What's wrong with Andy Dirks?

Andy Dirks had a very good year last year as a semi-platoon player, having a .322/.370/.487 AVG/OBP/SLG, .368 wOBA and 133 wRC+ in 344 PA's. Had Dirks qualified for the batting title, those stats would've made him arguably a top 20 OF in all of baseball. Dirks had some impressive stints in the minor leagues, but nobody was clamoring for him as a top prospect like current top prospect Nick Castellanos. Nevertheless, after his impressive year last year the Tigers fans were expecting to have him fill in the everyday spot at one of the corner OF spots, hit near the bottom of the order, and be able to bring some pop and good plate discipline.

So far, it has been anything but for Andy. He's hitting only .179/.298/.205, with a .243 wOBA and 48 wRC+, stats that would make Adam Everett laugh. While it has been a very minuscule sample size (only 48 PA) the Tigers certainly should expect more production from their #6 hitter. So, being a bit curious about the necks struggles myself, I hopped onto his fangraphs page and browsed some stats to see if he was just suffering some bad luck or if there really was something to cause some concern.

The very first stat I looked at was BABIP. I know most of you already know what this acronym means, but for those that don't, it means Batting Average for Balls in Play. It's a stat that is typically associated with "luck" in either way, since once the ball is off the bat the hitter has no control of where it's going. Last year Dirks had a very high BABIP at .365, which could partially explain why he had such a good year. Conversely, this year it is only at .250 which is low for most hitters that are at least competent with the bat (which Dirks very much is). So maybe we can just attribute these poor first 50 PA to just some bad luck. However, a .250 BABIP I don't feel would cause even that bad of slash lines that he has, so I did some more digging and took a look at Andy's swing stats.

After some quick looks, if there's a "problem" to be found in Dirks, it's that he is being TOO aggressive at the plate. Compared to his first two years where he saw 42.0 and 41.0% strikes at the plate, this year he has only seen 36.9% strikes. His O-Swing % (percentage of pitches swung at outside of the strike zone) is nearly identical to last year, but his Z-Swing % (percentage of pitches swung at inside of the strike zone) is 11% higher than it was last year. While that sounds like a good thing, since you want guys to be swinging at strikes inside of the zone and not chasing anything, the problem lies with the contact he is making inside of the zone. His Z-Contact % (Percentage of times a batter makes contact with the ball when swinging at pitches thrown inside the strike zone) is 10% lower this year compared to last. Likewise, his Contact % (Total percentage of contact made when swinging at all pitches) is about 7% lower compared to last year. If you don't make contact, especially with strikes in the zone, you aren't going to get a lot of hits. That's where I would classify the majority of Dirks' struggles are coming from. Considering he had identical Swing% in 2011 and 2012, I wouldn't worry about that at the moment.

The other glaring stat with Dirks is his Groundball %. Groundballs are balls typically least likely to get through for hits. Dirks has hit a whopping 60% of his balls on the ground, which would've been the 3rd highest % last year, behind only two guys that were leadoff/speed guys (Jeter and Ben Revere). Considering he doesn't have great speed to beat out many infield hits, it's not really surprising he's struggling with that high of a percentage. Once again, we should proceed caution to that stat because of good ol' small sample size. Dirks only had 34 and 38% of his hits be grounders his first two years, so I'm not buying too much into that stat at the moment.

To summarize for those who just skip to the bottom, I'll chalk up Dirks' struggles right now to be a product of a small sample size, but with some cause for concern. He certainly should have that BABIP go up with more contact, but that won't happen unless he gets his Z-contact % closer to his first two years and he puts the ball in the air more. Considering how well the top of the order has been hitting so far, I think it would be wise for Leyland to let Dirks get a string of games together (even if he has to go against lefties which he didn't hit too bad against last year) to try to get out of his funk. Really one good week would get his numbers back close to what the Tigers expected from him. Even with Squiggles hitting well right now as his righty platoon (another case of SSS), if the Tigers really want him to be their LF this year he should be getting consistent at bats for at least a week or two to try to work it out. Don't hit the panic but on him yet and think about Castellnos or Garcia, but should these stats look similar a month from now I would think a change would come.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of the <em>Bless You Boys</em> writing staff.