March 14, 2010

Behind the Numbers: Turning Doubles into Homers

Across leagues everywhere, Billy Butler is being picked in the 7th round of average 12 team drafts, making him the 13th 1B off the board. He is being drafted among the likes Carlos Pena and Derrek Lee. This is a first baseman who slugged only 21 homers, 93 RBIs and hits in the middle of a Royals lineup that is mediocre at best. Well if that's the case, why is he garnering such a high pick then? Well many people have come to the conclusion that young power hitters who have a high number of doubles in a season are destined to turn some of them into home runs as they grow into their big builds. After hitting 51 of them last year, it has become "fact" that Billy is destined to hit a handful more home runs in 2010. To figure out whether or not this assumption is true, I decided to take some recent data (going back to 2003) and see just how the rule of doubles growing into homers has acted over those 6 years. In order to qualify for the study, I wanted the players to be comparable to Butler and thus the player had to:

1.) hit 45+ doubles in a season.
2.) be 28 or younger in the season following the doubles season.
3.) have less than 15 SBs in the doubles season.
4.) play a traditional power position, defined by me as 1B, 3B or OF

Let me explain my rules real quick. #1 is self-explanatory, since that's number we are trying to study, and 45 was an elite doubles level during the period. #2 is to ensure that the player was still maturing as a hitter, and could potentially "grow" into his power. #3 helps to eliminate the guys who got the 2Bs as a result of their ability to leg a long single into a double, rather than the guys just missing a homerun because they didn't make it over the wall. Finally, #4 is probably the most disputable guideline, but I didn't want to clutter up the data with second basemen whose numbers would tell a completely different story due to their position.

After setting these regulations into place, I found 11 cases (5 1B, 5 3B and 1 OF) that fit the bill and compiled their HRs from year to year and their FB/HR% to balance out those hitters who might have had less at bats from one year to the next. With how much hype is surrounding the Royals' slugger, the results of my small study were fairly pedestrian. Overall, the average changes in HRs and HR/FB were +2.18% and +1.26, respectively. If you were to add those numbers to Butler's 2009 totals, you would only get 23-24 homers and a 13.2%. Those numbers are good, but not exactly starting 1B types of numbers, which is how he is being drafted. What surprised me even more was the fact that only 3 players saw an increase of 5 homers or more: Miggy Cabrera in 07, Adrian Gonzalez in 08 and Morneau last year.

So what does this mean for Butler in 2010? Temper your expectations. Sure, the doubles are probably a good indicator for an increase in home runs, but it doesn't necessarily mean that he is going to completely break out. Hell, 3 of the guys even saw decreases in their homer totals after a big doubles year. While Billy could realistically go out and hit 25-27 home runs this year, I wouldn't be banking on it as though its fact. The recent history has shown that doubles can be a very good indicator of a player's future, since the list holds top 3 round names like Cabrera, Teixeira, Holliday and Pujols, but it doesn't always mean that the player is destined for an amazing player right NOW. If you're in a keeper league, I would definitely recommend taking Butler and hoping his career blossoms like these stars, but make sure you stay realistic with just how many of those 51 doubles get over the wall this year.