22 June 2012
I don’t make it any secret that I don’t think Quintin Berry will be much of a major league hitter. I’ve posted to that effect both on this blog and on my Twitter account (be my friend). But these sort of statements have caused a divide among Tigers fans the perhaps rivals that caused by one Charles Brandon Inge.
First of all, let me clear up one thing. Just because I think his success at the plate is due to luck (and won’t continue) doesn’t mean I’m rooting for him to fail. I clapped my hands together (Quintin style) just as hard as anyone when he knocked in the winning run of Thursday’s game, but I’m not going to ignore the numbers and believe that he’s any sort of long-term solution in the outfield. Often times, bloggers such as myself will throw out the term unsustainable BABIP (batting average on balls in play), but we won’t really say why such a number is unsustainable.
Here’s what I mean (I’m sorry if you don’t care for numbers).
So far with the Tigers this year, Quintin Berry has drawn a walk (or been hit by a pitch) in 9.7% of his plate appearances, struck out in 27.2%, and homered in none of them. That means he’s put the ball in play in 63.1% of his plate appearances. 45.3% of these balls in play have fallen for a hit for Berry, so his current on-base percentage is .382 (that’s .453 x .631 + .097, or BABIP x Ball in play percentage + walk rate).
The (qualified) player with the best BABIP of the last 20 years in all of Major League Baseball is actually Austin Jackson, who currently holds a .370 BABIP (John Kruk is second at .361, and Joey Votto is third at .359). So, we can say that Berry is the best contact hitter in at least two decades and call everything good (this is unlikely because he ‘only’ put up a .336 BABIP in the minor leagues), or we could adjust his numbers based on an expected BABIP to predict what his future batting line might look like.
Let’s first suppose his BABIP skill is equal to what we’ve seen from Austin Jackson. Keeping his current BB%, K%, and HR%, his OBP would fall to .330 (that’s .370 x .631 + .097). That OBP is about major league average, which is none too bad, but in order for him to achieve this he would need to match the best BABIP of the last 20 years. This is still an unlikely event.
It’s probably most likely that he would hit similarly to how he hit all along in the minor leagues. His current peripheral rate stats with his minor league BABIP (.336, which is still very good) would yield an OBP of .309. That’s not too good, especially from a guy with no power to speak of.
So, what would Berry need to do in order to gain long-term success?
Option 1: He’s already the best contact hitter in more than a generation.
If this is the case, he needs to do nothing. He will continue to get on base at a good clip, and his speed will major asset on the base paths.
Option 2: Walk more.
This is what we saw from Berry in the minor leagues. He posted a career 11% walk rate which played a significant role in his career .358 BABIP (average walk rates are around eight or nine percent). So far with the Tigers, he’s walked in less than 6% of his plate appearances (although four hit-by-pitches have helped to lift his OBP). Every percent of walk rate translates directly to OBP, so upping his walk rate from 5.8% to 8% would bring his expected OBP from .309 to .331.
Option 3: Strike out less.
Berry has been punched out in more than 27% of his big league plate appearances, a rate that would put him among the league leaders. Every strikeout is a ball not put into play. The fewer balls you put into play, the fewer hits you can accumulate. If we estimate Berry’s true BABIP skill to be around .336 (that was him minor league average), then he would be able to gain about 10 OBP points for every 3% reduction in his strikeout rate. So, if his K-rate fell from 27% to 24%, his expected OBP would jump from about .309 to about .319.
Option 4: Add power.
If you hit the ball far enough, the fielders don’t have an opportunity to catch it. But home run power isn’t likely to develop in the slender Berry at this point in his career. He hit home runs in less than 1% of his plate appearances as a minor league player. He’s unlikely to gain value in the power department.
Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.