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What's Real & What's Not

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Richie Sexson

There's nothing wrong with his peripherals; his strikeouts are right at his career average and his walks are up despite struggling so much at the plate. Digging a little deeper, his 66% contact rate (frequency with which he makes contact when he swings) is virtually identical to 2005's 67%, and his ball in play data is essentially what you'd expect - GB/FB of 1.00, just where it's been for as long as he's been a Mariner. The big problem? Bad luck. Sexson's 14.3% line drive rate is absurdly low and his .154 BABIP is absurdly lower. Sexson's career BABIP has generally been about 100-110 points higher than his LD%, and there's no reason to think that something's suddenly changed. And on top of that, hitters have far less control over whether or not they hit line drives than you'd think, so Sexson's LD% should sway closer to the ~20% league average as the season wears on. That's how these things work. Sexson's still overpaid and overrated, but he's not the godawful hitter he's looked like.

Verdict: Unsustainable

Jose Guillen

Has the look of a guy who's trying to do too much. He's swinging a lot and using a bit of an uppercut, leading to a 1.00 GB/FB that's lower than it was during the solid three-year run that made him a valuable player. He has a low BABIP despite an average line drive rate, which speaks to some bad fortune, but look a little closer and you'll find that his contact rate is at a career low. Guillen's hitting the ball just 72% of the time he swings, way down from his career average of 79%. This is near the border of a statistically significant difference, and it's something that bears watching. If Guillen's going to continue swinging through the ball this often, he's not going to help the team win. Lacking good correlation data for this kind of stuff, I'm going to give Guillen the benefit of the doubt and assume that the contact rate improves over time, but that's just a guess. He might really be this bad (or at least close to it).

Verdict: Unsustainable, but troublesome

Raul Ibanez

On the one hand, we've been saying that he's due to decline for a while, now. On the other, I don't think any of us expected this to happen after the most productive season of Raul's career. While my initial impression was that Raul's bat has gotten slow, the data doesn't bear that out - he's actually making contact more often than he did in 2006. With someone whose bat has noticeably slowed (think Edgar towards the end), the numbers trend the other way. No, instead of a slow bat, I think Raul's problem is that he's getting fed more strikes than he ever has as an everyday player. Pitchers are getting ahead of him more often, forcing him to go to a defensive swing that yields substantially worse results. I don't think this is repeatable. Ibanez will get into better counts as the season wears on, and he'll start making pitchers pay more often as a results. He won't post his 2006 line again, but he'll produce.

Verdict: Unsustainable

Jose Lopez (Note: written before tonight's home run. Yay home runs.)

Pitchers are coming right after Lopez - he's getting 71% strikes against a league average of 62% because the guys on the mound know he's not going to hurt them. Despite a fine line drive rate, Lopez's GB% is among the highest in the league, meaning the most damage he'll be able to cause most of the time is a groundball single to the outfield. If you take a look at the guys who've been able to produce despite high groundball rates (Castillo, Jeter, Roberts, Tejada, etc.), they've done it because they have good eyes, so they know which pitches they can hit and which they can take for a ball. Lopez doesn't. Ever wonder what the opposite of Frank Thomas looks like?

Verdict: Sustainable

Ichiro

It used to be that all of Ichiro's slumps were caused by him slipping into a groundball drought. When he put the ball in the air, he made easy outs. Now, though, things are different, as it appears that Ichiro may be making a transition to that "power swing" we've heard so much about since his arrival. His current contact and groundball rates are career lows, but he's been able to make up for that by dramatically increasing his extra-base hits to 33% (up from 20% career). This could be a statistical fluke, but it could also be that we're witnessing the evolution of one of the most talented pure hitters of a generation. .304/.351/.493 as a Gold Glove-caliber CF? MVP candidate.

Verdict: Sustainable, if Ichiro wants it to be

Adrian Beltre

Pretty much the same guy he was last year, only with a 8.8% line drive rate instead of 21.0%. Part of that's his fault, but most of it's not. He'll be back to .260/.320/.450 by the end of the season.

Verdict: Unsustainable

Kenji Johjima:

Currently sporting the fourth-highest LD% in baseball, more than four standard deviations above the mean. Try again.

Verdict: Unsustainable