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Monday, July 17, 2006

The Problem with Aaron Rowand … 

When the Phillies dealt to bring Aaron Rowand aboard, I was instantly in favor of the deal. Sending Thome to the White Sox enabled the Phillies to give the first base job to Ryan Howard, the younger and less expensive NL Rookie of the Year, and the Phillies got Rowand, the young, gifted centerfielder who would ably replace the Jason Michaels – Kenny Lofton platoon in the middle of the Phillies defense.

Rowand has largely been a disappointment, playing so-so in centerfield. Rowand’s biggest problem with the Phils has been with his bat. Simply put, adding Aaron Rowand has badly crippled the Phillies offense and might be one of the major reasons why the Phillies are struggling to score runs these days.

Here is what Rowand has done thus far this season:

Rowand / Team Average
OBP: .317 / .332
SLG: .434 / .429
ISO: .170 / .173
GPA: .251 / .257
Runs Created: 35
RC/27 Outs: 4.58 / 4.89

What the stats mean:
GPA (Gross Productive Average): (1.8 * .OBP + .SLG) / 4 = .GPA. Invented by The Hardball Times Aaron Gleeman, GPA measures a players production by weighing his ability to get on base and hit with power. This is my preferred all-around stat.
Runs Created: A stat originally created by Bill James to measure a player’s total contribution to his team’s lineup. Here is the formula ESPN (where I get it from) uses: [(H + BB + HBP - CS - GIDP) times (Total bases + .26[BB - IBB + HBP] + .52[SH + SF + SB])] divided by (AB + BB + HBP + SH+ SF). ESPN’s version is out-of-date, however, I’d note. James adjusted RC after the 2004 season ended.
RC/27: Runs Created per 27 outs, essentially what a team of 9 of this player would score in a hypothetical game.
ISO (Isolated Power): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
OBP (On-Base Percentage): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
BB / PA (Walks per plate appearance): (BB / PA = .BB/PA Avg)
SLG (Slugging Percentage): Power at the plate. (Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage)

Rowand is doing a little better than the team average in slugging percentage, but he’s under the team averages in on-base-percentage, isolated power, gross productive average, etc. So what is wrong with Rowand’s game?

A problem that I fretted about with Rowand has definitely surfaced this season. Rowand cannot draw a walk to save his life. Check it out:

Walks per plate appearance: BB / Plate Appearances, (BB / PA = .BB/PA Avg)
Bobby Abreu: .221
Pat Burrell: .166
David Bell: .091
Ryan Howard: .088
Chase Utley: .080
Jimmy Rollins: .080
Aaron Rowand: .038
Team: .091

The problem that Rowand has is that he isn’t a choosy player at the plate. Of all of the Phillies hitters, he is the least choosy:

Pitches per plate appearance …

Bobby Abreu: 4.49
Pat Burrell: 4.25
Chase Utley: 3.97
Ryan Howard: 3.92
David Bell: 3.66
Jimmy Rollins: 3.58
Aaron Rowand: 3.44
Team: 3.82

Not surprisingly, the players that are patient at the plate are the ones who draw walks and, hence, make consistent base-running threats. Rowand is not a patient hitter at the plate.

The scary thing about Rowand is that this is pretty much what he can do. I looked at his batting average with balls put into play and discovered that he was hitting .301, which isn’t as good as some players (e.g., Bobby Abreu: .365, Chase Utley: .343), but is much better than others (e.g., Pat Burrell: .278). the league average in BA/BIP is .301, so I suspect that Rowand hasn’t simply been an unlucky player. He’s doing pretty good when he puts the ball into play, but otherwise he’s simply striking out or making an out the seven of ten times he puts the ball into play. The problem here is this: without that ability to draw walks, Rowand is doomed to continue to be a substandard offensive threat. Pat Burrell is over four times more likely to draw a walk than Rowand (Burrell’s BB / PA is .166), so his struggles at the plate are salvaged by the fact that he’s learned to milk counts and get onto base, helping him work through his slumps while still being a threat.

In many respects this ought not surprise us: Rowand’s 2005 OBP was just .329, fairly close to his career average of .337, which is fairly inflated by Rowand’s .364 in 2004 … Rowand has never developed this skill at milking counts and being choosey at the plate. He’s a natural free-swinger. And therein lies the problem. Jason Michaels and Kenny Lofton weren’t the most dynamic of ballplayers, but they were consistent threats to get on base and create opportunities for Phillies batters:

Michaels: .399
Lofton: .392

Rowand’s addition to the Phillies lineup is essentially subtracting opportunities from the Phillies offense. They cannot generate runs anymore because they don’t have people setting the table, or people exploiting opportunities: Rowand’s batting average is a meager .246 with runners in scoring position. His Runs Created per 27 Outs declines to 3.95 … Bottom-line, at the end of the season we will be in a position to evaluate Rowand’s contributions to the Phillies defense more fully, however, at the present time you’d have to say that he has been a major drag on the Phillies offensive unit. Will Rowand’s defensive contributions out-strip his offensive detriments? I hope so, but I have to admit that I am skeptical.

Nice piece.

It's amazing hw much a little patience can improve a hitter. 25 more walks, and suddenly Rowand's OBP is .350 or so and he's a respectable, if not great, hitter.

John Salmon
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