I admit that Emilio Bonifacio has improved

Hi, my name is Michael Jong, and I have been an Emilio Bonifacio hater for two and a half years now.

Hi, Michael!

It is not easy for me to admit being wrong, but it is important for Marlins fans to hear the truth about this. The man still colloquially known as Bonerface has actually improved his game at the plate, having thus become a slightly better player. Witness the horrifying numerical truths.

Bonifacio PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA
2007-2009 722 .248 .303 .314 .277
2010-2011 571 .279 .347 .361 .335

Taken at face value, those numbers are a huge improvement. Of course, taking anything like that at face value would also be pretty ridiculous. There are underlying reasons behind Bonifacio’s success these last two seasons, some of which may be projectable into the future while others may need more regression than fans would care to admit. Yes, he is looking good now, but how good will he look in the future? Let’s take a closer look at his game between these two time periods.

Bonifacio K% BB% ISO XB / H BABIP
2007-2009 19.9 7.2 .066 0.265 .313
2010-2011 20.0 9.4 .082 0.292 .354

You can immediately the two major changes in Bonifacio’s game between the two time periods of his career. His lack of power and strikeouts remain at similar levels as evidenced by his strikeout rates, ISO, and extra bases per hit. The two differences lie in his walk rate and his BABIP. In terms of BABIP, I would be more inclined to suggest his future batting average on balls in play will be closer to .313 than .354, though you would certainly expect it to be somewhere in between. Only nine players since 2009 have had a BABIP greater than .350 with at least 1000 plate appearances. Of those players, only Michael BournAustin Jackson, and Ichiro Suzuki had wOBAs around the level Bonifacio is currently at. There might still be a chance for continued success, but projecting such a rate further into his career is dicey at best. For the record, ZiPS is projecting a very ambitious .345 BABIP, while PECOTA is projecting a more modest and believable .330 mark.

The walk rate, on the other hand, is something that intrigues me a great deal. One of the ways punchless players can become useful offensive options is by getting on base often. The added bonus for Bonifacio is that his baserunning is his primary offensive weapon and requires that he get on base; as a result, the more often he is on base, the more chances he gets to wreak havoc with his speed. It seems that Bonifacio’s increase in walk rate is based on one real, projectable change in his game.

Bonifacio P/PA Swing% Whiff% Called Strike%
2007-2009 3.87 49.7 18.8 31.9
2010-2011 3.97 43.7 19.0 34.2

Bonifacio is clearly swinging at fewer pitches than he used to in his first few seasons in the league. This has led to more pitches seen, more walks, and more called strikes. The fact that he has whiffed on almost the exact same percentage of swings is pretty indicative of why his strikeouts remain similar; it seems Bonifacio has probably replaced a certain number of whiffs with an equal number of called strikes by taking more pitches. However, overall this recent change has been of benefit to Bonifacio, and the change to fewer swings is pretty indicative of talent in the future; Russell Carleton’s famous piece on regression shows that you can learn about 50 percent of a player’s tendencies to swing at pitches from just 50 PA of observational data. This does not translate necessarily into the two percent increase in walk rate (that needs to be regressed more), but it does bode well for Bonifacio’s future.

How good is Bonifacio going forward? He is not a true-talent .350 wOBA hitter, that is for certain. But I have a feeling that he is not the replacement level scrub he was a few years ago either. Right now, both ZiPS and PECOTA are projecting around a .300 or so wOBA for Bonifacio, which was a far cry from his .277 wOBA between 2007 and 2009, but not nearly as high as his above average .335 mark from more recently. I’d be willing to even move that up a little further, up to a .310 mark given his new approach at the plate and a modest increase in his basestealing game. Where would this put him in terms of offensive talent? Among qualified players in 2011, the following guys are hitting around .310 in terms of wOBA:

Darwin Barney (.296/.326/.372, .309 wOBA)
Derrek Lee (.248/.304/.399, .309 wOBA)
Raul Ibanez (.247/.290/.423, .311 wOBA)
Derek Jeter (.268/.330/.359, .312 wOBA)

The comparisons to Barney and Jeter seem most apt given their similar batting profiles and positions on the defensive scale. Neither of those players are great, but neither of them are terrible either. Both can be contributors if they can show decent defense at shortstop. Of course, Bonifacio is going to have to be a bit better while playing second base, third base, or center field, but expecting something around 1.5 Wins Above Replacement over the course of the season would not surprise me. He is a useful stopgap player and the type of guy you would rather have on your bench, but if these improvements can be sustained, he could be about as useful as Jorge Cantu was in 2009 and 2010.

Of course, this could still be all a nefarious plan to fool us into a false sense of security before Boni blows up in our faces. You never know.

Tags: Emilio Bonifacio Miami Marlins

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