Grady Hitting Like a Lady

OK, so that is a harsh title, but anyone who owned Grady Sizemore in 2009 is probably not offended.  Even before an elbow injury ended his season, Sizemore was struggling to hit for AVG and power on his way to the worst season of his young career.  As a result we now have a three-year regression in AVG from Sizemore after he hit .290 in 2006.  Why isn’t he getting better?  Will his AVG ever climb back up and make him the superstar we all thought he would be? 
 

There are a couple of reasons I can think of as to why we have seen Sizemore’s AVG dip for three straight seasons.  Along with his AVG, his BABIP has also taken a nosedive.  Given that his BB/K rate hasn’t changed much, it must be in how the ball is coming off the bat.  My first thoughts were about his line drive rate and the direction in which he hits the ball.  below is a chart that shows how in each of the last three seasons Sizemore has put fewer balls in play that were considered line drives.

 

Season

LD%

BABIP

AVG

2007

20.7

0.334

0.277

2008

19.4

0.291

0.268

2009

16.3

0.276

0.248

 
Since a line drive is more likely to become a hit than a ground ball or fly ball it is safe to say that the lack of liners has affected how his balls in play turned into hits or outs.  In this case fewer line drives equaled more outs.
 
Then there is the issue of where Sizemore’s hits go as in pulled, middle or opposite field.  I remember hearing or reading last season that Sizemore had become “pull-happy”.  If a player gets too ”pull-happy” that player tends to roll over outside pitches, which results in a weakly hit ground to the pull side.  So did Sizemore get “pull-happy”?
 

Season

Pull%

Middle%

Oppo%

2007

31%

53%

16%

2008

35%

49%

16%

2009

29%

52%

19%

 
These percentages include home runs, which are not in play, and any at bats in which he saw a result from a non-foul-territory ball in play.  The results are actually not what I expected.  I thought that the data would show Sizemore pulling the ball more each year.  Instead it shows that in his 2009 season, the season that resulted in his lowest AVG of the three years, he actually used more of the field than he had in the three seasons prior. 
 
Taking into consideration the fact that Sizemore was not more “pull-happy” than he had been in the past, it would seem like the only reasonable explanation for his drop in line drives was the elbow injury that lingered through his 2009 season until it forced him off the field.  The 16.3 percent line drive rate in 2009 is by far the lowest of his career and perhaps will end up as the outlier when all is said and done. 
 
This is great news for Sizemore owners in keeper leagues as long as reports continue to be positive about his health entering 2010.  It also means that 2009 should have ZERO bearing on 2010 as far as projections are concerned. 
 
Sizemore still may not hit .290-.300, but his floor should be .270 with potential to easily reach .280-.285 with a BABIP closer to what he had produced in 2007 and prior.  Don’t be afraid of Grady’s AVG and don’t be afraid to use a second round pick on him in 2010.
 
Thanks to MDS for the comment that sparked this article.
 
Balls in play data from baseball-reference.com