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Bryan LaHair’s offensive production this year has surpassed even the most optimistic projections of even the most optimistic of Chicago Cubs fans.

Through 103 plate appearances, he’s got 8 homers, 9 doubles, 18 RBI, and 16 walks. He’s hitting .384/.476/.767, and his OBP is best in baseball. His 1.243 OPS trails only Josh Hamilton and Matt Kemp. He has already accumulated 1.9 WAR (he’s on pace for a 9.6 WAR, which has been bested in the last 12 years only by Bonds, Pujols, Sosa, Rodriguez, and Beltre). His 2.45 Win Probability Added (a measure of just how valuable a player has been to his team) is the best in baseball.

Bryan LaHair is good.

Then again, through those mere 103 plate appearances, LaHair has struck out 30 times. When he’s hit a fly ball, it’s had a 36.4% chance of leaving the ballpark. And the BABIP. Oh, the BABIP. LaHair’s batting average on balls in play is an unbelievable .510. He’s doing all of this at the age of 29, when he’s not done anything remotely close to it in the big leagues before.

Bryan LaHair is lucky.

But which is it? Is he actually good – elite, even – or is he just enjoying one of the luckiest stretches in recent baseball memory?

I think you already know that the answer is a little bit of both. The more interesting follow-up question, of course, is … can he keep doing this?

No one can tell you for sure, but there are more reasons to believe that he’ll keep hitting well (even if not this well) than reasons to believe he’ll fall flat on his face at any minute. I’ll give you five to chew on.

First: Bryan LaHair’s Career Minor League BABIP is .347

The biggest luck dart thrown at LaHair this year is that absurd .510 BABIP. For those who don’t know, the figure is a reflection of a player’s batting average solely on balls that are put into play for a defender to field. Prevailing wisdom says that BABIPs are generally static for players (and also generally stay within a range of about .290 to .310), so if you see a wild swing in one direction or the other, it’s probably just a matter of some lucky hits (or, in Ian Stewart’s case, “at-em” balls). When that luck evens out, the BABIP comes down, and production regresses (particularly for guys who strike out a lot).

Here’s the thing on LaHair’s BABIP: it’s always been extremely high. Throughout his minor league career – over 4000 plate appearances – his BABIP remained high. In total, it was a lofty .347. So, while it is likely that his current .510 number will come down, it could stay elevated enough to see LaHair sport a .300+ batting average (which, in turn, drives an elevated OBP and SLG). As he cuts down on the strikeouts, which he has been doing over the past two weeks, that drop in the BABIP will be less noticeable, in terms of the overall results.

Second: Bryan LaHair Sees a Whole Lot of Pitches

Presently, LaHair sees 4.18 pitches per plate appearance, 13th best in all of baseball. Seeing a lot of pitches, alone, has value (drives up opposing pitch counts, allows you and teammates to see variety of pitches, etc.), but why is it indicative of LaHair’s success being legit and sustainable? Well, it suggests that he’s become increasingly comfortable hitting deep into counts, including those with two strikes. The more pitches you see, the better adjusted you will be when you get a pitch to drive. But, that’s easier said than done for a number of hitters, who are uncomfortable hitting with two strikes. Even the best hitters aren’t going to set the world on fire in an 0-2 count, but they will be able to battle back, see a few more pitches, and give the opposing pitcher a chance to make a mistake. LaHair’s deep counts suggest he’s comfortable hitting in any situation, and that’s a sign of a hitter whose success is probably a bit more skill than it is sheer luck. He’s not just feasting on first-pitch fastballs.

Third: Bryan LaHair Looks Like a Polished Hitter

I’m no scout, and you probably aren’t either. I imagine I could probably look at two hitters and think I was seeing the same thing twice, only to have a professional scout explain that one guy was about to flop, while the other was a future star. That could be the case with LaHair, so forgive my indulgence.

But the dude just looks like a great hitter. He looks relaxed, he rarely swings at bad pitches, he almost never looks fooled, he covers the plate incredibly well, and he drives mistakes. It’s an incredibly small sample size, but he looks more comfortable and confident up there than guys with five years of big league experience. Maybe the results are retroactively driving my thoughts, but when I watch him bat, I see a very good hitter.

Fourth: Bryan LaHair Works with What He’s Given

A hitter’s ability to “go with a pitch” is the sign of a mature bat, and usually one with considerable staying power. We’ve all seen with our eyes LaHair’s willingness, for example, to take an outside pitch the other way, but does the data back up our eye?

Absolutely.

Here’s a spray chart for LaHair this year, courtesy of Texas Leaguers. As you can see, although he grounds out a fair bit to the right side, he hits the ball almost equally to all parts of the park:

Moreover, LaHair has clearly already developed an ability to hit balls on the outer half with authority. Today, Mark Simon at ESPN took a look at what Bryan LaHair is doing with outside pitches lately, and, in short, LaHair is driving them. Perhaps more impressively, that wasn’t the cast in the first few weeks of the season, when LaHair put only 10 of his first 58 pitches (at which he swung) on the outer third in play. That’s not too good. But, of late, in his last 33 such swings, he’s put 16 balls in play (10 for hits). In other words, it appears that LaHair is adjusting.

Five: Bryan LaHair Survives the Mathematical Joojoo of a “Regression” Analysis

FanGraphs today analyzed (today is analyze Bryan LaHair day, apparently) what Bryan LaHair’s production would look like if a number of “regressions” occurred – what if his BABIP falls back to its expected value? What if his HR/PA regresses? What if his BB% regresses?

After analyzing each of those possibilities, and then analyzing the catastrophe that would be all of them regressing at once, LaHair’s projected production is *still* quite a bit better than the league average first baseman (projected .363 wOBA versus .337 league average). In other words, even if the mirage fades, there’s still going to be a pretty good hitter behind the ether.

So, in the end, is Bryan LaHair good, or just lucky? As I said, it’s a little of both. But it’s fair to start thinking it’s probably more of the former.

  • Njriv

    “Spray Charts? What is this witchcraft?” – Old Cubs FO and Coaching staff

  • http://bleachernation ferris

    lehair is good and if he hits 280 w/28 hr 90 rbi’s that would be very nice,the cubs need to think about locking him up,he shhould be our future left fielder w.jackson in c.f. and the other o.f. on this team should be campana,dejesus,sappelt or johnson…..reed johnson or sappelt,jeff baker,soriano,dewitt would be nice trade pieces this summer…..for young kids for the farm system……the starting pitching on this team is better than expected and garza should be locked up unless someones gonna way overpay……im still leary on our 3b future is stewart gonna be a 220-20 guy….thats not quite enough its be better to have vitters be a 285-15 guy…..or maybe a platoon system there,barney is a good player for the bench,this team isnt awfull and has shown promise……we need a better back end of the bull pin….wood is pitching like a sixth inning guy,an marmol is better as a setup guy….we need a closer period.

    • Brady

      Marmol is better as a “hey go get me a beer” guy.

      • Jay Anderson Jr

        Here Wego

        • Brady

          That should be Marmol’s nickname. Mostly because everytime he takes the mound i go “Here we go blowing another lead again”… Dammit Wego stop pissing on the goddam rug and stay off the field.

    • hansman1982

      um, the Cubs have control over him for the next 5 seasons

    • Joe

      I love Reed, but he’s not a tradeable piece, except maybe as an extra to seal a deal.

  • MoneyBoy

    Brett … LaHair’s performance is not much of a shock to me.

    I was at the Cincy game last September when he hit that mammoth 2 out, 2 strike, 2 run HR that nearly drove Leake to tears.  The ball nearly wound up on Sheffield.  This on a night where Colvin hit two bombs to dead center that were crushed by the wind.

    The day before he pulled a 100 mph Chapman fastball down the right field line.

    Not only did he hit 37-38 HRs at Iowa and a couple here but he hit like 15 in winter ball.  Dude can flat out hit.  I watched him hit one to LF early in the year on the road, saw him do it again recently at Wrigley, and he pulled one Monday night.

    Among the things I like is the ability to drive the ball to the opposite field.   Seeing that many pitches per plate appearances helps as well.  Perhaps the thing we should all be applauding, above all, is his perseverance in staying the course!!  To grind out all those years with very few MLB ABs really says something about the kid’s character.

    Thanks, as always, for the research and well thought out writing!!

  • Donnie

    If LaHair had never hit like this at any level, I’d say lucky. But over the past couple years he’s made some adjustment to prove that he’s got the talent now and he’s here to stay. I picked him up in my fantasy league and needless to say, i’ve developed a bit of a man crush since then! He’s quickly becoming a Chicago God!

    • MaxM1908

      In my H2H leagues, I picked him up when he was 1% owned. He’s now 100% owned. It was by far my best move of the season.

      • Cubs Dude

        I picked LaHair up in my H2H too. I have been sitting Pujols for weeks because of LaHair. Who would have thought..

    • Sinnycal

      Haha, I nabbed him in fantasy, too. Benched Pujols.

      • Blitzenjohn

        I have LaHair, also. Excellent value (had drafted B. Allen in rd. 17, dropped him for LaHair after 3 games). Best move all year, along with picking up an undrafted Shark. Who knew!

        • bwitty75

          I drafted both Shark and LaHair in my 10 team NL only league.

      • Brady

        I bet you’d never thought you’d ever do that.

        • Jschroeder

          I had LaHair, and recently traded him for Mike Napoli and Corey Hart. Not bad for a waiver wire pick up

  • Rob

    Brett – Would all of this suggest the team will work harder to get LaHair comfortable in the outfield, and/or Rizzo could possibly be delayed until 2013? As recently as March some were speculating that if LaHair flopped out of the gate it would be hard for the Cubs to resist bringing Rizzo up, and now people are talking about locking him up long-term! Crazy.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      There is little point in keeping Rizzo down.  He is destroying right handed pitching at a Ruthian pace right now, and his numbers against lefties have surged into respectability lately.  Purely from a readiness standpoint, I think he could come up tomorrow.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Sounds like a pretty good idea. (Except for the extension part – isn’t even arbitration eligible until 2015, when he’ll be 32.)

  • hardtop

    have you noticed? all the little boxes are white and green when they are beyond the wall?  he should really focus on hitting balls there as opposed to the area of the second baseman.

    • Brady

      I’d say it looks like he hit more to the first baseman than the 2nd but agreed over the wall is always greater than an out. Then again a hand jibber is always better than a slap to the face so stating the obvious doesnt help much.

      • hardtop

        i was kidding man.

        • MaxM1908

          I just don’t understand why he doesn’t hit a home run EVERY time he steps up to the plate. It would seem to help his numbers better than anything else. He should also strike out less and walk more. Also, if he could start pitching relief at the calibre of a Papelbon or Rivera pre-injury, that’d be great too.

          • babe ruth

            ive read that the cubs had lahair pitch a simulated game on monday. they think he may be able to slide in and perform duties as the 5th pitcher in the rotation.

  • Kyle

    I’ve totally flip-flopped on LaHair. That Fangraphs article was pretty compelling, but even before that, I was looking at his peripherals yesterday and trying to find a good comp.

    In peripherals (HR/FB, K%, BB%, LD%, GB/FB) Bryan LaHair 28-29 as a Cubs is an extremely good comp for Adam Dunn age 29-31. Maybe a few less homers and a little more BA, but otherwise a very good comp.

    That’s pretty good for found money.

    • MaxM1908

      I appreciate you flip flopping. I believe I remember some early season comments where you were pretty harsh on LaHair. I still think caution is justified, but the guy definitely appears to be exhibiting talent as opposed to just luck.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      I was not as down on the LaHair project as you, but he still has greatly exceeded my expectations so far.  I was joking about “yes” being the answer, and your summary of the peripherals is why: yes, he’s getting lucky with his grounders, but he’s also driving the ball a lot.  The grounders will start finding fielders: the shots will keep missing them.

  • Cubs1967

    ron shandler’s Forecaster anaylsis for 2012 has lahair at .236 9 HR 28 RBI for the year.
    apparently the sabermetrics experts did not think any of his minor league stats last 2 yrs would carryover.

    • Kyle

      Some did. I was one who definitely did not, but it wasn’t a universal opinion.

      • The Other Matt

        In fairness, I didn’t know if he would or not, but definitely thought he deserved an opportunity. Also, there’s still a long way to go.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      I can’t claim any credit on that front either.  I stayed skeptically optimistic because of the reports he had reworked his swing and because the stats showed a marked change in production after the time of the alleged mechanical changes, but I never expected anything like this.

      I thought 2011 Carlos Pena was a best case scenario… maybe even 2011 D Lee.

  • Andrewmoore4isu

    How do you guys feel about calling him “the bunny” instead of “lehair”?

    • Leo L

      El Conejo would be better

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      How about The Wig?

    • bwitty75

      I like LaHomer.

  • Jackalope

    Henry Blanco = Hank White

    LaHair = El Pelo

    Such a dominating performances deserves a worthy nickname.

    • Andrewmoore4isu

      The hair? Really?

      • Jackalope

        Dig it.

  • MightyBear

    Luke/Brett,

    Blake Parker seems to be lighting it up in Iowa. Any word on when he could be ready to join the big club? Thanks.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Parker is veteran minor league guy with about 160 innings in Triple A.  He could come to Chicago any time the Cubs wanted him.

  • blublud

    He is one reason I was against signing Pujols or Fielder. However, I never thought he would be this good. LaHair is a monster. I think his BA will drop down closer to .300, but I actually think his HRs could increase. If it wasn’t for the wind, LaHair could have 10 or 11 dingers, and when the wind starts blowing out, he will crush balls out of Wrigley. Don’t be surprised ifhe has 40+ HRs at years end.

    • djriz

      he’ll never get the chance. quite frankly, if he stays hot, he wont get pitched to. who’s going to make them pay for walking lahair? stewart? sori?

      • Cubs1967

        Rizzo.

      • rcleven

        All ready started in the Brave series.

  • magilljl

    The next article can be Ian Stewart: Unlucky or Bad?

    • blublud

      Save that one for Volstad. I don’t need statistic to know Stewart has been unlucky, I just watch the games.

    • hardtop

      he’s bad, disguising himself as unlucky.  Even his best year in Denver, he was mediocre disguising himself as good.

  • http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/jame-hayes.html jame hayes

    better to be lucky than good…..
    luck favors the prepared.

  • JB88

    Serious question, but does LaHair have a hole in his swing for long inside pitches or is he just not getting many of them? The hit-zone chart that ESPN provides in that article shows no hits for high and outside pitches (not surprising) and no hits for low and inside pitches (very surprising for a LH power hitter). Just curious if someone who has been watching his ABs more intently than I had noticed something.

  • rocky8263

    Can’t wait for my next cubs game to cheer for “el pelo”. I love it! El conejo ain’t too shabby either.

  • #1lahairfan

    I’m not suprised about LaHair or Samardjzilla. I always believed even saw laHair once in triple-A.

  • DocPeterWimsey

    heh, this is why logic distinguishes between a soft “or” (either or both might be true) and a hard “or” (one but not the other is true)!  So, my answer is “yes.”  :-)

  • MaxM1908

    I love the nickname “El Pelo”. In addition to it being a twist on his name, has anyone noticed that his hair is kind of odd when he takes off his hat or helmet? It’s like it’s painted on his head like a Ken doll. EL Pelo es el mejor!

    • Leo L

      if he has a odd hair on top maybe el toupe would be better. we could even say el toupe is on fire in honor of ron santo

  • Cheryl

    El Pelo or “The One” since he’s surprising a lot of people and is more than they expected.

    • Bric

      El Uno? Pelo means hair in Spanish.

  • Ron

    Where is my Google translation for Spanish. I don’t know what it means but I like it. Any way I remember a game on ESPN last year with Oreal Herscheisher (sp) where he saw almost 40 pitches in a single game. I was drinking so you acuracy Nazis can shove it…but anyway love the article and I like the dude.

    • MaxM1908

      El Pelo is simply “The Hair” in Spanish.

      • Bric

        If you want to give him a cool Spanish nickname we should go with “El Hombre de Parqueo”.
        I could easily see him shouting out “Yo soy El Hombre del parqueo!” after hammering a homer.

  • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

    Minor league BABIP’s are almost ALWAYS high.

    Not sure where you find career minor league babips, but Jay Bruce has a career .296 major league BABIP.
    In the minors:
    345 (498 pa)
    392 (298)
    429 (74)
    357 (204)
    425 (201)

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I calculated LaHair’s from scratch. 4000 PA’s worth…

  • Fuzzy Cheeks

    Who is considered to be better defensively, Lahair or Rizzo?

    • Kyle

      Rizzo by quite a bit. LaHair is a very poor defensive 1b. Not that it matters if he keeps mashing at even a fraction of his current rate.

  • Cheryl

    I’ve never been to a cubs game. What’s the best place to buy tickets? I tried to go through the official cubs ticket office and it won’t let me complete the order.

    • hardtop

      thats weird? is the game yo uare trying to buy sold out?

      i would post in the BN message board first.  see if someone can hook you up with face value tickets or maybe even cut you a deal.  I think there is a tickets section.

      you’ve never been to Wrigley field?  my god.  im am thoroughly impressed by your devotion as a  fan.  thats great.  i can honestly say i wouldn’t love the cubs nearly as much as i do if i hadnt seen them play in the friendly confines.

      • Cheryl

        Don’t think it’s sold out. I watch them all the time but this is the first time I’ve tried to get a ticket. I may try through Ticket-tron. Can’t post on the Message Board. The message (the cubs online version) keeps sending me is complete your inforation and there’s nothing left to complete.

        • MaxM1908

          Cheryl, any chance you want ticket to the Sunday May 20 White Sox game? I have two seats in the terrace in the outfield along the 3rd base line. Face value is $47. I’m selling the pair for $80.

          • Cheryl

            Thanks but I zeroed in on a Friday, easier to get in and out from the suburbs. I went ahead and purchased a ticket for July 13, section 129. Probably paid too much but it may be my only trip to Wrigley.

            • TWC

              Right on, Cheryl!  I’ll be at that game, too.  My first game at Wrigley in 15 years or so.

              • Cheryl

                Great.Maybe I’ll see you there!

                • babe ruth

                  i most definetly will take you up on that offer for the sox tickets. im in the army and gonna be on leave next couple weeks. how do we get this transaction done? if u read this please email me at stone8311@yahoo.com please

            • hardtop

              cheryl, this makes me sad.  why would you say this could be your only trip?  baseball is meant to be enjoyed at the ball park.  l hope you find many more opportunities to experience the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.

              here’s my cubs pledge: below is my email address.  you email me, and we’ll exchange contact info. when the cubs make the playoffs… next year, 2015, whenever, i’ll see to it you get a ticket to a home playoff game.  i’m not a rich man, but I’ve been blessed to have been to Wrigley many times in my 36 years (including a playoff loss to Arizona).  I’m not kidding, and i’ll not forget! you stuck with this team your whole life, you’re going to a playoff game lady!

              email: poopysaphire@gmail.com

              • babe ruth

                i love this site!! you all have tons of knowledge about the game and most people are very friendly.

                • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                  Thanks, babe.

                • ty

                  Babe–Get on this site about midnight! Knowledge and friendliness is deferred. Not that there is anything wrong with that!

        • Joe

          Might be your internet browser. If you’re not using Internet Explorer 8 or 9 already, try them. I prefer other browsers in general, but when you run into problems with a website, IE is usually the way to go.

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

            Are you having a problem with BN board, Cheryl, or the Cubs one? If it’s be BN one, shoot me an email (brett AT bleachernation DOT com) and I can clear it up.

            • Cheryl

              Brett, Maybe its me but when I get to the Message Board it tells me I’m not allowed to take part in the discussion. I enjoy reading what others say just the same so if it doesn’t work out hat’s okay

              • rcleven

                Go to the message board.upper right hand corner you may have to sign in or create a new account. Had the same problem till i played around for awhile.

              • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                Yeah, you have to create an account to post. Upper right hand corner “Create Account.” Follow the instructions, and you should be good to go. Would love to have you over there.

                • Cheryl

                  Thanks. I wasn’t aware I had to create an account. Looks all set. Thanks.

          • Cheryl

            Joe, I have Windows 7. Maybe that’s the psroblem.

  • Gutshot

    A question for anyone who has the answer. Being that LaHair is now 29 yrs old. His prime years ahead he will be basically be being paid the league minimum. Is he allowed to bolt to the Japan league if a team there is willing to offer him a large contract. If he is for real, his only opportunity to cash in will be in the next few years, and then by the arb years he would be in steep decline due to his age.

    • Brady

      I feel sorta bad for him if he does continue to mash at the minimum. Other prospects less so in that ususally they will get paid for mashing eventually. If he is past his prime by the time he gets paid it just seems unfair.

  • Wilbur

    I really enjoy reading data driven analyses like these. My thanks to all of you who submit these gems. I don’t do them myself for several reasons, but appreciate the contributors and there work very much.

    From a 30,000 foot perspective, if I can summarize correctly what I’ve see on the internet position players contribute to wins more with their bat than their glove. If this is false someone set me straight and the following should be ignored.

    If it is true, and LaHair plays to the .280 or above, 30 HR or above, and a high OBP; doesn’t this offensive production force the Cubs to move him to left field when it is deemed appropriate to bring Rizzo up (later this year, maybe not to next) and at that time Soriano is released or traded for a bag of balls. It appears to be the only way to justify the Soriano write off.

    Several of you have recommended this, but does LaHair’s performance give the front office the final push to do it …

    Just a thought that LaHair’s low cost for several more years compensates in part for the lost salary of sending Soriano elsewhere for nothing of value …

  • LaHair4MVP

    He’s just good. LaHair 4 MVP!

  • Nomar’s Left Glove

    Am I out of place in saying that this makes me a little more disappointed in Hendry and a little more glad he’s gone. How did he miss this guy?! I understand that the answer is that he didn’t, I believe that LaHair signed as a minor league FA and as such, a lot of GMs did miss him. This guy is just fun to root for and I wish we’d seen him at 26.

  • KyleNovak

    Brett,

    Good thorough tome of research! I was also encouraged by the Fangraphs article earlier today as well. It will be interesting to see his full season play out. I was high on him last year and mentioned last September (in one of the earliest message board threads) that he should start in 2012 back before the team entered the offseason and well before they eventually acquired Rizzo.

    http://www.bleachernation.com/forum/index.php?/topic/19-whos-on-first-for-2012/
    (toward the bottom of the first page)

    Dude sure is making me look good.

    • http://calebshreves.blogspot.com Caleb

      You found it! Good stuff, too. I’m renaming you “the oracle.” But I want to be “co-oracle,” because I totally agreed– I just didn’t bother with all the scientific stuff.

      This was a great summary, Brett. Probably my favorite Cub subject of the season (and part of my first created message board post: “The LaRizzo Situation.” This really is a day for Lahair analysis, huh?).

      I’m firmly in the “LaHair is great and legit” camp.

      But, I would like to know more about his and Rizzo’s defensive capabilities. If, for the sake of argument, we want to call up Rizzo and keep LaHair, why is the possibility of keeping LaHair at first never discussed? Maybe Rizzo can play a good outfield and LaHair would be a huge liability out there. I never see the issue come up, so I created the message post mostly to figure out why.

      I don’t even know if I’m advocating this particular move. It just seems like having younger legs in the outfield (assuming we keep both) would at least merit consideration. What am I missing?

  • Gutshot

    Brett/Luke
    Is LaHair free to bolt to the Japan league if he is offered a big contract?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      No, I don’t believe so. The contract he signed before this season would include a right for the Cubs to renew for 2013. Anyone want to correct me on that?

      • drew

        I believe you are correct. If they renew, it has to be for at least 80% of hos salary from the prior year (or in this case, prob much more).

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