You’re Killing Me, Corey

On April 14th, I wrote the following in a piece entitled “Busting Out: Corey Patterson”:

Patterson’s early season performance isn’t going to be sustained at this level (a 7% swinging strike rate is impossible to keep up), but there are legitimate reasons to believe that he’s adopted a new approach at the plate, and his continued contact ability could be just the ticket to stardom that people have been projecting on Patterson for most of this decade.

Since those words were written, Corey Patterson is pulling an o-fer. Eight days and 21 plate appearances later, and my fearless call that Patterson might be on the verge of a breakout year looks pretty foolish – he’s now hitting .183 and appears to be losing his grip on the Reds center field job. It’s hard to have a career year while sitting on the bench.

But, at the risk of cramming my foot even further into my mouth, I’m actually even more convinced than ever that Patterson has made significant strides in improving as a player. Despite his 0 for 18 run since the post went up, he’s walked three times while only striking out twice, and his season long K% still sits at a remarkably low 6.7%. That doesn’t happen by accident. If we take the 19% true talent strikeout rate that pretty much every projection system on earth forecasted for Patterson in 2008, the odds of him striking out four times or less in his first 68 trips to the plate was a whopping .0019%. That’s 1 in 500, basically.

Given his current strikeout rate in 2008, it’s remarkably unlikely that Patterson’s true talent strikeout rate is currently 19%. Given that we need to adjust our expectations of how often he’s going to make contact, and that it hasn’t affected his power output, I’m sticking with the theory that increased contact + sustained power = improvement. Call me crazy, but I still think we could look back at year’s end and say that Patterson had the breakout year we’ve been waiting for. Even if it got off to a bit of a rough start.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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The funny thing about Patterson’s slump is that before the writers pointed it out to Dusty Baker, he didn’t even realize that Patterson was slumping. I think the reason is that he’s been making good contact (Baker cited that he’d had few strikeouts), just not getting decent results.

FWIW, his PrOPS is still a very solid 0.931, compared to his actual OPS of 0.720. Those are both down compared to a week ago, but the PrOPS has only dropped about 0.100 points, compared to ~0.200 points on the OPS.

Hopefully he’ll get his groove back soon…