Brennan Boesch has deservedly been in the headlines lately. First because he could not buy an extra-base hit -- heck he couldn't even get on base. Then because at the snap of a fingers he started hitting.
In fact, Sunday's pinch-hit single was key to the Tigers' comeback.
Tom Gage wrote in the Detroit News today:
"A day [after] Boesch had to be pulled from the starting lineup because of a mildly sprained right ankle transformed itself into one of the more successful moments he's had all season.
"One at-bat, a single - after four hits the first two games against the Reds - and suddenly you're saying, "Hey, maybe," about him."
Over at MLive, Chris Iott also noted the recent successes of the Tigers' right fielder.
Brennan Boesch went 7-for-13 in his past four games with three RBIs and four runs scored after enduring a brutal 2-for-38 slump. Even with a sprained ankle, he turned in a pinch-hit single Sunday against Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman that helped launch the Tigers to a four-run rally that resulted in a 7-6 victory.
Obviously a week like Boesch just had isn't really sustainable, but did he finally turn the corner?
It's impossible to say for certain. This is baseball after all. Narratives are easy to make. This led to this. This game was key. That at bat changed everything. A major turning point happened at X. But when you play 162 games and make 600-700 plate appearances, any number of conflicting narratives can be written. Results are not as easy to predict. But the game isn't just stats. So a little positive momentum is a welcome sight after a lot of negative results.
Boesch had been off his game quite a bit this season. His power hadn't shown up like in past years. His batting average and on-base percentage suffered. He's never been a player to take a surplus of pitches or walks, but he was taking walks at about the same rate as Delmon Young this year. Add it all up and you get a .240 average with .270 on-base percentage and .369 slugging. That's an OPS of .639. Not good, especially for a corner outfielder.
What was wrong with Boesch? Maybe nothing.
"[Y]ou can feel good and not get results. And this game is all about results. I've hit balls hard and have gone 0-for-4. That's why, to me, this game is over-analyzed."
That's a wonderful example of BABIP at work, isn't it? I'm pretty sure I've written similar words on more than one occasion. But I'm going to over-analyze the game anyway, because that's what we do around here.
Boesch's batting average on balls in play is .298 for his career. It's .268 entering play today. Seems like he should be primed for some improvement.
Boesch's line drive, fly balls and ground ball rates are not wonderful, but they are similar to 2010 when his BABIP was .297. He hit .256 with .320 on-base percentage and .416 slugging average that year for an OPS nearly .100 higher than it currently sits. So again, that could be a good sign.
Running things through the xBABIP calculator (from Fangraphs.com) I find:
Uh oh. It looks like Boesch may not be in line for as big of a bounce back as it first appeared. Actually, he looks like the results he's gotten when he puts the ball in play might be a pretty accurate depiction of what you should have expected him to do. His 2010 season was the one out of line, setting up poor expectations.
Looking at Boesch's batted ball splits, we see an even stranger story.
Boesch's uptick during the month of June has actually been accompanied by a lower line drive rate than expected.
Finally, let's look at HR: FB rate. Boesch is a slugger. He's going to put the ball in the seats a fair number of times. That's what the Tigers are looking for.
So after a quick burst of power, Boesch cooled off dramatically in May. He seems to be rebounding in June, but he's still beneath his normal rate.
If past trends continue, this could be a hot month. It could be the weather, it could be National League pitching, it could be a fluke. But in both 2010 and 2011 his HR:FB% was off the charts in June. In 2010, 28.6% of his fly balls left the park. In 2011, 18.8% of his fly balls left the park. He continued his success into July with 17.8%, then suffered his injury in early August.
So, big picture: What should we expect from Boesch? Probably a bit more power. More balls leaving the park will result in better numbers across the board. If ever there was a month you'd expect good things, it's this one. The Tigers need that, too. But I don't think he's been getting exceptionally unlucky.
I think all the offseason talk about Boesch taking the next step was ultimately just trying to create a story line, or maybe just false hope. Hey, there was reason to hope hitting in front of a pair of superstars could get Boesch better pitches to hit. Unfortunately, he just kept swinging at what the pitchers wanted and had nothing to show for it.
He has his uses as a slugger. Just don't expect him to suddenly hit for average or find other ways to get on base. Neither attribute appears to be part of his game.