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Saturday, April 3, 2010
New man of Troy?

By Scott Regan, ESPN Stats & Info

The Atlanta Braves are going to be good. At least that is what we think here at ESPN (20 of our MLB experts predict the Braves will make the playoffs).

In addition to a solid rotation, much of the reasoning for the Braves’ predicted success has revolved around the potential that lies in the bat of 20-year-old phenom Jason Heyward. Lost amid the hype and interest surrounding “The J-Hey Kid”, an underrated, yet potentially valuable addition to the Braves has gone virtually unnoticed.

The low-risk, high-reward signing of Troy Glaus is a calculated, yet fiscally intelligent decision by general manager Frank Wren. If Glaus is healthy, and it is a big IF, then the Braves’ probability of postseason play looks good (barring major injuries to other key players). If Glaus is hurt or cannot perform due to the daily grind on his surgically repaired shoulder, then the Braves have invested short money ($1.75 M) and have the option of picking up a bat off free agency or making a trade that could provide, at minimum, average production at 1B (at least until Freddie Freeman is ready).

While spring training numbers can be deceptive, there is no denying that Glaus is off to a good start. In 52 spring AB’s, Glaus hit .385 with 11 RBIs and five doubles – but failed to hit a home run. This is quite notable since the former World Series MVP averaged 30.3 HR from 1999-2008. So, has there been any correlation between the residual effects of his 2009 shoulder surgery and his new “approach” to hitting?

For argument’s sake, let’s say yes. Assuming Glaus knows that he is no longer the 140-game, 30+ HR hitter of the past, is there anything in his career numbers that indicate that he can become a hitter instead of a slugger?

Using FanGraphs data from 2005-2008 (Glaus only played 14 games in 2009), Glaus increased his O-Contact percentage (times a batter makes contact with the ball when swinging at pitches thrown outside the strike zone) and his Z-Contact percentage (times a batter makes contact with the ball when swinging at pitches thrown inside the strike zone).

While neither statistic guarantees a hit, the increase of contact in and out of the zone may represent better pitch awareness and plate discipline that can be utilized by Glaus if the power is no longer there.

Additionally, Inside Edge shows us that not only has Glaus increased his contact rate in and out of the zone from 2005-08, but he has also increased his in-play percentage as well. Simply put, more balls are staying between the chalk. In 2005, Glaus put 36 percent of balls in play. The number rose to 38 percent in 2006 and 39 percent a year later. In 2008, the percentage increased to 45 -- an eye-opening number for a so-called "slugger".

Don’t expect to see Glaus battling Albert Pujols and Hanley Ramirez for the National League batting title anytime soon though, as he strikes out far too much (21.7 percent of career plate appearances). On the other hand, don’t expect Glaus to bat .250 either. If the power is gone, Glaus has the necessary tools and skill to adapt to a new method of hitting.