At some point during the baseball season, Dennis Green peaks his head in and lets us know that the players were, as we suspected, who we thought they were. That time isn't quite here, though. With just a quarter of the season gone, one bad stretch can affect a player's numbers and skew what may be an otherwise attractive line. With that in mind, lets take a look at a few numbers being posted by different St. Louis Cardinals and try to assign some meaning to them.
Adam Wainwright's 18.9% HR/FB rate.
Dan touched on some of Wainwright's peripherals in a previous post, but I wanted to focus more on this number in particular. It's easily the highest of his career; in fact, it's more than double the next-highest, the 8.5 percent he posted in 2008. His 8.1 percent rate for his career is a bit lower than league average, but nothing unsustainable or due for a large amount of regression. There's little reason to believe this is what we should come to expect from Wainwright going forward.
The good news is that Wainwright may already have put those struggles in the rearview window. Of his seven home runs allowed this year, five came in his first 13.2 innings of the season. In his last 39 innings he's allowed just two, both of which came in in one game at the beginning of May. Whatever issues Wainwright was having with the longball, he seems to have gotten them straightened out recently.
David Freese's .299 BABIP.
For most, a .299 BABIP is business as usual. But for Freese it's a slump. Freese has a career BABIP of .353 and hasn't posted a number lower than .345 at any stop in his career where he's logged more than 200 plate appearances. Math and years of research say such a high BABIP is unsustainable, but his background argues he might be an exception to the rule.
The point of highlighting this statistic isn't to argue he's finally going to return to earth. On the contrary, it's noteworthy because history suggests this trend won't continue.
There's a chance David Freese is the luckiest player on earth. But there's a better chance that Freese's approach and ability lend themselves to an unusually high BABIP. Freese is constanly lauded for an approach that focuses on hitting to the opposite field as opposed to trying to pull everything. The result is more hard-hit balls to right field and fewer ground balls to the shortstop. It's no coincidence that notorious opposite-field hitters Ichiro Suzuki and Derek Jeter rank near the top of career BABIP leaders. In that same vein, Freese's success isn't completely surprising.
Freese's recent struggles can be attributed to two factors. This season, Freese has a line drive rate of 20 percent, a number that would represent his lowest rate in his three professional seasons. On the flip side, his 34.3 percent fly ball rate is higher than either of his previous two seasons. Together, the two trends have helped contribute to Freese's pedestrian .259 batting average through May 22. (His 24.8 percent strikeout rate doesn't help, either.) Once he returns to what made him such an effective hitter, his above-average BABIP will return as well.
Tyler Greene's .229 ISO.
Isolated power is, simply put, a measure of a player's propensity for getting extra-base hits. Like batting average, the higher the ISO the better. According to FanGraphs, an ISO of .145 is average, .200 is great and .100 is poor. Now, Greene's .229 ISO on the young season is probably not indicative of how he will perform the rest of the season - only four full-time second basemen posted an ISO over .200 in 2011, and putting Greene in that class after a month and a half would be presumptuous at best - but Greene has posted ISOs of .191, .172 and .256 in his last three years at AAA Memphis. While he shouldn't be expected to produce at an All-Star level, he's not incapable of collecting his fair share of extra-base hits, either.
And that's enough to deserve the bulk of the playing time at second base. For contrast, Greene's main competition for the job, Skip Schumaker, has a lifetime ISO of .089. (Remember the scale? An ISO of .080 is "awful.") Schumaker's never posted an ISO above .104 in a full season. Second base may once have been a position from which little offensive production was expected, but those days are over. Today, the ability to produce runs is, if not a must-have, at least very highly valued from the keystone.
Say what you will about Greene's high strikeout rate, but he's the only second base option on the roster with the ability to produce a game like he had against the Padres Monday. And there's something to be said for that.