Staturday: Daric Barton

I quick little mid-week Staturday for you.

After yesterday's mini-explosion, Daric Barton is hitting .223/.315/.339.  That's pretty much awful for anybody, much less a guy who was talked as a pre-season contender for rookie of the year.  But, as is usually the case for guys who hit this poorly, Barton has run into a little bad luck.  Allow me to explain.

Daric Barton is hitting line drives in 20.2% of the time he puts the ball in play.  Other guys who hit line drives with that kind of frequency are Evan Longoria, Ichiro Suzuki, and Justin Morneau.  Those are good hitters.

Line drives are good; they tend to turn into base hits.  In fact, a decent way to figure what a player's batting average for balls in play (that is, for plate appearances that don't end in a walk, homer, or strikeout) is to take his line drive frequency and add 0.12.  That figure is slightly higher for groundballing speedburners, and slightly lower for flyballing leadfoots, but it's a pretty good guess.

For Barton, you'd guess he'd be hitting .202 + .12 = .322 when he makes non-HR contact.  In reality, that figure is .269.  That's a big discrepancy.  There are a few reasons why this might be:

1. Bad luck - he's hitting line drives where they ain't ain't.

2. Bad scoring - someone is categorizing some of his hits as line drives when they are really soft flyballs.

3. Bad hitting - he's hitting really soft line drives.

Assume, for a moment, that this is due to bad luck.  If his batting average on contact were actualy .322, his batting line would look a lot better.  How much better?

Barton has had 440 PA, 154 of which have resulted in a walk (or HBP), strikeout, or home run (or sac bunt).  So he's made in-play contact in 286 PA. If he were to hit .322 on these balls in play, that would give us 92 non-HR hits.  Add back in his 8 HR, and that's 100 hits.  In 381 at bats,  that puts his batting average at .262.  In 440 PA, and combined with his 50 walks and 2 HBP, that's an OBP of .345.  If ALL of those extra hits were singles - which is a somewhat conservative estimate - then his slugging would jump to .378.

So, if his liners turned into hits like we would expect, Barton would have a line of .262/.345/.378, a .723 OPS and a 98 OPS+.  That would make him clearly worse than only two other hitters on this team, Big Frank and Jack Cust.  He'd be about equal to Ryan Sweeney and Kurt Suzuki.

Barton's not a superstar masquerading as a terrible player due to luck. He'll have to hit a lot better than a .723 OPS to be an asset at first base.  He needs to make contact more often, and he needs to develop more power.

But it isn't a stretch to say that Barton has been roughly a league average hitter running into some bad luck.  If he really is an average hitter at age 22, then he may yet turn in a pretty decent career as an Athletic.

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