In the last two seasons, the Marlins have gotten some consistent play from outfielder Cody Ross. Check it out:
Ross, 2008: .260/.316/.488, .228 ISO, .298 BABIP, .345 wOBA
Ross, 2009: .270/.321/.469, .199 ISO, .306 BABIP, .342 wOBA
This run encompassed 1110 PA over the past two seasons. There were some differences in ISO and BABIP, but the wOBA were essentially identical, and the process was more or less established. Cody Ross was a power hitter, a guy who struck out 22% of the time, walked about 6% of the time, and jacked more than a few homers and doubles at the expense of getting on-base. Surely, it’s not the best offensive package in baseball, but it was passable, especially for a decent defending outfielder.
This season, it appears as if Ross has gotten off to the same sort of start. His 2010 wOBA stands at an unsurprising .344, and ZiPS has him projected at .344 going forward as well. It seems like another typical Ross year, right?
Not exactly. It seems Ross has taken an entirely different approach to getting to this .344 wOBA.
Ross, 2010: .289/.340/.429, .140 ISO, .352 BABIP, .344 wOBA
Ross was above the .300 AVG mark for quite some time this season, challenging his 2007 year in terms of AVG and BABIP. In return, he has seemingly lost all the power that made him valuable in the last two seasons; his .140 ISO would be the lowest of his career since joining the Marlins and getting significant playing time in 2006. Why has Ross’ game changed so much this year?
The first thing we should note is that his AVG and BABIP scream “regression” going forward. It is not as if Ross has dropped his strikeout rates or changed his plate discipline. In fact, according to BIS data on FanGraphs, Ross is swinging at more pitches outside of the zone this year than ever before, up to 32.7% of pitches out of the zone. He has not made significant changes in contact either, despite the increase in swing rate; overall, Ross is still making contact on just 78% of his swings. This has contributed to the 20.5% strikeout rate he has this season, slightly diminished from the last few years, but not significantly different.
For his career, Ross has essentially average BABIP on all of his batted ball types. However this year he is hitting 40 points better than usual on both grounders and liners, while hitting about 20 points less on fly balls. Of course, this is contributing to his BABIP being so high at this point in the season.
However, one would think the decreased rate of hits on fly balls would help suppress this temporary gain on other BIP, especially given Ross’ typical batted ball profile. However, this year it seems Ross has put the ball on the ground more than ever before.
Ross, 2010: 47.9% GB%, 29.6% FB%
Ross, career: 37.6% GB%, 41.7% FB%
In the last two years, Ross has hit grounders in only 34.3% of BIP, a change that has boosted his power numbers. With this increase in grounders, a subsequent fall in power is not surprising. His 2010 HR/FB% is at 10%, not up to his career level of 13%, but not enough to explain the 60 point drop in ISO. Instead, that and the fact that he has failed to lift the ball into the air have contributed to the demise in power.
I don’t need to tell you that Ross had better start getting the ball in the air soon, or his production will take a sharp dip. With Ross’ strikeout rate and likely BABIP of around .300-.310, he cannot support a .290 batting average for long. If his AVG drops to .260-.270 without a return in power, he will be unproductive to the potential tune of a .260/.310/.400 hitter, well below league average. Ross is not the type of hitter who can survive without power; his skillset has not shown a propensity for well above average BABIP, and his walk rate and plate discipline are not good enough to avoid a significant number of outs. All Ross can do is hit homers to make up for his offensive shortcomings, and right now he is not doing that. I would be wary of this house of cards falling soon.