There have been many impressive offensive feats performed in the last few weeks by the Washington Nationals in the midst of their hot streak, which now has them four and a half game out of the last Wild Card spot, currently held by the Cincinnati Reds. Arguably the most impressive of said feats is the 24 (and counting) game hit streak by center fielder Denard Span, which is good for fourth in Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos history, right behind just-retired Vladimir Guerrero and current teammate Ryan Zimmerman, and has propelled the Nats to a 19-7 record during the streak. Here’s how Span’s streak looks:
Not too shabby, eh? Now, let’s take a walk down (recent) memory lane and take a look at how Span’s production — batting average (BA) and on base plus slugging percentage (OPS) — during his hit streak compares to similar Nats (as in Washington, not Montreal – sorry Canada!) hitting streaks. Moving forward, I am only considering hit streaks of 15 games or more, courtesy of Adam LaRoche, Cristian Guzman, Span, Ian Desmond, HDIB? great Nick Johnson, and Zimmerman:
Not surprisingly, Span’s batting average is reasonably high, with his OPS reasonably low compared to his fellow Nats streakers, which makes sense, given Span’s lack of power and so-so (for a top of the order hitter) on base percentage. Fair enough.
I seem to recall an 18 game hitting streak in there somewhere, in the annals of Washingreal history.
Ahh, yes, F.P. Santangelo told me
many many times over the course of Span’s hitting streak once he had an 18-game hitting streak.
Ribbing aside, let’s take a look at Nats 15+ game hitting streaks — along with Santangelo’s 18-gamer — again by batting average and OPS:
OK, cool — we see some interesting trends here, namely, these guys are going out of their minds not only with their batting averages, but their overall power. Now, let’s break down OPS into its constituent parts — on base percentage (OBP) and slugging percentage (SLG) and add that to AVG and OPS and then look at these streaks in comparison to each player’s career averages for these four stats, yes?
With this, we see that while Santangelo’s hitting streak was impressive, it is definitely the outlier in comparison to the other streaks; his streak production was in such great contrast to what he normally accomplished hitting-wise, even when compared to his fellow streakers. Conversely, Span’s hitting streak, as well as Johnson’s, more closely trend with their career averages.
What does this mean? Probably nothing; while it would be easy to say that the differences between streak averages and career average is some reflection of each player’s inherent hitting talent, that is a bit of a slippery slope and something that the data as presented can’t really speak to. Variables such as opponent defense and even pitching match ups all cloud the data enough to not warrant too many brash statements made about the data here. What is interesting are Zimmerman’s streaks and how he went about each — while some were driven more by his ability to make contact and not much else, others were marked by his ability to generate runs with his swings.
Taking one more step back historically, how does the Washingreal data compare to other teams?
Let me tell you, with the help of Baseball Reference’s Play Index. Looking at the modern era — 1916 to current day — I provide below the number of 15 game or more hitting streaks for each organization. I then averaged them over the years of interest to give an idea how frequently over the franchise’s modern era a big hitting streak occurs:
|Team||Yrs||15+ H Streaks||Strk/Yr|
Not that Span’s streak wasn’t impressive enough, but the data provided, especially the table above, confirms how special the streak is to the organization; these kinds of streaks, while seen more frequently in the last few years, thanks to Zimmerman, haven’t been a hallmark of Washingreal hitters, to say the least. Between that and the context of Span’s streak — in the middle of a wild card run in the waning days of the season — only adds to the enjoyment of the streak and its importance to the success of the Nats’ 2013 season.
The 2013 season has been a lost one for the most part for Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche. Lost, not only from a production perspective, but also when it comes to his weight, as it was brought to light that his medication regimen for his attention deficit disorder has caused a tremendous amount of weight loss in the last month or so, causing him to cut back on his pregame activities in order to save energy.
With the alterations in medication and batting practice routine seems to have come a bit of a power outage for LaRoche — since August 1, ALR has hit four home runs in 130 plate appearances and in general, has produced scant power. In spite of the drop in homer production, LaRoche still appears to be relatively productive — does the sudden weight drop drastically affect LaRoche’s numbers this year, or compared to his previous years averages?
With an assist from Fangraphs, we can find that out. First, two tables. The first looks at ALR’s numbers in August in three different ways — across his career, his career best 2012 season, and this season — the second is the same thing, just for September and October. I picked these due to them roughly paralleling the length of time LaRoche has felt that he was losing weight and possibly energy due to his meds.
Is 2013 such a huge anomaly for LaRoche?
|2012||Aug||8.7 %||14.3 %||18.8 %||0.239||0.691||0.150||0.247||87|
|2013||Aug||12.5 %||20.2 %||27.5 %||0.233||0.737||0.167||0.262||96|
|Career||Aug||9.9 %||21.1 %||19.1 %||0.294||0.891||0.232||0.332||132|
|2012||Sept/Oct||9.8 %||18.7 %||22.7 %||0.324||1.057||0.342||0.333||182|
|2013||Sept/Oct||23.1 %||15.4 %||25.0 %||0.316||0.883||0.105||0.375||153|
|Career||Sept/Oct||8.4 %||24.3 %||23.2 %||0.293||0.888||0.243||0.350||128|
By the looks of it, not really — in fact, ALR appears to be righting the ship, if the handful of Sept/Oct at bats for 2013 are anything to hang your hat on. While the sample size is limited, his 2013 walk rate (BB%), strikeout rate (K%), and batting average on balls in play (BABIP) betters his career and 2012 averages, to name a few. Looking back at the August numbers, while he did definitely a drop in numbers due to the weight loss, it wasn’t anything precipitous.
Looking at the raw data, it nothing really jumps out at you — yes, LaRoche is having a rough stretch, but nothing that hasn’t been seen previously in career. Let’s now look at his productivity with some help from PITCHf/x and Brooks Baseball.
With this first graph, we look at ALR’s plate approach across his career in the hopes of answering whether his recent weight woes has made him change his approach at the plate:
In general, 2013 has seen LaRoche be a little more even keeled with his approach, but as of late, has shown some passiveness, especially with breaking and offspeed pitches. Is this in response to some sort of innate admission that he doesn’t have the energy/power to get to a particular pitch or a part of the strikezone to drive the ball? Or, perhaps it’s a reflection of pitchers pitching him differently, trying to take advantage of a weakness in his approach or swing.
The next two charts can help answer some of this. The first is a look at the percentages of pitches ALR has seen over his ‘career’ by month. I write ‘career’ simply because it only includes seasons where PITCHf/x data were available. With that disclosed, how are pitchers working LaRoche?
There aren’t too many huge trends popping up across LaRoche’s career. However for this season, we do see a good jump in the number of hard pitches — fastballs (twoseam, fourseam, and cut) and sinkers — along with a concomitant drop in breaking pitches in August and September versus earlier months.
How has LaRoche responded? This next chart shows if he is missing pitches via whiff rate:
While he seems to be handling hard stuff just fine and making good contact (low whiff rate), LaRoche does seem to be swinging and missing quite a bit as of late on the increased number of offspeed pitches sees. With the weight loss, he also seems to be whiffing a little more as of late on breaking pitches, but overall, does seem to be doing a decent job of handling the offspeed pitch in 2013. In general, LaRoche does appear to do a better job of connecting with pitches of any type as he ages.
OK, so he’s getting his cuts and save for some rough going with offspeed offerings, is putting the ball in play. Where’s the ball going, now that he’s had to ration his energy and swings?
First, I provide ALR’s spray chart for 2013 up until roughly when he noticed the weight loss — right around August 5th:
…and here’s what he’s done since then, a waist size or two smaller:
It appears he isn’t hitting the ball quite as far as of late, and seems to not be going the other way quite as frequently as he was before the weight loss. Also, it doesn’t appear that he is putting a good swing on breaking pitches in recent weeks and isn’t driving the ball as far as he once was.
Two more hitting charts. These look at ALR’s isolated power, pre- and post- weight loss, as it relates to his zone profile:
Here, we see that LaRoche’s ‘sweet spot’ for generating runs has shrunk as he has — in the last few weeks, if it isn’t in the traditional left-handed hitter’s hit zone of down and in or right down the middle of the plate, he isn’t able to drive the ball and generate some of the much-needed runs that the Nats offense in general has been lacking all season long.
While LaRoche does seem to be pulling out of his slump, what we see is that, while concerning due to where the power outage arose from, a late season drop in productivity isn’t anything new to ALR historically. Beyond that, we see that LaRoche has struggled to maintain his typical power numbers in spite of doing an admirable job of maintaining his approach and not becoming overly aggressive with his swing. Despite the lack of power, LaRoche is still making good, albeit weaker, contact.
With a medication change or tapering of his current dosage, LaRoche should be able to finish the season strong and hopefully give the Nats offense the lift it needs as it continues to knock on the door of a playoff berth.