The Curious Case of Josh Satin | Astromets Mind

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Curious Case of Josh Satin

           While I’m not sure Terry Collins has come out and said Josh Satin is the right-handed platoon mate at 1B, he has said he plans to get him plenty of at-bats versus lefties from that position this season. His results last season likely were a factor in making this decision, as Satin hit .317/.404/.476 against left-handed major league pitchers in 2013 – good for a 151 wRC+, or 51% better than league average production – and had a better K-rate against lefties (23.4%) than righties (26.8%). Despite the strong results against lefties – and strong results overall, his .279/.376/.405 slash line was good for a 124 wRC+, and one of the best on-base rates on the Mets last season - some fans are worried that those statistics were fluky and that he is a candidate for regression this season. I’d like to go into why this is, and then review Josh Satin’s success in the upper minors and majors the past 3 seasons and let you decide what you think.
            Josh Satin was drafted in the 6th round of the 2008 draft by the New York Mets, at age 23. He had just finished a dominant senior season as an infielder for the UC Golden Bears and spent most of his time playing 2B for the Brooklyn Cyclones that season, where he kept on hitting. In 2009 and first half of 2010 he kept on doing what was expected of an advanced college hitter in the low minors – hit and draw walks. He didn’t show much HR power or enough range for 2B though, perhaps explaining his slow ascent. He continued to hit and walk as he reached AA/AAA and the majors, showing more power at the upper minors. One thing has been consistent throughout all his good hitting though, one thing that has kept people skeptical, his consistently way above-average batting average on balls in play or BABIP.
            Average BABIP tends to fall in the .290-.310 range. Some common thoughts on BABIP are that fast guys can influence their BABIP in a positive way by beating out more infield singles, whereas shifts used against certain power/pull hitters will lower their BABIP. Line drives should fall in for hits at the highest rate, followed by ground balls at a much lower rate, then fly balls, with hang-time of the fly ball correlating to out-rate.
            Josh Satin had a .352 BABIP with Savannah in the first half of 2009, a .398 BABIP with St. Lucie over 2009-10, a .398 BABIP with Binghamton over 2010-2011, a .358 BABIP over 2011-13 in AAA, and a .379 BABIP in the majors in 2013 – including a .424 BABIP against lefties. As far as line drives are concerned, his 17.8% rate (21.7% vs. lefties) is nothing special. He’s not a fast guy. And he doesn’t do anything that warrants a special shift. He does take a lot of pitches – 4.5 pitches per plate appearance in the majors last season. In an interview with during before spring training games started, Satin described his offensive approach as “being aggressive to the pitch you want and letting the rest go by,” and that’s often the sense people get when they watch him – he can maybe seem too passive. In the minors, his numbers slightly favored hitting against lefties in 2011 and 2013, but he only managed a .282 BABIP against lefties in 2012 and so he provided below-average production. He was actually able to still end up with a .388 OBP against lefties in 2012 at AAA, but that was thanks to a 21.5% BB-rate, and couldn’t make up for well below-average power (.067 ISO). And that’s the rub that people have with Josh Satin – if his BABIP isn’t well above average, is he still going to provide value? Can he maintain such a BABIP? Is it wise to expect it?
            His small sample sized 120 PA’s against lefties in 2012 gives an example of what might happen if Satin’s BABIP were to drop, but without more insight from Satin or those who saw him daily back then, it’s not clear how much weight those numbers should be given considering the multiple outliers – his abnormally high walk rate, abnormally low ISO or XBH/AB, and the low BABIP itself is an outlier compared to the rest of his professional data. Of course, those numbers also make sense for a player struggling against to hit lefties, but that doesn't match the rest of his career. However, if he struggles this season against lefties, his struggles in 2012 will mean more. Something to remember as the league adjusts to Satin, and Satin to it.
            What is of interest here is, given everything else is the same, how does Satin’s production vary with BABIP. Specifically, given a reasonable profile of Satin's BB-rate, K-rate, HR/PA-rate, and ISO, how much production should we expect for a given BABIP? His ISO was .191 in AA, .150 in AAA, and .123 during 2013 in the majors; I will use a .135 ISO for this exercise. It is possible you think I am being overly optimistic with his ISO boost, but he has consistently improved his ISO every time he has repeated a level, so I think a minor boost towards average is within reason. His K-rate was consistently around 20% in minors before a jump to 25.3% last year, so again I will be optimistic with a 22.5% estimate. His BB-rate was consistently in the low teens, including 13.6% in the majors, but I will be more conservative here with a 12.5% estimate. Finally, his HR was 1.4% last year in the majors but 2.3% overall, and 2.7% in 2012 following 2% in 2011, so I’m going to give him a 1.8% estimate.

Table 1 – Estimation of OPS production for Josh Satin, with a profile of 22.5% K-rate, 13.6% BB-rate, 1.8% HR-rate and a .135 ISO.

            At this point I should explain how I came upon my estimations. Starting with the standard batting average (H/AB), OBP {(H+BB+HBP)/(AB+BB+HBP+SF)} and BABIP {(H-HR)/(AB-K-HR+SF)} formula’s, I converted the counting stats to rate stats – e.g., instead of a HR total, I’m using HR/PA. For this estimation, I assuming HBP%, SF% and SH% are 0. Sac bunts should probably be included for players who will do that a lot, Satin has not historically. Similarly, some players appear to have a skill for getting hit by the pitch, though Satin does not appear to be one of them. Finally, Sac Flies are situation dependent – you need a runner in a position to be sac’d, less than 2 outs, and for that runner to be fast enough to advance. Ignoring those stats introduces a source of error, but predicting their totals could lead to just as much error. The final formula for average and OBP become
Batting Average = ((1-K%-BB%-HR%)*BABIP+HR%)/(1-BB%) (1)
OBP = BB%+HR%+(1-K%-BB%-HR%)*BABIP (2)
For the record, using these formula’s on Josh Satin’s actual K%/BB%/HR%/ISO from 2013 yields a 0.278/0.376/0.404 slash line, compare to above.
            According to, the league average OPS in 2013 was .714, which is what the given Josh Satin profile produces with a .310 BABIP. That tells you he doesn’t need to have a crazy high BABIP to give major league average offensive production, something the Mets have been lacking too often the past 5+ years, especially for the league minimum. The league average 1B produced a .762 OPS in 2013, which is what the Josh Satin profile produces with about a .340 BABIP. While this is above average, it is something Josh Satin has more than accomplished since Savannah in 2009, or his last 2,729 PA’s – per, he had a .344 BABIP in college, a .371 BABIP in the minors and a .377 BABIP so far in the majors. He’s either been extremely lucky, or he’s on to something here – “being aggressive to the pitch you want” may be more than the usual cliché answer for Satin.
            One more thing pops into my mind to consider about this method, it assumes a constant ISO, when in fact BABIP will play a factor in ISO - how many doubles Satin hits will be a function of BABIP - just not one I am ready to account for. I chose an ISO of .135 for the profile based on his 2B%, HR% and their sum the past 3 seasons – I am ignoring triples because they are just doubles with a lucky bounce for someone with Satin’s speed. I assumed an 8.3% XBH, which breaks down into a 6.5 2B%: 1.8 HR% ratio. In this estimation, the formula breaks down to
ISO = (2B%+3*HR%)/(1-BB%) (3)
So the estimation is really a function of the BB%, 2B% and HR% estimates, which accurately estimated a .126 ISO for Satin based on his actual rates last season. As BABIP increases/decreases, 2B% should increase/decrease, and so the approximate OPS values are likely actually higher/lower at the extremes - in other words, there is a more wide-spread OPS distribution as a function of BABIP in reality.
So, should you be worried about a Satin flop? I’m not, but I’m one of the biggest Mets fan optimists, and a long time Satin supporter. I gave what I think is a reasonable estimate of his K/BB/2B/HR rates, and how his OPS compares to the average hitter and 1B. Considering his BABIP history since college, he has shown to be more than capable of approximately matching even the league average 1B in the majors – though he only has 249 PA’s of major league success to support the idea that he will be able to keep up the above average ML BABIP needed to do so. With all else held constant, as you increase/decrease his K-rate, his OPS decreases/increases linearly, and as you increase/decrease his BB-rate or 2B/HR-rate, his OPS increases/decreases linearly. Even if you don’t think he’s capable of such an offensive profile overall in 2014, remember that he should be starting against lefties most often, which has historically been his better split. Only time will tell if he can keep it up, but he’s certainly had a good run of it so far, we can only hope the well doesn’t dry up.
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