Pedro Ciriaco Knows He Can Walk, Right?
Guys who have gotten crap at one point or another this season for their sub-optimal walk rates (league average ~8-9%):
- Adrian Gonzalez: 6.0% this season, 10.7% career
- Will Middlebrooks: 4.5%, 4.5%
- Mike Aviles: 4.1%, 4.1%
- Carl Crawford: 2.0%, 5.3%
Guys who haven’t:
- Pedro Ciriaco – 1.1%, 1.5%
Walks and the ability to draw them have slowly worked their way into the general baseball consciousness. It all started when one day, Brad Pitt decided that the Oakland A’s were buried under fifty feet of crap and needed to do things differently. Maybe that’s not quite how it happened, but the point is this: we (the fans) pay attention to walks now. We criticize players who don’t walk (Mike Aviles), players who stop walking (Adrian Gonzalez) and we regal those who can seemingly work a walk out of any pitcher, even if they can’t do much else (Daniel Nava). All of which makes it all the more surprising that so many have trouble seeing Pedro Ciriaco for what he really is: fools gold.
In 30 games this season, Ciriaco has hit .337 with a .344 on-base percentage (OBP), a good notch above the ~.320-.330 league average OBP. It hasn’t been all singles either. 26.7% of his 30 hits have gone for extra bases, including two triples and one home run. But the walks. Oh, the walks. In 91 plate appearances, he’s drawn just one free pass. Only one major leaguer this season, Oakland’s Josh Donaldson (one walk in 100 plate appearances), has drawn fewer walks per plate appearance (min. 90 PAs).
The ability to draw walks provides something of a production floor. Even if everything else goes to crap and every ball put in play is hit directly at a defender, players who steadily draw walks can count on that floor. For all practical purposes, Ciriaco’s walk rate does not provide that floor (his 3.3% career minor league walk rate isn’t impressive either). His offensive value is far to heavily tied to his batting average on balls in a play (BABIP), which as it current stands (.408), is operating at an unusually high and ultimately unsustainable level.
In the last decade, no player with enough plate appearances to qualify for a batting title has maintained a BABIP over .400. (Andrew McCutchen – .408, has a shot this season). It’s safe to say that Ciriaco’s BABIP will regress and as a result, he will not continue to reach base at his current pace.
|Minor League Average||.317||.268|
|w/ Aybar Lifetime||.305||.258|
|2012 League Average||.296||.251|
So what can we expect going forward? To try to get an idea, I recalculated Ciriaco’s on-base percentage using his 2012 walk and strikeout rates along with a few alternative BABIPs.**
Using Ciriaco’s career minor league BABIP, we get a projected OBP of .268. Given the improved pitching and defense at the major league level, this would appear to be Ciriaco’s ceiling going forward.
The second BABIP is that of Angel’s shortstop Erick Aybar, a similarly speedy player who has hit ground balls to balls in the air at nearly the same career rate (.99) as Ciriaco (.98). Ground balls go for hits more frequently than fly balls and quicker players are more likely to beat out a close play at first base. Both of these factors allow for more hits and thus a higher batting average on balls in play. Additionally, players are right-handed middle infielders, cut from a similar build, though Aybar is two years older.
I’m uncomfortable though with the idea that Ciriaco, baring some yet to be explained change, is now as talented as Aybar. While Aybar first received steady playing time in the major leagues when he was 23, Ciriaco, at that age, was batting a middling .296/.319/.367 at Double A Mobile.
Finally, we have Ciriaco’s OBP if the league average BABIP is substituted. Some concerns: the league average bat is likely better than Ciriaco’s, however, the league average speed to first base is not. Additionally, major leagues players are generally expected to generate a certain number of extra base hits (something we aren’t looking at here), which may or may not correlate with a player’s ability to hit their way on base (what we are looking at). From a very high level judge of talent though, it may work as a non-absolute floor for Ciriaco’s BABIP.
Unfortunately, none of the three outcomes suggest that Ciriaco will be anything greater going forward than the fringe minor leaguer he has been the last few years. The most optimistic scenario (using Ciriaco’s career minor league BABIP), suggests an OBP going forward of .268. To date this season, 277 players have made at least 200 plate appearances. Just 12, or 4%, have done so with an OBP less than or equal to .268.
In order for Ciriaco’s on-base percentage to remain respectable (if not still heavily regressed from where it is currently), he needs to start drawing more walks. If he cannot improve his walk rates, it can be reasonably expected that his on-base percentage will suffer heavily as the season comes to an end.
**Note: This approach is not flawless. The goal is to get a roundabout idea of the level of production to be expected of Ciriaco going forward, not to predict it down to the thousandth decimal. An xBABIP, or expected BABIP, model could also be used, however, they require line drive/fly ball data. Studies have found significant biases within publicly available line drive/fly ball data.