Monday, July 23, 2018


Ortiz:"You're batting leadoff? I
thought you were the batboy!!"
Mookie Betts is having a great season, and that's not just great news for Red Sox fans. Mookie is not a "big man"--he's only 5'9", 180lbs. It has become extremely unusual in recent times for players of such (relatively) diminutive stature to have such a dominant offensive profile. So far, however, Mookie is flying high with a 193 OPS+ and is very much in the MVP discussion despite missing the better part of three weeks due to injury.

It turns out that Mookie is one of nine hitters who are 5'10" or shorter having at least robust offensive years (defined as a 120+ adjusted OPS) in 2018.

Now, nine may not sound like a lot--and it's not. But it's a helluva lot better than the numbers we see for "smallfry" in the recent past. Our table below shows that in recent years, hard-hitting little guys were a seriously endangered species.

Clearly two forces have been at work historically to chip away at the short-statured player. First, the general trend that people are getting taller. Second, the pervasive typecasting of small players as bereft of power, and a selection bias that favored middle infielders who had little or no chance of developing it.

What may be pushing things the other way is the perception that all players should possess a higher degree of power (measurable in ISO), opening up the search for short players capable of hitting for power. Of course, OPS+ is not driven only by ISO or SLG--but having that in addition to a solid OBP supported by a higher-than-average BA might just be the combination that has produced a sudden "bumper crop" of good-hitting smallfry.

A decade ago, neo-sabes had predicted extinction for such players--and the numbers you see in the 2000-09 time frame would certainly have made such a prediction seem plausible. But we see here at the least the possibility of a counter-trend. Remember these are hitters whose overall offensive profile (BA, OBP, and SLG) is lifting them to prominence--most of them are not hulking low-average power hitters relying on ISO to boost their SLG. There's a chance that some of these smallfry (read: big little men) will be Hall of Famers one which we say, "Hallelujah!".

Some think Mookie is the second coming of Willie Mays. Time will tell if he really has enough power to make that comparison more plausible, but size-wise, personality-wise, speed-and-defense-wise he's the same breath of fresh air that we got when the Say Hey Kid was in the prime of his golden youth. We dug out our YEPS (Year-End Projection System) spreadsheet to see what it projected for Mookie at season's end: as one might expect, it projects a dropoff over the next two months, but the overall projection is still for a season with an OPS+ in the 170 range.

That is a good first step toward being a Mays-like player.

Here are the nine "smallfry" posting 120+ OPS+ seasons thus far in 2018--if you're a "smallfry" yourself, light a candle in the window for these guys. It would be great if all nine stayed in the 120+ zone...

Ozzie Albies, Jose Altuve, Andrew Benintendi, Betts, Khris Davis, Eddie Escobar, Scooter Gennett, Jose Ramirez, Jean Segura