FanPost

Brett Wallace's First Half In Review: Has his confidence been damaged?

 

Brett_wallace_milwaukee_brewers_v_houston_opug1-5rcull_medium

via www2.pictures.zimbio.com


 

For baseball fans, the beginning of a fresh season is supposed to bring the excitement of a blank slate. October is so far away that fans can afford to be optimistic, if often somewhat cautiously. Given the length of the season and the year-to-year volatility of many players, expectations can fluctuate wildly based on spring training success and organizational votes of confidence.  To put it lightly, the Houston Astros did not enter the season with high expectations after almost-fully committing to rebuilding by trading away franchise icons Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt. The roster was filled with inexperienced and mediocre-to-bad players. Despite last year’s excellent second half and Ed Wade’s best attempts to beef up the middle infield, expectations for the 2011 Astros did not fluctuate wildly. If they differed at all, the discussions most likely gravitated around just how bad they would be.

And so the 2011 season began. Rebuilding teams like this one are usually not fun to watch, often requiring a relatively rare level of dedicated fandom. To make a bad situation worse, the farm system had been neglected for so long that the MLB team displayed a dearth of young talent, something Jason Castro’s year ending injury did nothing to remedy.  As fans, much of our hope for the future rode on the shoulders of players like Castro, Chris Johnson, and Brett Wallace. With Johnson struggling mightily through the beginning of the season, Wallace alone bore the burden of providing a glitter of hope for the future of the Astros.

After a hot spring training, Wallace delivered in April to the tune of a .388/.458/.529 batting line. But in early May Wallace began to stumble, breaking his lucky bat and entering a relative nosedive. His final line in May came to .250/.317/.402, although he did belt 3 homers. As the season has worn on into late July, Wallace has not rebounded and his numbers have continued to decline. Also, and much to the chagrin of myself and many other fans, Wallace has been kept out of the lineup against many of the left handed starters the team has faced. Along with his declining numbers Wallace has experienced a decrease in playing time. While the team claims that this was the plan all along, the confidence of a young player can be a very delicate thing and many followers of the organization feel that Wallace has been mishandled. While Brett himself appears to be a fairly level-headed guy, I don’t doubt that this type of treatment would bother any player. The question I want to examine in this post is whether Wallace’s confidence has been damaged by his handling and whether his offensive output has suffered as a result.

One interesting chart I thought to throw together is a breakdown of the players in the first months of the season whose best monthly batting average (.350 or higher) exceeded their season average by more than a hundred points. Wallace fits into that category, but he is not alone (and in fact is joined by another familiar name):

 

 

    AVG (Month)

  AVG (YR)

 Difference

Wallace

April

0.388

0.280

-0.108

Lance Berkman

April

0.393

0.286

-0.107

Placido Polanco

April

0.398

0.274

-0.124

Matt Joyce

May

0.414

0.292

-0.122

Brendan Ryan

May

0.384

0.254

-0.130

A month is an admittedly arbitrary time period selection, but I think this is an interesting look at how relatively infrequent it is to have a one month outlier so far above a season line. Also, batting average alone is not a great indicator of a batter’s performance, so the relevance of these numbers is limited.

But let’s bring on some more charts! I’ll start with a month by month breakdown of some of Wallace’s key stats through today’s game. The first three categories are the Astros’ games, the games in which Wallace has appeared (even just as a "defensive" replacement), and the games in which he started. As you can see, Wallace has started 80 out of the 98 games played this year (roughly 83%), but his playing time has taken a much larger hit in recent weeks.

Month

G (Astros)

G (Wallace)

Starts

AB

H

XBH

HR

BB

SO

AVG

wOBA

April

27

26

24

85

33

10

1

10

16

.388

.430

May

28

28

24

92

23

8

3

9

24

.250

.310

June

27

25

22

74

17

5

0

15

24

.230

.299

July

16

14

11

45

10

3

0

0

14

.222

.224

Total

98

93

81

296

83

26

4

34

78

.280

.333

 For reference, a good wOBA is roughly similar to a good OBP

In May, Wallace put up a mediocre BB/SO ratio but slugged 3 home runs. In June he only collected 5 extra base hits but his BB/SO ratio improved to 15/24. Despite these positive signs, Wallace only really put it all together in April. In July, the month in which he has had the least amount of relative playing time; Wallace has just 3 XBH and has yet to walk against 14 strikeouts. To put it simply, Wallace has been only a step above Chone Figgins territory- very bad. But does confidence have something to do with Wallace’s recent struggles?

Measuring pressure situations in baseball and "clutch" hitting is certainly an inexact science. For the purposes of this article, I borrowed some splits from Fangraphs and did a little number crunching of my own to get a better idea of how Wallace’s season has played out.

First up are the Fangraphs numbers:

AB

H

HR

BB

SO

AVG

wOBA

Low Leverage

138

32

1

11

39

.232

.276

Med. Leverage

129

46

3

17

28

.357

.413

High Leverage

26

4

0

6

9

.154

.204

Bases Empty

175

56

4

17

45

.320

.384

Men on Base

118

26

0

17

31

.220

.257

RISP

69

14

0

11

14

.203

.232

The bottom 3 rows are self-explanatory, but the first triplet beg some explanation. Fangraphs attributes the leverage index numbers to Inside the Book. Here is their explanation of "clutch." From their site:

 

We'll define a high-pressure situation as one in which runs are needed in the very near future but the game is not yet out of hand: i.e., any plate appearance in the eighth inning or later in which the batting team is trailing by one, two, or three runs. Again, there really is no perfect definition of a "clutch" or high-pressure situation, but this will do just fine for our analysis. All other PA will be classified as "non-clutch."

So there at least is a basic frame of reference for the leverage numbers above. As vindicated by his low RBI total, Wallace has hit quite poorly in high leverage situations and with runners in scoring position. Interestingly, his best performance has come in medium-leverage situations. Also, his walk rate is far better in medium and high leverage moments as well as with runners on. Taken all together, this data suggests to me a player who is confident enough in his own abilities that he can be patient and provide good at-bats in high pressure situations. While there is arguably plenty of evidence of pressing and anxiety in important situations, that is to be expected of a young player in his first full season, in my mind, and I expect it to average out somewhat in the long run. But other opinions are certainly valid here, so make of it what you will. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find monthly splits of these numbers, so it is hard to get a sense of the progression through the season.

Lastly, I dug through game logs and splits to come up with a list of the days Wallace either sat out or did not start. 

Not in Game

Not Starting

Not Starting

24-Apr

12-Apr

1-Jun

11-Jun

17-Apr

8-Jun

30-Jun

6-May

28-Jun

2-Jul

15-May

4-Jul

18-Jul

20-May

7-Jul

 

23-May

16-Jul

That is a fair amount of games for a regular even accounting for regular rest days. As you can see, Wallace has been left out of the lineup 17 times overall, but 5 times already in July (which also includes the All Star break.  I went through each of these games and looked at Wallace’s next 3 games after returning to the starting lineup. Here are the stats for those games. There was some overlap when Wallace’s off days were close together, so I have denoted any departure from the 3 game criterion in the rightmost column

 

AB

H

BB

SO

 

12-Apr

10

4

2

2

 

17-Apr

12

5

0

1

 

24-Apr

12

8

1

2

 

6-May

10

1

1

1

 

15-May

12

1

1

5

 

20-May

7

4

1

0

 

23-May

11

3

1

3

 

1-Jun

11

3

2

3

 

8-Jun

8

1

0

4

2 G

11-Jun

8

3

2

3

 

28-Jun

4

0

0

2

1 G

30-Jun

3

0

0

0

1 G

2-Jul

4

2

0

2

1 G

4-Jul

9

1

0

4

2 G

7-Jul

12

4

0

4

 

16-Jul

3

2

0

0

1 G

18-Jul

8

1

0

3

2 G

 

AVG

YR

144

43

11

39

.299

 

The major disclaimer on this chart is that the sample size is so small and arbitrary that numbers can be skewed in all sorts of directions. What I hoped to gain from this chart was merely a sense of how Wallace was able to bounce back immediately after sitting out of the starting lineup. While the 11/39 BB/SO ratio is a bit ugly, the .299 average is decent, and above Wallace’s season line. Honestly, I’m not sure what conclusion to draw from this. But I’ll make one anyway. I would encourage anyone who read this entire post to draw their own and leave it in the comments.

From my study of Wallace’s season, I think I can conclude that his confidence has not been badly damaged. However, he is a young player and he needs to play! He needs experience batting against left-handed pitching and in high pressure situations while the Astros are bad and the results barely matter anyway. All the data above is to me not indicative of a player who lacks confidence but a player who lacks experience. Wallace needs to be on the field so that he can gain experience. Sitting him so often only breaks his rhythm. If the Astros really want to find out what they have in Wallace, they need to give him this season completely to see how he handles it and to let him amass MLB experience. He may never be even an average starting first baseman, but there is no one knocking at the door and now is the time to give him a shot. In my opinion, Wallace has looked a bit lost out there recently because he is basically a rookie, not because his confidence has been shattered.

One last thing: While I watch a lot of baseball, read a lot about baseball, and sift through pages of stats, this is my first attempt at packaging it all together into a cohesive reading experience. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated, either about the choice of stats or the writing. Thanks for reading!

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