Thursday, May 28, 2009

Varitek's home runs and line drives

You have to be wondering if this Jason Varitek power surge -- Varitek hit two more home runs today at Minnesota and now has 10 on the season, three shy of his total from all of last season -- can continue.

A look at the ratios -- yes, we love ratios:

Home Run Ratio
(Percent of plate appearances in which a home run is hit)
2003: 4.8
2004: 3.4
2005: 4.1
2006: 2.9
2007: 3.3
2008: 2.7
2009: 5.4

Varitek, as you can see, is homering well beyond his regular pace.

Line Drive Ratio
(Percent of balls put into play that are line drives)
2003: 15
2004: 20
2005: 17
2006: 17
2007: 18
2008: 15
2009: 11

Varitek, as you can see, is hitting the ball hard below even last year's pace.

Contradiction? You'd think so.

Can it sustain itself?

Let's look elsewhere:

* Kevin Youkilis has seen his home-run rate increase over the last three years (from 2.6 percent to 4.7 percent to 4.9 percent) and his line-drive rate has increased at the same time (from 21 percent to 22 percent to 26 percent). That somehow seems intuitive.

* Jason Bay, on the other hand, has seen his home-run rate increase (from 3.4 percent to 4.6 percent to 6.9 percent) but his line-drive rate decrease (from 18 percent to 17 percent to 11 percent.)

* And Mike Lowell has seen his home-run rate climb (from 3.2 percent to 3.6 percent to 4.3 percent) while his line-drive rate has actually been fairly stagnant if trending downward (from 20 percent to 21 percent to 18 percent).

* J.D. Drew has seen his home-run rate go from 2.0 percent up to 4.2 percent down to 3.6 percent, and his line-drive rate is on the opposite type of arc -- it's gone from 18 percent up to 17 percent down to 26 percent.

It would seem to make sense that as a player hits more line drives -- in other words, hits the ball hard more often -- he'd hit more home runs. It would seem to make sense that Varitek's power surge can't be sustainable because he's hitting fewer line drives than at any time in his entire career.

But home runs aren't line drives. Home runs are fly balls. A slugger can hit home runs without hitting line drives: When Brian McCann hit 23 home runs as a catcher a year ago, his line-drive percentage was just 19 percent -- sixth on his team and slightly below the league average. Heck, Jason Bay has the same line-drive percentage as Varitek this season and is on pace to hit almost 50 home runs.

Varitek's power surge? It's more sustainable than you'd think.

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