George Springer's Home Runs Are Masking Some Concerning Batted-Ball Numbers

Despite homer after homer, it's been a seesaw of a season so far for the Astros' stud leadoff man.

Houston Astros outfielder George Springer kicked off his 2017 season with at least one hit in his first four games of the year.

Three of those hits were in the form of a home run, with one coming in a walk-off effort against the Seattle Mariners a week ago, while the other two were leadoff bombs.

He even had 2 walks in four games and reached base in 7 of 19 plate appearances.

In his next two games, he slowed down in a big way. He struck out twice and reached base just twice on free passes.

Then, another game, another leadoff home run, this time against the Kansas City Royals Sunday afternoon, making it an MLB record three leadoff dingers in seven games. And on the very first pitch of last night's game in Seattle, the 27-year-old again started off the game in what has become true George Springer fashion.

This is poetry in motion, but has Springer's historic home run rampage come at a high cost?

Boom or Bust

Through nine games, FanGraphs shows that Springer's conventional averages are down across the board.

He's hitting .243 with an on-base percentage of .317, which pales in comparison to his marks in the previous two seasons. In 2015 and 2016, Springer had an average of at least .261 and an OBP of .359 or higher.

If we're talking power numbers, it's a totally different story. With all the long balls, Springer's slugging percentage, isolated power, and on-base percentage plus slugging are up in a big way.

George Springer SLG ISO OPS
2015 .459 .183 .826
2016 .457 .196 .815
2017 .676 .432 .993

So he's just swinging for the fences every time up? It doesn't matter if he strikes out or flies out with high frequency? Right?

Springer's ground-ball rate is down less than two percentage points from last year, and he's actually had more non-fly balls (17) than fly balls (11) so maybe not? Wrong. His line-drive rate (14.3%) and ground-ball percentage (46.4%) are down while his fly-ball rate is up (39.3%), which tells us that we would be right to assume so. He ranks 146th among 200 qualified hitters in line-drive rate.

And while Springer has whiffed once a game, his strikeout percentage of 21.4% is actually down from his clips in 2015 (24.2%) and 2016 (23.9%).

What's exactly the issue then? Why are his averages down despite this home run explosion?

No Luck

One quick look at his quality of contact stats and we see that he's had a lot more soft contact thus far in his fourth MLB season.

George Springer Soft% Med% Hard%
2015 19.7% 46.5% 33.8%
2016 19.5% 46.9% 33.6%
2017 32.1% 35.7% 32.1%

At the expense of his medium-contact percentage (and not his hard-hit percentage), Springer has registered a soft-hit ball on over 10% more of his batted balls compared to last season. But this is really all so weird because, on average, Springer has ripped the cover off the ball. He sits 23rd in soft-hit rate (in a bad way) among 200 qualified hitters so far. He's also just 101st in hard-hit rate.

According to Statcast, Springer's average exit velocity of 90.2 miles per hour is 11th among all hitters. He also has two of the league's 12 highest exit velocities and three of the top 22, to boot. In the last two seasons, he's nowhere to be found on either leaderboard.

In actuality, Springer has hit the ball a lot harder and better in his five early-season bombs. In contrast, he's made for an easier out when the ball stays inside the fence, which shows in his batting average on balls in play (BABIP).

2017 BABIP
George Springer .174
League Average .287

As you can see, Springer's BABIP is nowhere near the current league average. In fact, he's more than 100 points off through nine games. It's also important to note that Springer's career BABIP is .317, which is above the league average and even more telling of the negative effect his softer hits have had on his stats.

It remains to be seen whether this is an entirely new approach or just an early-season hot streak from a guy trying to set the league on fire. Nonetheless, it's both alarming and surprising to see Springer hitting the ball way he has.

We'll just have to wait and see whether there will be more of the boom or bust from Springer as the season picks up steam. But, as fans, I'm sure we're all hoping for the former.