In looking at the career statistics for Lars Anderson in the minor leagues, one column stands out more than any other: His batting average on balls in play.
Lars Anderson BABIP
Consensus and statistics have the average hitters' BABIP somewhere in the .300 range. It's easy to jump to conclusions and suggest that Anderson just saw his luck run out last season, a season in which his OPS tumbled from .935 to .669 and his ranking on the Baseball America prospect chart tumbled from No. 1 to No. 4.
But Anderson has always tended to hit the ball hard, a trait that generally correlates with a high batting average on balls in play. A BABIP that high over a two-year period -- he came to the plate more than 1,000 times in that span -- can't be dismissed as a fluke.
What it can be a sign of, though, is a hitter who's not hitting the ball as hard as he once did. From Baseball America's writeup in late December: When Anderson slumped, he tinkered with his swing, which became longer and more mechanical. After previously using the opposite field well, he became more pull-conscious, perhaps pressing to hit homers. Nothing worked, and he hit just .154 with one homer after the all-star break.
The numbers -- hat tip to MinorLeagueSplits.com -- back that up, too. Consider one key indicator:
Infield fly ball ratio (as compared to all fly balls)
2007: 8.4 percent
2008: 7.6 percent
2009: 21.2 percent
(For the sake of comparison, fellow top prospects Ryan Kalish and Anthony Rizzo had infield-fly rates of 8.1 and 7.8 percent last season, respectively. Both recorded BABIPs of better than .335.)
It's just a preposterous jump. By ratio, Anderson hit almost three times as many infield pop-ups as he had the previous season -- and nothing brings down a BABIP like infield pop-ups.
One thing that can cause pop-ups? A long swing -- something that ought to be salvageable with a winter of rest and some good coaching on his side.
Anderson, as often is noted, is still young. If he'd gone to college instead of signing out of high school, he'd have been draft-eligible for the first time last June and might still be entering his first full season of professional baseball. He won't turn 23 until after the upcoming season ends.
If the Red Sox can help him fix the flaw in his swing that prevented him from squaring up the ball, there's no reason they can't get him right back on track.