4 Hitters Who Should Bounce Back in 2016
Every year, some players suffer through a let-down season. Usually, these seasons are a product of a declining skill-set. In some instances, however, taking a deeper look at advanced stats will reveal players who were victims of bad luck with injuries or batted balls in play, rather than a decline in skill.
One major sign of an unlucky player is one who posted a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) far below their career mark or below the usual league average of .300. Some players are naturally low-BABIP hitters, such as Brian McCann or Jose Bautista, due to being extreme pull hitters, having low line drive rates, or high infield fly rates. So, a low BABIP isn't always an indication of bad luck, but when examined in conjunction with a player's other peripheral stats, BABIP can often explain a down season.
Below are four players who struggled through brutal 2015 seasons but should be able to return to their former glory in 2016.
Albert Pujols, 1B, Los Angeles Angels
Albert Pujols posted a career low .244 batting average in 2015, which is partially due to a declining skill-set at his advanced age of 36. Some of his decline in batting average can be tied to bad luck as well, though.
Pujols posted the lowest BABIP among qualified hitters, at .217. His career BABIP entering 2015 was .303 and his BABIP in three previous seasons with the Angels was .270, so clearly Pujols got the short end of the stick in 2015.
Despite his struggles in the batting average department, Pujols hit 40 home runs in 2015 -- his highest total since 2010. He also posted his highest walk total since 2012, which helped what would have been a horrendous on-base percentage for his standards. Pujols' 40 homers and 95 RBI were a product of his impressive .236 ISO and 33 percent hard hit rate -- which offers reason for optimism for the slugger entering 2016.
While his strikeout rate did raise slightly from 2014 to 2015, it was not due to lack of plate discipline. Pujols posted his lowest swinging strike rate and swung at the fewest pitches outside the strike zone in his four year tenure with the Angels last season.
If you've forgotten how dominant Pujols can be at the dish, look no further than his 2015 June splits. Pujols displayed his full potential during the month of June, hitting .303 with 13 home runs and 26 RBI.
Assuming his troublesome foot doesn't bother him too much and he gets some better luck on balls in play, Pujols should be expected to post a batting average more in line with his .273 mark in the three previous seasons as a member of the Angels. If the power he displayed last season is legit, Pujols could be in line for a much better year in 2016 than most expect.
Jay Bruce, OF, Cincinnati Reds
Jay Bruce is one of the more puzzling players in the Majors. From 2011 to 2013, Bruce swatted 30-plus homers in each season, while hitting .257 with 305 RBI. Then, entering his 26-year-old season, Bruce's numbers inexplicably fell off a cliff.
Last season, he stepped it up a bit but still hit just .226. His power returned somewhat to the tune of 26 home runs and 87 RBI.
The underlying stats from Bruce's 2015 season line up a lot more similarly with his 2011 to 2013 span than with his dismal 2014 season -- a fact that will go overlooked entering 2016 due to his poor batting average over the past two seasons. A look at his BABIP from those two seasons compared with the rest of his career offers an explanation for his low batting average. In 2014 and 2015, Bruce's BABIP was a measly .260, while his BABIP prior to 2014 was .297.
Here are Bruce's numbers to give you an idea of what his actual skills at the plate looked like last season compared to his career-worst 2014 season and his three year prime from 2011 to 2013.
As you can see, Bruce improved on his walk rate, while cutting down on his strikeouts. He also hit far fewer ground balls than in 2014, instead hitting more fly balls. That, coupled with more hard hit balls, led to his improved power stroke last season. If his home run to fly ball ratio of 13.3 percent from last season normalizes to somewhere near the 17.3 percent mark he attained from 2011 to 2013, it's conceivable that Bruce could return to 30-plus dingers this season.
So, which Bruce should we expect in 2016? The hard-hitting slugger from years past or the more recent version, who can't maintain a batting average above .230? I'd argue that he is still close to the hitter we saw from 2011 to 2013, but perhaps he will continue to experience terrible luck on BABIP. So, if betting on a bounceback, you've gotta ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?
Jayson Werth, OF, Washington Nationals
After averaging 25 home runs, 79 RBI, and 15 steals along with a .280 batting average from 2008 to 2014 (excluding 2012, in which he played just 81 games), it appears Father Time has finally caught up with Jayson Werth. In 2015, Werth dealt with offseason shoulder surgery and a mid-season broken wrist, eventually compiling a career-worst .221 batting average in just 88 games.
Werth's speed likely isn't coming back, due to the combination of injuries and age, but it's realistic to wonder whether he could still put up respectable numbers at the plate if he can remain healthy.
Werth's 2015 batting woes can be tied directly to a career-worst .253 BABIP. Werth's BABIP in the prior seasons was a robust .333, so it's safe to assume that bad luck had something to do with his poor batting average in 2015.
Werth's walk and strikeout rates weren't quite up to his career standards in 2015, but a K% of 22.2 percent and BB% of 10.1 percent are far from concerning. Aside from that, his other advanced stats point towards Werth still possessing the skills necessary to be a solid contributor at the plate.
|Career Prior to 2015||20.8||38.7||40.5||33.9|
As you can see, Werth hit more line drives, fly balls, and had a higher hard hit percentage, all of which point towards a possible power resurgence. With some better luck on injuries and batted balls in play, Werth is a surefire bet to have a better campaign than 2015.
Devin Mesoraco, C, Cincinnati Reds
Devin Mesoraco was a force to be reckoned with at the plate in 2014, swatting 25 long balls and knocking in 80 runs in just 114 games for Cincinnati. If you project that pace out to just a 140-game season, you get 30.7 home runs and 98.3 RBI. The only problem? He's never played 140 games in any season, dating back to 2007 in the Reds minor league system.
Mesoraco again fell victim to injury last season, battling through 51 plate appearances before eventually succumbing to a season-ending hip surgery. He was dealing with the hip injury most of the season, so we can't really take much away from his 2015 stats.
So, let's take a look at his 2014 numbers and try to get an idea of whether or not they are sustainable. His .309 BABIP in 2014 was a career high, but he regularly put up a BABIP of over .300 in the minors. Mesoraco's 23.4 percent strikeout rate is much higher than his career numbers, but is likely part of his power-heavy approach at the plate in 2014. It will be difficult for him to maintain a .273 batting average with such a high K% and fly ball rate, though.
As for his power surge, his 20.5 percent home run to fly ball ratio in 2014 was abnormally high for him but not unheard of in comparison to other elite power hitters. Below are 14 hitters with at least a 20 percent home run to fly ball ratio in 2015, to compare Mesoraco's 2014 ISO, fly ball percentage, pull rate, and hard hit rate, to give you an idea of his power potential.
Based on those numbers, I'd say that Mesoraco's power is legit. He's not likely going to hit for a very high average, but catchers with 30-plus home run potential are rare. If he can stay healthy, it's scary to think what kind of power numbers he could put up playing half of his games at Great American Ball Park.