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Baseball by the Numbers: Dumb luck

Michael Salfino
Yahoo Sports

You can find more from Michael Salfino at SNY.tv.

Let's continue our season-ending series on who our stats consider to be lucky and unlucky players by focusing today on jinxed hitters. Next week, to close our 2009 By the Numbers coverage, we focus on unlucky pitchers.

To isolate hitting luck, we look at average with runners in scoring position (RISP) because, generally, hitters' success or failure here does not repeat year to year to the same degree as broader stats like batting average. We also isolate the percentage of homers on fly balls for hitters who should still be in their power prime. And we assess a hitter's batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which generally is about .300. Note, though, that balls in play (BIP) do not include homers (by definition, out of play).

We do this to further my much considered but never attempted "Portfolio S" strategy. The idea is to draft a team based on last year's values as long as the players have remained starters and are not compromised by injury. Age is a marginal consideration since one year shouldn't matter too much.

The objective with Portfolio S is to exploit the market's overconfidence in tethering value to the most recent results. This is a human weakness not just in baseball but everywhere where performance is measured.

First though, as a test of our underlying assumptions, let's look at the players we labeled as unlucky at this time last year: Nick Swisher(notes), Mark Ellis(notes), Jack Cust(notes), Jeff Francoeur(notes) and B.J. Upton(notes).

Swisher has seen his power return and has been a good, cheap asset to help in a championship quest in all formats. Ellis would have been a hit had he stayed healthy – .270/15/91 with stats adjusted for about 150 games. Cust and Upton are misses and Upton's was particularly crippling as he was not even discounted after his one-man Home Run Derby last October to vanquish the Red Sox and propel Tampa Bay into the World Series.

Of all the guys I missed on maybe ever, I'm most surprised about Upton. He's viewed as fantasy poison now. But his combo potential remains too enticing for me to pass on at the mid-market price that's now certain in 2010. But maybe I'm just stubborn.

We do away with the usual recommendations. All of the following are 2010 "Buys." We're ignoring our RBI numbers as an entire column on hitting with RISP (runners in scoring position) was filed two weeks ago. Those recent RBI recommendations all stand.

Ian Kinsler(notes), 2B, Rangers: He was unlucky on BABIP. Over the prior three years, his average was .306 on BIP, slightly north of league average. It now sits at .243. What does this mean? With a normalized rate for him, he'd have 17 more hits and an overall average of .286, not .253.

Curtis Granderson(notes), OF, Tigers: More bad/unlucky BABIP. Here's his last four years, including 2009 (in order): .333, .360, .316 and, this year, .275. Normalize his conversion of BIP to his 2006-08 rate of .336 and he'd have an overall average of .290, not .248. Don't scoff at batting average adjustments. Many leagues have been won by a handful of extra hits and fractional batting average points.

Jimmy Rollins(notes): His prior three-year BABIP is .290, but he's hit .248 on BIP in '09. Adjust his expected average in 2010 up to .282, not his current .247.

David Ortiz(notes), DH, Red Sox: Pick your category. You have to buckle the seat belts and keep the airsickness bag handy, I know. It's very tough to bet on Ortiz. But we're searching for profit. Assume he'll be very motivated to extend his career. If he has a full-time job next March in some AL city, he's worth cheap speculation. There's about a 50 percent chance he has another year like 2007 (.332-35-117) in him at age 34, not terribly old for modern sluggers. He'll never hit close to .332 anywhere in the AL other than Fenway (which inflates average) Discount those other categories by 50 percent and you have your 2010 price.

Vernon Wells(notes), OF, Blue Jays: We're looking for the guys with the most career power but the lowest 2009 rate of converting fly balls into homers. Wells is at 6.2 percent. He's typically at least twice that; so expect the same number of homers in '10 as you did in '09.

B.J. Upton, OF, Rays: Once bitten, but not twice shy. Of course, some have been twice bitten already. Then, you get a pass. But 25 homers and 45 steals still beckon for those who dare.

Nick Markakis(notes), OF, Orioles: I refuse to accept 7.3 percent FB/HR for a 26-year-old guy who was 12 percent over the last three years.

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