Raburn needs to just let it "fly"
March 7, 2013
Ryan Raburn will turn 32 approximately two weeks into the 2013 season. He owns a career batting line of .256/.311/.430, good enough to consider him “Better than available AAA players, but below league average”.
Increasingly popular statistics like WAR and VORP use the notion of a Replacement level player to baseline their statistics. Raburn has been better than the Replacements that those “R’s” stand for, but slightly worse than your everyday MLB regular. He plays many defensive positions, though none of them particularly poorly or well. He has added value on a roster because he can play 1B/2B/3B/LF/RF/CF with startling mediocrity while hitting with equally impressive mediocrity (more information on flexibility value can be found here). His career, as a whole, is nearly the precise definition of league averageness.
What sparked my curiously is Raburn’s complete and utter lack of consistency over the years combined with his complete explosion in 2013 Spring Training. In 2009 and 2010, he was worth approximately 2 Wins a season and hit equally as well as Victor Martinez (though did so in only 700 AB’s, as compared to Victor’s 1200). In short, Ryan Raburn was a very worthwhile hitter in 2009 and 2010.
But Raburn has never been a worthwhile hitter at the Major League level outside of those two seasons. In fact, he has actually been worth negative WAR in his 2004, 2007 and 2012 seasons. He hit rock-bottom last year, posting a .171/.226/.254 batting line in 222 plate appearances for the Tigers. A journeyman entering his mid-30s who fails to play any defensive position very well is another way of describing a player who is about to be let go. To back up this assertion, I give you his career wOBA chart along with a band that represents the range of LgAvg wOBA’s over the course of 2004-12. See how he plays jump-rope with the line?
*wOBA information courtesy of www.fangraphs.com
So, of course, Ryan was let go by the Tigers this past offseason (coinciding with his arbitration-eligibility) and he was simultaneously picked up by the Tribe on a much more team-friendly minor league contract. Despite Francona, Bourn, Swisher, Bauer and Stubbs; this wreaked of behavior that the Indians front-office displays when they go ‘bargain’ hunting.
However, there is something special about Ryan Raburn this spring: predominantly the fact that he is hitting baseballs over fences with great frequency. This got me thinking, maybe the Indians remember back just a couple years ago when Ryan Raburn was hitting baseballs over fences against them with regularity and they figured it was just something he liked doing at Progressive Field, or in front of the Indians’ faithful.
So, I started looking at his performance against Cleveland, and, as the cold-blooded stat-head would have predicted: he has no mythical abilities when he gets to breathe the purified air coming off of Lake Erie. However, one thing that did jump out was his batted ball tendencies. They, like Raburn’s value as a baseball player, are all over the place.
First take a look at his HR/FB% over the years (on the right axis). In years where he has hit at least one homer run, they vary from 2% all the way up to a very respectable 17%:
*HR/FB% information courtesy of www.fangraphs.com
As one would expect, his overall value as a batter almost perfectly coincides with how many home runs he hits. This is intuitive: all things being equal, the more balls I hit over the fence the more valuable I am as a hitter. This HR/FB% is roughly attributed to a player’s “power” that is, we expect Mark Reynolds and Mike Stanton to have HUGE HR/FB%’s, but Mike Stanton is better because he puts the ball in the air more often, whereas Mark Reynolds strikes out more often.
Generally speaking we know this: certain players hit the ball harder than others. Numbers may vary a little, but they should even out over the long-run. Where things really become interesting is when you look at how his “power” almost directly inverse correlates to his GB%.
*GB% information courtesy of www.fangraphs.com
Ryan Raburn’s worst seasons in 2004, 2008 and 2012 have all coincided with his highest GB% and his lowest HR/FB%. This doesn’t just indicate that Raburn is hitting fewer HR’s per year, which is intuitive because GB’s don’t go for HR’s very often. What is interesting is that in those seasons where Raburn hits more GB’s, even his (fewer) FB’s don’t seem to go as far. This does not make sense given an “all things being equal” approach. This indicates to me that Raburn got into bad habits with the mechanics of his swing and his actual skill-level as a batter varied, not just his results.
So, how does this all tie back to the Indians? And as to why one would even bother researching Ryan Raburn’s career batted ball tendencies in the first place? I believe that all Ryan Raburn needs to do to capture some of his old power is simply hit the ball in the air at any cost. Given that he has shown an ability to do it in some seasons, and for one stretch of three years kept his GB% below 40%, it is not unrealistic to hope for him to do it again.
Is Ryan Raburn going to blow up and hit 20 HR’s this year? No, this is not likely, but could he provide good pop off the bench while handling a variety of positions in a utility role? Quite possibly. All he has to do is get out that lob wedge and put a few up in the air. If his past serves as any indication, his value, which is inextricably tied to his power, will return. In the meantime, let’s enjoy Spring Training and hope for the deep fly’s to continue.
a "drug clause" for a player signed to a minor league deal? What evidence do you have that he "juiced" one more time? None, yet you state it as fact even after all the information you recieved in this article.