I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop.
How does the 25th best prospect in the Tigers organization heading into Spring Training get a call up in late April and then go on a rampage for the next two months, with little sign of slowing down?
I am talking, of course, about Detroit rookie outfielder Brennan Boesch.
It is confounding, I tell you. It is like the 25 year old woke up sometime in February and said “this is my year.” And it has been. Through 15 games and 66 plate appearances at Triple-A Toledo Boesch hit .379/.455/.621, good for an OPS of 1.076 and three home runs. Despite the small sample size, the Tigers liked what they were seeing and brought Boesch to the big leagues on April 23 and he has subsequently hit .332/.380/.602 in with 12 home runs and 45 RBI in 56 games and 229 plate appearances with Detroit.
Yet, this is a career minor league hitter with a .274/.321/.432 slash line who had 51 home runs (though also 25 triples ) in 1811 minor league at bats.
Twenty-five is a good age for young hitters. It is about the time where you know if a player is going to be an actual major leaguer or just a guy who keeps his bags packed – the Quadruple-A variety. His minors slash line, though not overly impressive (pretty near identical to average, actually), does not show a hitter who was in over his head. Yet, there is also nothing there to suggest that the Boesch we have seen so far is the one that will be seen for the rest of his career, let alone his immediate future. Let’s take a look at some splits.
In the minors, Boesch had a ground ball/ line drive/ fly ball percentage (GB/LD/DB) of 48.7/15.3/35.9 with 16.9 percent of those fly balls (FB+LD) coming in the infield. In his short stint in Toledo in April those percentages were skewed as his line drive rate went up while his ground ball and fly ball rate went down at 36.6/34.1/29.3 with none of his fly balls coming in the infield at all. The sample size was so small and he was raking so hard that every ball he hit in the air was finding the outfield. That is simply unsustainable.
Now that he is in the majors, his GB/FB split is .75 with a 20 percent line drive rate and 19 percent of those fly balls in the infield. Yet, his home run rate has gone way up, with 15.4 percent of his fly balls going for home runs, almost twice the league average of 7.1 percent. For context, David Ortiz’s HR/FB rate this year is 19.1 percent but his career average is 13.8, still quite high against the average.
What does this tell us? Foremost, that Boesch has been hot, but any major league pitcher, general manager or astute fantasy player could tell you that. Second, he is outplaying his career norms by a little more than one standard deviation. Third, he has been getting a touch lucky.
When it comes to luck though, Boesch has always seemed to be the beneficiary of good fortune in his professional career. His minor league batting average on balls in play (BABIP, a fair measure of how lucky a hitter is, with any league average around .300) was .316. An impressive number when you consider his 1811 career minor league plate appearances and his almost exact league average of 68 percent balls in play percentage. Though his 58 at bats in the minors this year, his BABIP was .500. So far, his major league BABIP is .379. This just cannot continue.
Then there are the home runs. Boesch is hitting a home run in his rookie season once every 17.6 at bats. That is about double the rate that he hit his 51 home runs in the minors at one per 35.5 at bats. Think of this: the major league average of at bats per home run is 36.6 putting Boesch’s minor league history right in line with major league averages.
Starting to sense a theme here?
I would hope so, because I am laying it on pretty thick. The general conclusion to be made here is that Boesch’s outstanding numbers are unsustainable given his history. At the same time it is hard to say that Boesch will just simply fall off a cliff. He will eventually regress to his means, which are not all that bad. The thing about Boesch’s means are that they are surprisingly close to the average slash line of a major league player. Major league averages tend to fall very close to .265/.325/.414 year after year. Going back to Boesch’s career minor league line of .274/.321/.432 and, what do you know, almost the same.
Boesch reminds me of another young outfielder to come out of the minors and surprise folks with outstanding and surprising hitting before falling back to earth (and staying there) for the rest of his career (so far). That player came out of the minors with 1429 career at bats, 53 home runs and line of .285/.332/.480, a little better than Boesch, but similar. He got called up late in 2005 and hit .300/.336/.549 in 257 at bats with 14 home runs and 45 RBI. Boesch at this point is a little above that level but if he continues his 17.6 at bats per home run, he will be at about the same as that particular hot rookie who everybody thought was going to be a mainstay for years to come.
That 2005 rookie’s name?
Frenchy’s career line after five seasons is .270/.311/.430 and has been a perpetual frustration and disappointment to fans and fantasy leaguers everywhere. So, before you get too high on Boesch, remember that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Dan Rowinski is a Fantasy Baseball Columnist for Rotoinfo.com. If you have any questions or comments feel free to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at Dan_Rowinski.
Image from The Detroit News.