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Tucker's Rookie Season Revisited

A Sabermetric Update of Preston Tucker's Rookie Season

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Last season I posted a sabermetric view of Preston Tucker's rookie season.  As a result of Evan Gattis' injury, Preston Tucker has been the subject of recent discussion as a hitter who may receive more hitting opportunities in the early season.  Looking back at my previous article, I noticed a comment or two requesting future updates of Tucker's stats.  Given that the previous article was written just past the mid-season point, updating Tucker's rookie season based on his full season stats makes sense.

As it turns out, at the time of the previous article, July 29, Tucker's offensive stats (.262, .317, .467) were significantly better than his current full season stats for 2015 (.243, .297, .437).  July was a high water month for Tucker (150wRC+). Tucker has a miserable August and Sept./October, with a wRC+ of  29 and 64, respectively.  Tucker's offense (based on wRC+) tumbled from 8th to 31st  among MLB rookies  How does this happen, you ask?  File this under "don't draw conclusions from small samples."  Some TCB commenters may have been dreaming of the future Lance Berkman at the end of July, but I suspect that kind of discussion died down by the end of the season.

Since the mid-season point is several weeks prior to the July 29 date, a review of Tucker's first half and second half statistics tell a slightly different story.   Based on wRC+--an overall barometer of offensive performance-- Tucker was better in the first half, but only moderately so.  Tucker's first half wRC+ was 101 and his second half wRC+ was 98.  On the season, Tucker's wRC+ was an even 100; in other words, he was exactly average as a hitter.  The difference in Tucker's first and second half performance was driven by Batting Average on Balls in Play, or BABIP.  Tucker's first half BABIP was .306 and his second half BABIP was .224.  Since we know that BABIP tends to be erratic, due to luck, defense, sample size, etc., I don't believe the difference in first and second half performance reflects anything like a fundamental deterioration in his hitting ability.  Tucker's true BABIP is likely somewhere between the first and second  half extremes.  For example, ZIPS projects a .286 BABIP for Tucker.

Another interesting note about Tucker's first and second half  offense.  Tucker hit with significantly greater power in the second half (SLG .467 vs. .416, and ISO .242 vs. .161).  However, his on-base percentage (OBP) was significantly worse in the second half (.268 vs..316), due to a falling BABIP and a lower walk rate.  These effects offset each other, resulting in virtually the same OPS for each half (.733 and .734).

Tucker's 2015 BABIP provides a ray of optimism for 2016.  Expected BABIP (x-BABIP), as calculated by Mike Podhorzer's Fangraphs formula, indicates that Tucker has some upside for future BABIP.  Tucker's x-BABIP is 10 points higher than his actual 2015 BABIP.  Tucker is more of an all-fields hitter than the typical power hitter, which may enable him to maintain a reasonable BABIP.

Tucker's platoon splits improved very little in the second half.  In late July, his wRC+ against lefties was 22, and stood at 25 at season end.  This is an extremely weak result against LHPs. Tucker was effective against RHPs, with a 120 wRC+ .  Until proven otherwise, Preston Tucker's best role may be as a platoon hitter.


My previous article examined rookie hitters over the last 12 year who exhibited similar offensive performance to Tucker.  Given the change associated with Tucker's year-end stats, the list of comparable rookie hitters also changes.  If anything, the new list seems more realistic. Although Tucker's wRC+ is lower, somewhat better players appear as comparable rookies.

I used the fangraphs filter function to identify similar rookie hitters during the period 2002 -2014.  The filter is based on the following constraints: (1) At least 24 years old during the rookie season; (2) wRC+ between 99 and 110; (3) ISO of at least .190; and (4) BB% between 6% and 10%.  The list is limited to outfielders.

Four comparable rookie seasons are identified and compared to Tucker's 2015.  The list also shows the players' career wRC+ in order to indicate the direction of their overall career.

Rookie Season Stats

David Murphy 18 7.10% 15.90% 0.194 0.286 0.334 0.48 108 103
Jayson Werth 18 8.80% 28.40% 0.222 0.254 0.327 0.476 109 124
Terrmel Sledge 15 9.00% 14.80% 0.193 0.269 0.336 0.462 101 93
Matt Holliday 14 7.10% 19.60% 0.198 0.290 0.349 0.488 104 138

Preston Tucker 13 6.20% 21.10% 0.193 0.243 0.297 0.437 100

Of the four comparable rookies, Murphy and Sledge, like Tucker, are lefthand batters, and Werth and Holliday are righthanded.

Werth and Holliday represent very optimistic targets for Tucker; both have lengthy careers, and have been all-star quality outfielders.  Holliday may be nearly  Hall of Fame worthy.  However, they seem less realistic models for Tucker's future career trajectory.  Tucker has major platoon split issues, and Holliday and Werth are both RH batters.  In addition, Werth and Holliday are more athletic than Tucker, and, at their peak, were plus defensive outfielders.

Murphy and Sledge probably are more realistic alternative directions for Tucker's career path.

Murphy has been a solid outfield platoon specialist over his career.  In his ninth year, Murphy has been an extremely useful role player, consistently getting 400 - 500 plate appearances, and providing a career wRC+ against RHPs of 111.  Murphy exhibits somewhat higher contact ability (as measured by K% rate) than Tucker, but Tucker has greater power than Murphy. The batted ball profiles for both players appears to be similar. I suspect that the Astros would be happy if Tucker could provide a similar level of offensive performance over his career.  Murphy's best season was at age 30, when he provided the Rangers with a .308, .380, .479 slash line, and a wRC+ of 129.

Sledge, the former Expos rookie, represents a less desirable career path.  Sledge never put up offensive numbers as good as his rookie season.  He played in the major leagues for only three more years.  Sledge was hurt by bad platoon splits, weak defense, and  rapidly declining power.

So, there we have it. A good and a bad career path for Tucker.  The predictive ability of the comparison should be taken with a grain of salt.  But it does encompass negative and positive views of Tucker's future.

ZIPS projects a mixed result for Tucker.  A projected OPS+ of 96 would represent a slight decline from his rookie year. However, the .246, .299, .414 slash line is accompanied by 19 HRs.

Do you agree with the projection?  Where will he get his playing time?