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A Minor Debunking
by Derek Smart
Those of you that have been tuning into the Cubs' television broadcasts lately have likely heard the explanation from Derrek Lee, delivered via the men in the booth, of the difference between his power output this year, versus what he did last year. The gist is that he feels the same physically as he did last year, but he simply hit more groudballs then, and more flyballs now, so that's the reason his power output has increased.
I can't say I have any idea why his pop has returned, but based on what's in the table below, I'm feeling confident it has little to do with a flyball disparity.
I've included this season, last season, and his breakout 2005 for comparison. As you can see, he's actually hitting fewer flies this year compared to last, and if I'd included his entire career, you'd see he's hitting groudballs at a higher rate in 2008 than he did in any other year. He is, however, getting a ridiculous number of his flies to leave the yard - well above the rate he showed in that great 2005 season, which was the best flyball to homerun conversion rate of his career by a wide margin.
Like I said, I don't know why his power's so resurgent, but Lee's explanation is simply not true. He very likely feels like it is, but like so many things we think we perceive, the facts say otherwise. In the end, though, it doesn't much matter. Whether it's because his wrist feels better, he's seeing more cookies, or having one more biscuit for breakfast, it appears in the early going that the monster of 2005 - The Savior - has returned. And his timing couldn't have been better.
(P.S. - Shouts and huzzahs to the fabulous Fangraphs that makes so much analysis like this possible.)