The Cubs' acquisition of Justin Ruggiano in a trade with the Marlins didn't get much press, which is not surprising given Ruggiano's poor performance last season.
But he's an interesting player to watch for in 2014, given what we know of his work and how the Cubs value certain aspects of statistical analysis.
Ruggiano has lived on the edges when it comes to batting average on balls in play (BABIP) the past two seasons, posting a ridiculously high .401 in 2012 and an unusually low .260 in 2013.
Both figures are likely aberrations, but we're guessing the Cubs have other reasons for thinking he can bounce back from his 2013 numbers.
One of the proprietary figures that major league teams have at their disposal is information from video-scouting services -- such as Inside Edge, Baseball Info Solutions and Stats LLC -- related to a stat known in the industry as "well-hit average," which is abbreviated as WHAV.
WHAV is pretty much what it sounds like -- how often a player ended an at-bat with a hard-hit ball, regardless of whether it resulted in a hit.
The video trackers at these companies rate each batted ball. In the case of Inside Edge, they use hard, medium and soft as their three categories for classifying contact.
There is typically a gap between a player's well-hit average and his batting average and the number varies from season to season. Two seasons ago, the gap for Ruggiano was a big one, among the 25 highest in the major leagues.
There figured to be some correction in 2013 given that it would be hard to replicate that kind of performance two seasons in a row. But for much of 2013, the correction was a massive one.
Ruggiano had a rough first four and a half months, capped by an 0-for-42 slump in which he went more than a month without a base hit. Ruggiano put 30 balls into play during that stretch, none of them resulting in base hits; and he went a month within that without a hard-hit ball. That is extraordinarily difficult to do. Even if a major league hitter hits a ball at a soft or modest speed off the bat, he should get a few dinks, dunks or nubs.
Ruggiano got none.
In those first dreadful 294 at-bats of the season, Ruggiano had a well-hit average of .193 and a batting average of .194. That's a highly unusual combination, particularly for someone with decent speed, who should be able to leg out some infield hits.
Ruggiano couldn't leg out anything. He went 12-for-97 and reached on an error once on ground balls in those first four and a half months. He had no infield hits.
Justin Ruggiano - 2013 Season
But Ruggiano's last 130 at-bats were a bit different from those first 294. He snapped out of his slump with back-to-back three-hit games, then hit at a more reasonable clip the rest of the season. In his final 37 games, he had a .285/.354/.492 slash line and had nearly as many groun dball hits (11) as he did in the season's first four and a half months.
What's particularly interesting is in the chart on the right -- his well-hit average was almost identical in his good and bad stretches.
The differential for the average non-pitcher between his well-hit average and his batting average was 94 points (a .163 well-hit average and a .257 batting average). Ruggiano's batting average didn't match up with his well-hit average until those last six weeks of the season. When they did, good things resulted.
We have a feeling the Cubs were aware of that, and thus made what could be a rather interesting buy-low acquisition.