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Fixing Ben Revere

Posted By Bill Baer On April 23, 2013 @ 7:07 am In MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Sabermetrics | 16 Comments

Ben Revere has had a couple big hits lately — Sunday night’s go-ahead single and Friday’s first-inning triple — but overall, the Phillies’ center fielder has struggled through 20 games. He hit .294 with a paltry .675 OPS with the Twins last year, but those numbers are down to .215 and .494 thus far. Obviously, we’re dealing with a small sample size of 85 plate appearances, so a lot can change over the next five months, and Revere has never exactly been known for his offense.

In looking at Revere’s stats, three things immediately jump out at you:

  • Increased strikeout rate: Revere is your typical “grinder” type of hitter — he sees few pitches, swings and misses rarely, hits a lot of grounders, and doesn’t hit for much power. Think Emilio Bonifacio or Juan Pierre. Revere has struck out at a 14 percent clip this year compared to his rate last year which was below ten percent. In 85 PA, the difference is between three and four strikeouts, but strikeout rate is one of the fastest-stabilizing stats according to Russell Carleton’s research. To be fair, Revere has struck out just once in his last five games, so perhaps it was some early season rust, or something to do with being on a new team and wanting to do too much. Who knows? But still, the elevated strikeout rate stood out.
  • Increased ground ball rate: Revere has put 64 balls in play, 49 of them on the ground. That 77 percent rate is ten percent above his rate last year and nine percent above his career average. The difference accounts for about six balls in play, so it’s nothing huge yet. Ground balls generally go for hits about ten percent more often than fly balls, which leads us to this third item…
  • Lower BABIP: …but Revere is batting just .184 on grounders compared to .258 last year. The difference between the two, with 49 grounders, is 3-4 hits, but an additional four hits instead of outs would bring his overall batting average from .215 to .266. Generally, in such small samples, I discard BABIP variance, but I am not so quick to write it off with Revere since he has so much control over it with his propensity to hit grounders and his speed. His overall BABIP was .325 last year and is just .254 this year. Maybe he’s doing something with his approach…

Last year, Revere had a majority of his success on pitches on the outer-third of the plate as his BABIP was .367. This year, he isn’t having any success on the outer-third as his BABIP is .154. You can see the difference in the following heat maps:

Meanwhile, Revere isn’t having any success on inside pitches unless they’re low and in. His overall BABIP on inside pitches is .313 but his batting average is .217 thanks to seven strikeouts in 24 plate appearances (29 percent). Last year, his overall BABIP on inside pitches was .296 with a .272 average, including 12 strikeouts in 137 PA (nine percent).

Pitchers are approaching him the same way as last year — they challenge him with mostly fastballs over the plate. And Revere is having similar success on fastballs though he is swinging and missing at twice last year’s rate. It’s the soft stuff that is giving Revere fits right now, at least when it comes to putting balls in play. He has an .074 average and .087 BABIP on pitches labeled “soft” compared to .245 and .294 last year. Revere would hit line drives on soft pitches as his rate was 15 percent last year and is only nine percent thus far. Pitchers are also throwing their breaking pitches right over the plate, astonishingly:

Thus, Revere’s two biggest problems are:

  • Swinging and missing too much on fastballs
  • Rolling over on breaking balls for weak grounders, rather than making solid contact and hitting line drives

Identifying the problems are one thing, finding a solution is another. It could be entirely a sample size issue, it could be mechanical, or it could simply be based on Revere’s approach. As the season goes on, Revere’s ability to adjust will tell us if his elite defense and base running are enough to justify keeping his weak bat in the lineup.

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