WASHINGTON D.C., May 1st – Kosuke Fukudome loves April. The Cubs outfielder has hit over a third of his homers, rung up an amazing walk rate, and recorded the best OPS and wOBA scores of his career, all in the season’s first month. His extrapolated April line reads, .335/.446/.558, with a .223 ISO, and .a 426 wOBA to boot. For the rest of the season, that boils down to .243/.350/.374, a .131 ISO, and a presumably less than stellar wOBA. No wonder Cubs fans call for his head every year. But after two years of this remarkable break down, is it bad luck, or do pitchers just take a month to adjust to him?
The optimal data to analyze would be a breakdown of pitch types thrown to him by month, data which is not available outside of Pitch f/x, which I can’t read. (Anyway, the one database I occasionally can use, won’t load right now, so I guess it doesn’t matter.) The closest to pitch type analysis we can get is to do three things: use the yearly pitch distribution figures, use pitch type values, and analyze batted ball splits.
The first idea, looking at pitch distribution, doesn’t reveal much. Fukudome appears to have a pretty normal pitch distribution, 59% fastball, 13% slider, 12% changeup, and 9% curveball.
Moving on to pitch type values, Fukudome is +4.7 runs against the fastball, +1.6 against the slider, a fantastic +9.9 against the change, and only below average, -2.3 runs, against the curve, a pitch he doesn’t see all that often.
So far, Fukudome’s performance seem to be mainly luck, as it is unlikely that the pitch are so skewed that pitchers throw him all fastballs in April, and no high heat from May onwards. Fukudome’s reputation as a patient hitter confirms this, he works a lot of counts so that he has to be thrown a fastball.
At last, we go to batted ball splits. We’re looking for three things, fluctuating line drive rates, fluctuating groundball/flyball breakdowns, an unsustainable high or low HR/FB rates. Fukudome’s line drive rates are very consistent by month, never deviating more than 1.85% from their mean of 21.15%. His GB/FB breakdown switches off between groundball heavy and flyball heavy months, but not along any clear offensive pattern.
The last things to check are the HR/FB rates, and BABIP numbers. At last we hit pay dirt. When Fukudome’s HR/FB rates are at unsustainably high levels, he tears up pitchers (April), or is shut down (September), when he plays near the league 8% average, he’s the high on-base, moderate power player who isn’t isolated as one, because his inflated numbers are plummeting, while he plays at his true talent level. The exact same holds true for his BABIP numbers.
In conclusion Kosuke’s numbers seem to hold true with those of the average players. But thanks to a couple wildly changing aspects of his game, his true talent level of a .280/.390/.430 player is often hidden, It’s easy to ridicule him for his perceived “slumps”, but in reality, those “slumps” show his true form as a quality bat.
Photo credit: rpongsaj
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