maintaining decent walk rates for a while. Among the extreme OBP/SLG ratios on our 99:

Bonifacio drew 59 walks in 2011, which was not enough to offset a sub-.050 isolated power and not enough to offset a .266 career batting average. But in 2012, he has bumped that walk rate still higher, and the change in his approach makes it clear this isn’t incidental. He has seen 4.6 pitches per plate appearance, up from 4.0 last year and in his career. He is swinging at 39 percent of pitchers this year, down from 43 percent last year and down for the third year in a row. His swing rate for pitches outside the zone, according to the early numbers at StatCorner, has also decreased. There are two ways to draw walks. One is to not get thrown too many strikes. The other is to never swing. Bonifacio is doing the second one.

But can he keep doing the first one? Jeff Sullivan wrote a couple times this week about the least intimidating hitters in baseball. He used the rates at which pitchers threw fastballs and strikes to each hitter to determine which hitters got the least respect. The results were exactly the results that you are expecting. The five guys you are thinking of right now were the top five. Don’t even click over there to check. Don’t give Jeff the satisfaction. Make Jeff think nobody is reading him.

The players on Jeff’s list, though, tell us two things about Emilio Bonifacio (who is not on the list, but fits the profile). One is that pitchers know who the lousy hitters are, and they change their approach to try to limit how often that lousy hitter walks. The other is that, even after a lousy hitter is identified as a punchless non-threat who is merely trying to draw a walk, the lousy hitter can still draw a s***-ton of walks.

Jamey Carroll is on the list. Jamey Carroll is also on our list of 99. Jamey Carroll hasn’t hit a home run since 2009, he hasn’t had more than 20 extra-base hits in a season since 2006 (when he played his home games in Coors Field), and he hasn’t had a slugging percentage higher than his OBP since 2005. He also has the same career OBP as Matt Kemp and an 11 percent walk rate even this year.

Which is to say: there’s only so much adjusting pitchers can do, or will do. There’s only so much adjusting teams can do, or will do. You might think that Bonifacio’s lack of power this year would cause teams to shift the defense way in. You might think that.


On top is where the Houston defense played him in 2011, when he faced Wandy Rodriguez with nobody on. On bottom is where the Houston defense played him this week, when he faced Wandy Rodriguez with nobody on. There’s a little pinching in on the right-field gap, but no significant movement in. For good measure, here’s where they played Hanley Ramirez this week, when Ramirez faced Wandy Rodriguez with nobody on:

Perhaps, after thousands of games, it’s uncomfortable for players and managers to quit treating the other guy as a threat. Wandy Rodriguez, a pitcher I selected because I typed his name 90 seconds ago, is a .139 hitter, homerless in more than 400 plate appearances. Even Wandy Rodriguez gets thrown sliders and curves and changeups. In fact, Wandy Rodriguez has seen fastballs this year as often as Emilio Bonifacio has seen fastballs in his career, about 66 percent each. Pitchers want to get beat because they got beat, not because they underestimated a world-class athlete.

Bonifacio might not be a good player, because of his defense, because of his reckless baserunning, because of his strikeouts. But no matter how weakly he hits the ball, expect pitchers to keep walking him more than you would expect. They’ll keep throwing him sliders. They’ll keep trying to catch the corners. They’ll keep wasting a pitch on 0-2. Emilio Bonifacio is a major-league hitter, after all. Major-league hitters are all dangerous, even if just a little. 

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

Related Content:  Patience,  Emilio Bonifacio,  Juan Pierre,  Power,  Slugging

5 comments have been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Fantasy Article Value Picks: Outfielde... (05/11)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Ev... (05/09)
Next Column >>
Pebble Hunting: The On... (05/14)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Prospectus Game of the... (05/11)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Daily League Strategy: Two Servings of Fland...
Fantasy Article My Model Portfolio: Three-and-a-Half Months ...
Notes About Baseball, 7/22
Premium Article What You Need to Know: Boston Gives 'Em A Li...
Premium Article Minor League Update: Games of Monday, July 2...
Premium Article Moonshot: Accounting for Count
Premium Article Prospects Will Break Your Heart: What Did I ...

MORE FROM MAY 11, 2012
Premium Article Prospectus Game of the Week: A Strange Start...
Fantasy Article Value Picks: Outfielders for 5/11/12
Fantasy Article Weekly Planner: Week Seven
Premium Article Collateral Damage Daily: Friday, May 11
Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: Friday, May 11
What You Need to Know: Friday, May 11
The BP Wayback Machine: Making Waves in the ...

MORE BY SAM MILLER
2012-05-14 - Pebble Hunting: The One They Missed
2012-05-14 - BP Unfiltered: Baseball on the Internet
2012-05-14 - BP Unfiltered: Brandon Morrow and Things Tha...
2012-05-11 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: No Fastballs for Emilio
2012-05-11 - BP Unfiltered: People and Entities Out-Walki...
2012-05-10 - BP Unfiltered: What a Giancarlo Stanton Home...
2012-05-09 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Evolution of a Save Cele...
More...

MORE PEBBLE HUNTING
2012-05-18 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Best Pitches Thrown This...
2012-05-16 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: Kill This Nickname
2012-05-14 - Pebble Hunting: The One They Missed
2012-05-11 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: No Fastballs for Emilio
2012-05-09 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Evolution of a Save Cele...
2012-05-07 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: Sizing up the DiSar Candidat...
2012-05-04 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: When Age 27 Doesn't Work Out
More...