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Kirk’s Big Spring March 20, 2015

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball, Economics.
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Kirk Nieuwenhuis is having an incredible spring. All the usual caveats are in play – it’s spring training, so the stats are useless – but Kirk’s production has been exceptional. His slash line is .469/.553/.625 on 38 plate appearances. Let’s hit some sanity checks on Kirk’s production.

First of all, his BAbip is off the charts. This spring, Kirk’s batting average on balls in play is .536, which is ridiculously high. Kirk won’t be able to maintain that into the season. If he’s still got a .536 OBP by the trade deadline, I’ll eat my hat and post the video. Kirk’s BAbip has been pretty streaky, though. During his rough April, Kirk had a .300 BAbip, about the league average over the season; after coming back up in late June, he had a .377 BAbip over the remainder of the season, broken up as .625 over five June games with 11 at-bats, .267 over 28 at-bats in July, .400 over 23 August at-bats, and .348 over 32 at-bats in September.

From 2012 to 2013, Kirk’s BAbip dropped from about .379 to .246, and then shot back up to .370 in 2014. Using those numbers and taking first differences, then using the ratio of differences, that means we’d expect Kirk’s BAbip to drop to about .254 this season. Nonetheless, Kirk’s platoon splits are huge – against right-handed pitchers, from 2014, he’s got a .040/.050/.283 split (although he only made 9 at-bats and 10 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers). Though Kirk’s splits aren’t readily available, it’s possible that his big spring is residual of facing mostly right-handers.

In the spring, Kirk’s BAbip denominator (AB – HR – K – SF) is 28 and the numerator (H – HR) is 15. If we take Kirk’s previous-year .377 BAbip, over 28 trials we’d expect 15 or more successes to occur about 2.86% of the time. That’s just barely within the bounds of statistical significance (which would indicate we’d expect Kirk to hit between 6 and 15 times about 95% of the time), and well outside if we assume Kirk has a true mean of .254 (which would put our confidence interval at around 3-11 successes in 28 trials).

Second, take a look at Kirk’s K/BB ratio. Kirk has typically had a strikeout-to-walk ratio above 1; in 2013, he struck out about 2.67 times for every time he walked, and in 2014 it was about 2.44 strikeouts per walk. Over this small spring sample size, Kirk’s K/BB has actually dipped below 1, at 4/6 (or .667). Assuming Kirk walked 6 times anyway, using a conservative 2:1 K/BB ratio would turn 8 of Kirk’s hits into strikeouts. That would make Kirk’s BAbip tighten up to .350. Still strong, but not the obscene .536 we’ve seen. Even if we convert one walk to a strikeout and maintain a 2 K/BB, that would leave Kirk at .409, a very respectable spring.

Kirk’s numbers have been shocking, and of course he’s out of options, so he’s extremely likely to make the team. As a left-handed bat, he’d be a strong everyday player if the outfield weren’t so crowded, but with Michael Cuddyer and Juan Lagares in the mix already along with lefties Curtis Granderson and Matt den Dekker, it’s going to be tough to find Kirk a clean platoon spot.

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