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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: April 18-24

As you might expect, most of the game's hottest hitters at this point in the season still have comically-inflated BABIPs.  (Case in point: Chase Utley's unreal .475 BABIP.)  A few of these top bats, however, have yet to be kissed by the BABIP cherubs, which could be a hint that their strong starts are a little more sustainable.  Let's dip into their advanced metrics to see what's up....

* Joey BatmanJose Bautista's emergence as a major power hitter has come with little-to-no help from BABIP.  The Toronto slugger has only a .256 BABIP since the start of the 2010 season, and even that modest figure was boosted by a .309 mark in 2011.  Bautista only has a .226 BABIP so far this year but it hasn't impacted his hitting, as he carried five homers (tied for the AL lead) and a .267.459/.644 line into Thursday's action.

Since BABIP isn't really a factor in his production, Bautista's other metrics suggest that his early-season success has been due to a) pitchers not giving him anything to hit, and b) Bautista crushing it out of the park on the rare occasions when he does see some good pitches.  His 29.4% home run rate is obviously unsustainable and will drop, and you'd suspect the same will happen to Bautista's 26.2% walk rate, which is almost double his career average and six percent higher than his previous single-season high. 

That said, Bautista is only swinging at 18.1% of pitches outside the strike zone, which is a notable drop from his 24.4% mark from 2010-13.  A little more patience at the plate makes Joey Bats all the more dangerous. If Bautista's walk rate settles even halfway between 26.2% and the 13.1% from last year, that's still a big increase in his offensive value and, fantasy-wise, it would lead to more runs scored due to greater on-base numbers.

Though this is Bautista's age-33 season, nobody really doubted that he would still be a premier hitter as long as he could stay healthy, so the jury is still out on whether Bautista can avoid the knocks that led him to miss 114 games in 2012-13.  The injury bug is still the only major red flag on Bautista since otherwise, his bat looks as strong as ever, and the extra walks are a good sign.

* Zobocop.  I've long been Roto Authority's most ardent Ben Zobrist supporter, so I was more than a little concerned when Zobrist's power fell off a cliff in 2013.  The pop has returned thus far in 2014, as Zobrist is slugging .472 and already has three dingers (after hitting just 12 all of last season).

So all is good, right?  Well, not exactly.  Zobrist's 17.6% homer rate is well above his 10.7% career average, so that's going to dip a little.  What's more troubling is that Zobrist's line drive rate is 10.9%, while his ground ball rate is 52.2% --- both numbers represent around a nine-percent dip and rise, respectively, from his 2013 rates.  His infield fly ball rate is also up to 17.6%, about a nine-percent increase over his career average.

So essentially, Zobrist isn't the hitting the ball as hard and most of the time, he's hitting it either on the ground or popping it up.  Since his BABIP is only .279, it's not like a lot of these grounders are getting through, either.  (His batting average is .283.)  It's kind of a weird collection of stats for Zobrist and it seems like his offensive production thus far is being mostly carried by that inflated home run rate and a 15.6% walk rate, which would be a career-best if sustained.  I'd keep as eye on Zobrist since, if his peripherals don't normalize, they could portent a more significant problem than just a loss of power.  Still too early to think about trading or releasing him from your fantasy roster, obviously, but still, have an eye.

 * Commissioner Gordon.  Finally, we'll look at a player who isn't off to a good start.  There's no truth to the rumor that Alex Gordon's 2014 season is being sponsored by Del Monte, since Gordon has done little more than produce cans of corn since Opening Day.  Gordon took an even-steven 50% fly ball rate into Thursday's action, which isn't necessarily a bad thing...but when only 4.8% of those flies are leaving the yard, there's a problem. 

Curiously, in other aspects of hitting, Gordon has never been better.  He's drastically cut back on his strikeouts, he's making contact on a whopping 96.7% of pitches within the strike zone and he's on pace for the best overall contact rate (86.2%) of his career.  A .268 BABIP could be partially to blame, though with just an 11.9% line drive rate, it's not like Gordon is hitting the ball with much authority.  You could chalk it up to the team-wide power malaise that has struck the Royals in the early going, or maybe Gordon needs another visit from George Brett to get his hitting back on track.  It's not like Brett is busy posing with pop stars or anyth....oh wait...  




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