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Tabula Rasa: Hitters Edition

The only things we know with certainty are those we can prove.

Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Baseball fans are always engaged in figuring which players are good and which ones are just awful. Many times we might be caught saying: “I don’t know why manager X keeps starting player Y. He’s just terrible.” Yes, maybe player Y is terrible — in our opinion. But stats can help us eliminate our bias and separate the good players from the terrible ones.

For this piece, I’ve asked my fellow writers at Beyond the Box Score to name players they think are bad and comment why they think they are bad — without looking at their stats. I’ve then gone the empirical way and looked at hard evidence to determine whether they are right or mistaken.

So without further ado, I give you our hitter’s edition of Tabula Rasa.


Ryan Goins

Opinion on player: Consistently bad. 60 wRC+ almost every year and defense isn’t what it used to be. Not even a Quad-A player.

Ryan Goins

Season Team G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR
Season Team G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR
2013 Blue Jays 34 121 2 11 8 0 1.7% 23.1% 0.092 0.315 0.252 0.264 0.345 0.267 63 -1.3 -6.4 6.5 0.4
2014 Blue Jays 67 193 1 14 15 0 2.6% 21.8% 0.083 0.237 0.188 0.209 0.271 0.212 28 -0.8 -16.2 4.7 -0.6
2015 Blue Jays 128 428 5 52 45 2 9.1% 19.4% 0.104 0.304 0.250 0.318 0.354 0.297 85 1.7 -5.9 5.7 1.5
2016 Blue Jays 77 196 3 13 12 1 4.6% 24.5% 0.120 0.235 0.186 0.228 0.306 0.232 38 -1.4 -16.0 -0.5 -1.0
2017 Blue Jays 112 355 6 25 51 2 6.8% 19.7% 0.111 0.267 0.226 0.276 0.337 0.267 60 -1.4 -18.9 -1.9 -0.9
Data from Fangraphs.com

Let’s start with the bat. Yes, Goins has never been a prolific hitter. Over his career he has been exactly a 60 wRC+ player. He’s never hit either for power or had a knack for getting on base -- his strikeout percentage, walk percentage, and BABIP are all below league average this season.

However, you could say that he has had a power breakout season given his six home runs — a career high! Yet his .111 ISO is still below his career-best .120 from 2016. Goins has cost the Blue Jays wins in every season except his rookie season and the 2015 season which saw them fall short of the World Series. After that, despite providing negative value with his bat, John Gibbons has managed to find ways to give him about 3 plate appearances per game since his debut.

On the fielding side, he was a good defender, being used as a utility player in Toronto. Yet he’s not old enough to think that age has taken a toll on his defense this season. DRS has seen him decline every year at second base, and he’s posted negative values at third base and shortstop. The same goes for UZR (or UZR/150 if you prefer that).

The fact is that Goins has not been a good player for a long time. And, if his defense continues to decline as it has this season, the Blue Jays will be pressed to cut ties with him shortly.

Veredict: Opinion was correct.


Tommy Joseph

Opinion on player: No walks, low average. Bad power for a first baseman.

Tommy Joseph

Season Team G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR
Season Team G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR
2016 Phillies 107 347 21 47 47 1 6.3% 21.6% 0.248 0.267 0.257 0.308 0.505 0.342 112 -2.0 3.0 -6.0 0.8
2017 Phillies 122 480 19 46 63 1 6.7% 23.5% 0.192 0.277 0.239 0.292 0.431 0.306 85 -5.1 -14.5 -11.7 -1.1
Data from Fangraphs.com

First off: the walks. In 480 plate appearances, Joseph has walked 33 times — one of them being an intentional base-on-balls. Hence, his paltry 6.7 BB-percentage. The average BB-percentage for first basemen in 2017? 10.2 percent. That means that Joseph is walking 34 percent less than the average first baseman, which is just terrible given the Philadelphia Phillies’ offensive woes.

How about the average? Also terrible. Joseph is currently hitting at a clip of .239/.292/.431 which is not the level at which a first baseman should be producing. For a more encompassing number, his TAv is .246 and his wOBA is .306 — league average for each is .260 and .346, respectively.

But this could be linked to the fact that he’s changed his approach at the plate. Compared with last season — which was also bad — he’s chased more pitches outside the zone whilst making less contact; similarly, he’s swing less at pitches in the zone but his contact has gone up. This has resulted in a drop in his linedrive and flyball percentage, while his groundball percentage has increased from 37.0 to 42.6 percent.

This also explains why his power has dropped. Despite playing more time, he’s hit two homeruns less than last season, his ISO going from .248 to .192. Joseph has gone from being an above average power hitter to a below average one in less than a season.

If the Phillies are hoping to compete in the coming seasons, they’ll need him to work out whatever’s troubling him at the plate and get his swing back on track.

Verdict: Opinion was correct.


Avisail Garcia

Opinion: Was bad but he’s looking good now.

Avisail Garcia

Season Team G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR
Season Team G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR
2012 Tigers 23 51 0 7 3 0 5.9% 19.6% - 0.405 0.319 0.373 0.319 0.307 90 - -0.6 -1.1 -
2013 2 Teams 72 256 7 31 31 3 3.5% 23.0% 0.139 0.344 0.283 0.309 0.422 0.319 98 -0.9 -1.4 -11.5 -0.5
2014 White Sox 46 190 7 19 29 4 7.4% 23.2% 0.169 0.285 0.244 0.305 0.413 0.316 101 -1.2 -1.1 -8.3 -0.4
2015 White Sox 148 601 13 66 59 7 6.0% 23.5% 0.108 0.320 0.257 0.309 0.365 0.295 86 -4.5 -14.3 -13.8 -0.9
2016 White Sox 120 453 12 59 51 4 7.5% 25.4% 0.140 0.309 0.245 0.307 0.385 0.302 88 0.3 -6.3 -3.5 0.6
2017 White Sox 104 430 13 57 61 5 5.1% 20.5% 0.166 0.386 0.322 0.370 0.487 0.365 130 1.7 17.7 -5.6 2.7
Data from Fangraphs.com

OK, I may have cheated on this one but I wanted a success story within this first edition.

Over his career with the Chicago White Sox, Garcia has been a relatively mediocre player. But that has apparently changed. Garcia still isn’t walking as much as you’d hope but his strikeouts have gone down significantly. That’s a good start.

What’s more impressive is that he’s currently hitting .322/.370/.487 with 13 home runs in 430 plate appearances. For comparison’s sake, he’s already matched his previous HR best in 171 fewer plate appearances — meaning he could easily break his own record before the season’s out. Again, if we take TAv and wOBA, Garcia has been hitting for .289 and .365, good for 8th and 5th, respectively amongst qualified right fielders.

What has changed in order to make Garcia’s 2017 season a success story? For starter’s he’s more aggressive at the plate, swinging at 58.9 percent of pitches he’s seen. The added bonus is that he’s making contact on 72.4 percent of these — 54.2 percent on outside-the-zone pitches and 84.1 percent on inside-the-zone pitches!

Furthermore, he’s cut down his GB percentage by 40 percentage points relative to last season, while increasing ever-so-slightly both his LD and FB percentages.

Garcia has changed his mentality at the plate and his swing is focusing more on being level than trying to get things on the ground.

Verdict: Opinion was correct (but I cheated).


This was a good philosophical exercise, in my opinion, as it forces us to rethink how we feel about a player. Yes, we can usually determine fairly accurately whether a player is good or bad based on our gut alone. But we must not leave it there.

Our love for stats and analysis should push us to find out whether our thoughts on a player are correct or not. Unfortunately, in this case, I couldn’t find a player who we though was bad but turned out to be good. We have, however, been able to validate that our opinions align correctly with what the facts show.

Stats current through 08/29.


Martin Alonso writes for Beyond the Box Score and BP Bronx and is constantly geeking out over baseball and Star Wars. You can find him on Twitter at @martnar.