Earlier this year, both Nate Silver and myself posted Unfiltered pieces in regards to Sammy Sosa’s 2007 season. The outcomes ranged from pessimistic to desperately looking for something positive that could happen, but so far it looks as if Sosa has been able to shrug the both of us off and contribute to the Rangers offense.
What I had said earlier in the year in regards to his production can be found below:
If you add in the missing .029 points of BABIP to Sosa’s line, his 2005 was closer to .250/.324/.425, assuming all of the lost hits were singles. This certainly is not incredibly productive by any means, but it’s a bit more aesthetically pleasing than a sub-.300 OBP and sub-.400 SLG. His 2006 PECOTA projection was along the same lines as his expected 2005 line, pegging him for .242/.312/.418. Sosa didn’t play in 2006, so we can’t be too sure of how accurate this projection was, but given his expected production from 2005 it seems very accurate. His 2007 projection (in his 2006 PECOTA card; there is no updated projection for Sosa in the spreadsheet released yesterday) is .238/.305/.420; unless he can bring his line drive percentage back up to pre-2005 levels, that seems about right for Sosa, although playing in Arlington may boost his stats somewhat.
So far he’s ahead of that, hitting .266/.327/.526 for the season. Granted, we’re still on our way to June and nowhere near finished the season, but I’ll admit I’m shocked to see this. What Sosa may have work against him is stamina; we’ll see how his bat holds up through the heat in Texas during July and August given that he hasn’t played a full season in a full years, missing all of 2006 in the process.
I contributed Sosa’s problems to declining bat speed and an increasing groundball rate, as well as fewer line drives than was usual. I failed to mention that his P/PA dropped from 4.0 in 2004 to 3.7 in 2005, which didn’t help his cause. He’s up to 3.8 this year, which isn’t a huge difference. What is important is that he’s increased his line drive rate by 1.8%, and his groundball rate has dropped from 44.5% to 36%; that is significant. This drop is due to the increase in his flyball rate from 39.8% to 46.5%. Toss in the boost in his HR/F from 11.8% to 18.9%, as well as a drop in his infield flies per flyball from 15.1% to 7.5%, and it’s pretty easy to see why his outcomes have been much more positive across the board.
He’s hitting many more balls in the air, and those balls are traveling well. Detailed home run data for 2005 isn’t widely available, but we can see his 2007 numbers thanks to Hit Tracker. Sosa’s homers have an average speed off the bat of 111.6 mph, as well as an average true distance of 409.1 feet. Those are healthy numbers, especially the 441 foot homer he nailed off of Paul Byrd at Jacob Stadium. His power is certainly for real, there’s no real question about that. But what about the rest of his production?
As mentioned in one of the earlier linked pieces, Sosa is a much more effective hitter against southpaws, and his struggles against right-handers conspired to drive his production into the ground. Sosa .271/.381/.457 against lefties during in 2004-2005, but just .229/.294/.454 versus right-handers those same years. That platoon split has benefited him greatly in 2007, with Sosa hitting just .248/.272/.479 against RHP, and .344/.500/.719 against lefties. It will be interesting to see where his triple crown rate stats end up if his numbers against lefties drop closer to his career averages. You may think Sosa has had the benefit of playing in Ameriquest Field, but his home and road numbers will tell you a different story: Sammy has hit just .203/.286/.377 at home, and .321/.367/.655 on the road. Those may even out later, but his overall line probably won’t see much of a difference.
He now stands just two homers shy of 600 career, but I feel the coverage of this is a little thin. Only Henry Aaron (755), Barry Bonds (745), Babe Ruth (714) and Willie Mays (660) have hit that many, leaving Sosa fifth on the all-time list. Ken Griffey Jr. (573) might reach that figure before he retires, but there is no one else close until Alex Rodriguez powers his way up the list. No one has proven anything in regards to Sosa’s past, and he’s now playing in the game with the best PED program, and a game where HGH’s usefulness is overstated. He’s only helping his Hall of Fame case by both delaying his eligibility and improving upon the final images we’ll have of him in a game that’s considered cleaner than the one he initially stepped away from, and as JAWS tells us, he needs the help.
600 homers is historic, and Sosa is coming back from a terrible 2005 and a 2006 season where he was considered to out of shape to play anywhere. I think we owe him more attention than we’re giving him, as baseball fans and as students of the game. I’m waiting until the end of the season to dissect his season as I already mentioned, but for now, I’m going to enjoy seeing a player I grew up watching inch ever closer to a milestone.