Is Right-Handed Power the Next “Moneyball Thing”?

Rogers_Hornsby_1928

Rogers Hornsby was the first right-handed slugger, with 42 homers in 1922

== Sports Illustrated thinks so ==

I’ve been meaning to get to this for awhile.

In its baseball preview issue, Sports Illustrated focused on several categories that were “hard to find.”  One of them: right-handed slugger.

Lucky for us, the story is online right here.

Part of the focus is on Mark Trumbo, whom the Diamondbacks just acquired at non-insignificant cost.

Trumbo, clearly, is the classic one-dimensional slugger, as you can see in his rate stats:

HR% SO% BB% XBH%
5 Yrs 5.3% 25.1% 6.2% 9.9%
MLB Averages 2.5% 19.3% 8.1% 7.5%
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/30/2014.

***

All of which produced a slash line of .248/.297/.471.

Or there’s Nelson Cruz, who probably would have gotten a fat deal if not for his PED suspension:

HR% SO% BB% XBH%
10 Yrs 5.0% 22.3% 8.0% 10.6%
MLB Averages 2.6% 18.1% 8.4% 7.8%
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/30/2014.

***

Cruz has better plate skills than Trumbo, so his line looks a bit more shiny: .268/.329/.498.

For whatever reason, the article does not mention Giancarlo Stanton, the sluggy-est right-handed slugger of them all at the moment.  He is in constant demand in the trade-rumor world.

HR% SO% BB% XBH%
5 Yrs 5.9% 28.6% 11.1% 11.6%
MLB Averages 2.5% 19.3% 8.1% 7.5%
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/30/2014.

***

Stanton walks the most, but also whiffs the most.  His line is .266/.353/.537.

===

And why are these kind of guys “hot” right now?

SI points out:

  • The average SLG for right-handed hitters in the majors in 2013 was .394.  Lowest since 1992.  So these guys are slapping on 100 points of ISO regardless of what they do in the other parts of the slash line.  That will change the scoreboard.
  • Pitching is on the rise, for various reasons, including improved health (where is Stephen Strasburg without Tommy John?) and more stud athletes being drawn to the radar gun.
  • Hitting is on the decline, for various reasons, including drug testing and youth and college coaches deemphasizing power (witness: Austin Wilson at Stanford, which we’ll get to).
  • Right-handed power, in fact, was always rare … until the steroid era.  And it is rare again.  Here’s a little chart:
Era Avg. # of RH hitters w/40 or more HR per year
1920-1994 3.0
1995-2003 7.0
2004-2013 2.4

So there is value in right-handed power.  And the Mariners crew seems to be on board.  That’s the next topic.

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