Alright, let’s see if my reverse karmic influence still works.
Though Twitter often allows us to construct an echo chamber within which we’re exposed to little other than views that reflect our own, it’s sometimes nice to get a little validation for an observation or theory. Such was the case when I thought to myself that Victor Caratini just didn’t look like himself at the plate so far. The man I’d stumped for as the regular DH is indeed being designated to hit, he just isn’t hitting as well as I’d hoped.
That might sound weird to say about a guy whose .286 average is 20 points higher than he posted in last year’s breakout campaign, but it’s true. After all, batting averages don’t always tell the whole truth. The lie in this case is that Caratini’s .370 BABIP is 90 points above league average, indicating that a tremendous amount of luck has worked in his favor thus far.
It’s dangerous to isolate stats and make statements absent greater context, so let’s first talk a little about why it’s important to look at what feeds into all this. Hitters should normally have something like a .300 average on balls in play, though that can be much higher for those who hit the ball really hard or who hit a high percentage of line drives.
Aaron Judge, who routinely produces monstrous exit velo, has a .353 career BABIP. Whit Merrifield (28.5%) and Freddie Freeman (27.5%), both of whom have sat atop MLB’s line-drive percentage board for the past several seasons, boast career BABIPs of .339 and .340, respectively. There are exceptions, of course, but it makes sense that hitting it hard and hitting line drives will result in more hits.
The latter is actually Caratini’s only saving grace this season, as his 25.9% line-drive average is 4.5 percentage points above league average. As Bryan Smith pointed out on Twitter, however, the catcher’s other batted-ball stats are…woof.
I’ve spent a lot of energy on this here website defending Victor Caratini, but gotta note he’s in some kind of funk.
Avg exit velo down from 89 mph in 2018-2019 to 83 this year.
Average launch angle down from 7• to 2.
Hard Hit % down from 36 to 16, fifth worst in baseball.
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) August 12, 2020
According to Baseball Savant’s Statcast leaderboard, Caratini’s 84.2 mph average exit velocity is actually up slightly from the info above, but that’s 242nd in MLB. His hard-hit percentage has likewise jumped to 18.5%, still fifth-worst in the league. Perhaps most damning is that his average launch angle is a mere 0.2 degrees. Whether it got worse or Smith misplaced the decimal, it’s still bad.
There is, however, a little hope. I noted the relatively high line-drive percentage earlier, which tells us Caratini’s got some leeway when it comes to not hitting the ball very hard. We must also pay attention to his splits, since switch-hitters can have their overall results skewed by success or failure on one side of the plate.
In Caratini’s case, the right side is dragging everything down. Statcast doesn’t make such batted-ball splits easily accessible, so we’ll turn to FanGraphs for this next part. As a lefty batter, Caratini hits line drives at a 31.5% clip and hits the ball hard 22.7% of the time with 18.2% soft contact. As a righty, however, he has hit it on the ground exclusively, with 20% hard and 60% soft contact.
Last season as a righty, he lined the ball 16.7% with 40% hard and 10% soft contact over 48 plate appearances, which tells us that what we’re seeing now may be an aberration. Let’s hope so, because serving as the DH means getting more regular at-bats and having to produce at a higher level offensively than when playing catcher. Even if his box score numbers are propped up by luck for the time being, it’s entirely realistic that Caratini can improve his peripheral stats to provide real support for that average in short order.