by Eno Sarris //
Since the All-Star game, the 37-year-old Hideki Matsui has gone Godzilla on the American League. His .430/.474/.686 line since the break has been as awesome as his .209/.290/.327 work before the break was poor. He has five home runs in 22 games since the break, and had six home runs in 76 games to start the year. Has he found the fountain of youth?
Arbitrary end points are rough. They emphasize a player’s production in a small sample over a random period of time. But obviously Matsui is playing better recently. How could we separate a luck-baced swing from a true resurgence that showed a real change in approach? Mostly, we’ll have to diagnose what was going wrong in the first half compared to the larger sample of his entire career, and then we can see if he’s corrected those things since the break.
We know that power is highly correlated with fly balls. You have to get them up to get them out, as the saying goes. In Matsuis’ three most powerful seasons, his ground ball to fly ball ratio was .997. In his three least powerful seasons, that ratio zoomed up to 1.64. This year, in one of his worst power seasons, he has hit 1.25 ground balls per fly ball. So we’ll want to look at that ratio to see if he’s hitting more fly balls this second half.
Matsui also has a .283 BABIP right now, compared to a career .302 BABIP. So we might have been seeing a BABIP regression since the break. We’ll check for that, but that sort of swing would be less exciting, as it would just mean that most of his recent work was more dinks and dunks falling in.
In the first three months of the season, Matsui averaged a .237 BABIP. Since then, he’s had about a .360 BABIP. In the first three months, he was hitting about 1.26 ground balls per fly ball. In the last month-plus, that ratio has been 1.33. So basically his last month-plus of torrid play has been majorly luck-aided, because he hasn’t changed his approach when it comes to hitting fly balls.
Godzilla is a year older and hitting more ground balls than he did last year. He’s also in a tougher home park. Look at his full-year stats right now and decide if they are interesting. Matsui is much more likely to give you numbers on that scale than the numbers he’s put up for the last month-plus. He’s no longer a city-slayer.
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