To say that Logan Forsythe underwhelmed in 2014 is probably a gross understatement with the emphasis on gross. If you clicked the link you saw that Fangraphs had him as a sub-replacement player last year putting up a 90 wRC+ with below average defense. From watching him I thought he was pretty much average with the glove, maybe a touch better showing some inconsistency where one day he would make a really nice play and then not get to that ball the next day. There’s two things about that last sentence that may be important. The first is that he didn’t really “play the next” day all that often because of how he was used and perhaps that led to the second thing, his inconsistency.
Shifting over to the bat I think most folks are aware of the pinch-hit penalty, and are becoming more alert of the times through the order penalty. It’s really tough being a pinch-hitter. You’re coming off the bench with no adrenaline flowing facing a guy that’s most likely been down in the pen throwing his guts out for 5-10 minutes to get his own blood flow coursing. You haven’t seen the guy, because you haven’t seen anyone all game, and you’re asked to come in to what’s usually a high leverage situation and do something positive. It’s really freaking tough, hence the PH penalty. Add in that future playing time may be dependent on these individual plate appearances and it’s not hard to see how the pressure can resemble a starfish on a clamshell.
I bring all this stuff up because there was one stretch during this season where Forsythe swung one of the hottest bats on the team. He approached his ceiling as a tough at bat that can spray the ball and hit with a little power, see if you can find it:
A few things going on here. If you’re familiar with my work you probably recognize that the blue line is basically a projection. This projection uses regressed platoon splits for both the batter and the pitcher, which have been scaled for park, and then the Log5 method outlined by Chris Teeter is used to incorporate the interaction of both players true talent vs. that handedness. If it seems like a mouthful keep in mind that this is something that Ian Malinowski of DRaysBay and myself have been working on for probably about three years now. I have tweaked the matchup tool for this instance to not only show the PH-penalty, but also to incorporate the Times Through The Order Penalty as quantified by MGL.
With the baseline out of the way you’ll see that the red line shows his park-adjusted wOBA with both lines being 50-PA trends over the course of the year. The tool projects that Forsythe would have put up a .298 wOBA while his park-adjusted wOBA was .286 so he disappointed a little bit, but how about that spike in the middle? Even bad hitters get hot for a stretch if given enough plate appearances, but is this something that might stick around next year or just variation over a small sample?
To answer that question I’ve incorporated the green line which corresponds with the secondary axis. What that line shows is the % of PA that were NOT as a pinch-hitter over these 50-PA samples. So this includes when he started and when he got multiple looks off of the bench. Green and red seem to track, especially during his best portion of the year. Now there’s two explanations for this. Either the fact that he wasn’t asked to come off the bench as often led to increased offensive production, or because he was hitting well he was being inserted into the starting lineup more often. Correlation does not equal causation, c’est la vie, but it’s interesting that there does seem to be a relationship here, until the end of the season when increased starting did not help him out of a funk. Let’s take a look at this at the game level through some different component metrics:
Here we’re looking at 10-game trends for BB% and K% and our introduced idea of Start%. Pretty tough to take anything away from that, but BB% seemed to track more closely as evidenced by the 0.45 correlation between that and Start%. K% was not as strong at only 0.14 with Start%. Let’s move on to the triple slash:
Again, difficult to discern signal from noise, but it’s interesting that during the times when he was starting more his power showed a very nice spike, and seemed to do so over the entirety of the season. Here the correlations were much stronger with Start%:
Differentiating the why is beyond the scope of this (meager) analysis, but I’d like to hypothesize that starting more often leads to increased walk rate and more power as compared to being asked to PH often. Perhaps it’s a mental thing where the batter is more relaxed knowing that his playing time is independent of the outcome of this lone PA. Perhaps it’s physical. Seeing more pitches leads to being able to correctly estimate balls and strikes at a higher rate and leads to a better ability to square up a ball. As usual it’s probably a little bit of both, and there’s always the likelihood that there’s nothing here and I’m just matching patterns that have nothing to do with one another. They’re all options, and please feel free to assign your own probabilities to each, but I think that folks are going to judge Logan Forsythe’s 2014 a bit more harshly than they should because they’re not going to incorporate the tough task that was assigned to him.
If/when Ben Zobrist gets traded it is going to lead to more playing time at 2B and I’d expect a dogfight from a number of capable players, each with their own flaws. I’d like to see Logan Forsythe claim that role for his own as a patient hitter with a little pop and nice hands/feet in the field. Now go out and earn it.