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On the Astros: Jake Marisnick in for some regression


Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

This could be the least-informative article you've ever read. Or, more accurately, the one article that you intrinsically knew was true before it was even written. In fact, I don't need to write much more other than, "Jake Marisnick will not hit .380 for the rest of the season."

You know this. I know this. Why do we need to talk about it?

Well, there's something to be learned by how he will regress and what could be actual improvement in his game.

Let's start with the big picture stuff, like his batted ball profile. Marisnick has hit a ton more ground balls than fly balls, nearly four percent more than his career average. He's also hitting a ton more line drives than he did last year; that in itself isn't a bad thing. But, since it's so much higher than what he did in the minors and last year, it's probably unsustainable.

Ditto with his absurdly high home run to fly ball rate. Marisnick hasn't just tapped into untold power this year. He's been lucky on his fly balls. For instance, he has yet to hit an infield pop up, but has seen 15 percent of his fly balls turn into homers. Only 25 players in all MLB had a fly ball rate like that last year and most of them have names like "Jose Abreu," "Giancarlo Stanton" or "Jose Bautista."

That all plays right into Marisnick's very high .426 batting average on balls in play. It's due some regression and could probably drop by 100 points or so. Last year, in over 200 plate appearances, Marisnick's BABiP was at .338. In his minor league career, he posted a pretty high BABiP in 2011 in A ball at .371 and had a .351 BABiP in 2013 in Double-A.

Marisnick is a fast guy. He can probably sustain a higher BABiP than most players because of that. But, it's doubtful he will be able to keep pace with his 18 percent infield hit rate right now.

Are there any signs that Marisnick's breakout is real?

Why yes, thanks for asking.

Look at his plate discipline data. This year has seen Marinsick dip in his zone swings. He's down five percent inside the zone, by Pitch F/X standards. His overall swing rate has also dropped some, but his zone contact rate has jumped by nearly 10 percent.

That implies he's swinging less at bad pitches and more at good pitches, right? Considering his swinging strike rate fell by nearly three percent from last year and he's seeing a ton of first-pitch strikes, that could be exactly what's going on.

Over at Grantland, Ben Lindberg talks about a pretty neat theory from old Baseball Prospectus smart guy Rob Arthur, who found a correlation between how pitchers attack players and whether they will break out.

The theory is that pitchers react to batters faster than public opinion might. Pitchers who stay away from batters could be a sign of a breakout. Lindberg has plenty of fancy graphics to back it up here.

It gives us one more place to see if Marisnick's "breakout" is real. Let's see how pitchers are handling him. Here's his zone map when facing right-handers.

Here's his zone map vs. lefties.

Marsinick lefties

That's the opposite of how teams are pitching to Kris Bryant or Mike Trout. That's pitchers straight up challenging ol' Jakey. He's just able to take advantage of it so far.

This makes sense. Marisnick is the weak link in the Astros order. Coming into the season, he was the guy least likely to hit in this lineup. It's one of the reasons why it made sense to bat him ninth.

Naturally, pitchers will challenge him with fastballs. So far, he's just been able to hammer those pitches. He's gotten dramatically better at hitting heaters this year, or fouling them off and waiting for an offspeed pitch he can handle.

Eventually, we'll see pitchers adjust. They won't keep challenging him like this. How Marisnick adjusts to that adjustment will tell us more about his future offensive production than this first month did.

See? I told you that was a circuitous way to saying what you already knew. Marisnick's hot start isn't sustainable, and we don't know whether he's really breaking out or not yet. We need more time.