Omar Infante is cooling offBy
On Saturday night, the Marlins beat the Rays 4-3 in the 15 inning marathon. While the team recorded 13 hits and put up one of their better offensive performances of the year, it was not a night to remember for Omar Infante. The Marlins second baseman went hitless in seven plate appearances, with four of his outs coming by way of strikeout.
The hitless days have been occurring with increasing regularity for Infante as of late. Since the start of June, he’s been hitting .175, and has an under .300 OBP since the start of May. Worse still is the disappearance of Infante’s power—which many thought he would be able to sustain after he got off to a hot start.
Through May 11th, Infante had a team-leading 6 home runs, 10 doubles, and 2 triples, enough for a .650 Slugging percentage, over .250 points higher than his career mark of .396. His ISO of .320 was also almost 3 times higher than his career average (.121).
Below is a spray chart of Infante’s balls in play through May 11th:
The power shown here is quite impressive—especially so for a second baseman. The left field line and fence are clustered with extra-base hits, along with a few singles up middle in center. Also, while most of his hits here are pulled, Infante has shown power to the opposite field, drivng balls to the gap in right-center.
From then on, however, Infante has Slugged only .273 and managed an ISO of .033–numbers that would make even Juan Pierre cringe. In that span, he has hit only 4 extra-base hits (all doubles) in 126 plate appearances.
Since May 11th, Infante hasn’t hit a home run, and he hasn’t really hit any balls even close. Instead of most of his hits being over the outfielder’s head or in the gap, Infante’s balls have been singles in the shallow outfield. The average distance on his flyouts has also decreased dramatically.
Until May 11th: 298 ft
Since May 11th: 250 ft
It’s no wonder that Infante has seen a drop in power numbers, given that he has hit the ball on average almost fifty feet shorter with every fly ball to the outfield.
So What Happened?
As Jeff Zimmerman noted here last month, while he was having success, Infante was showing some of the best plate discipline in his career. He was swinging less at pitches outside the zone, and swinging more at pitches in the zone. Here are his Swing % for 2011 and early 2012 from Fangraphs.
Year: O-Swing%, Z-Swing %
2011: 31% 59%
Pre-May 11th: 26% 63%
Fast-forward to the middle of June, and Infante’s Z-Swing% is still essentially the same (64%), but he has returned to his previous habit of swinging at offerings outside the zone (30% O-Swing%). While this doesn’t completely explain the recent lack of power, hitting pitches outside the zone generally leads to weaker contact, and it helps us understand why Infante’s fly balls have not been going as far, and why his contact has been not as strong.
Plate discipline aside, the probable cause of Infante’s struggles is regression toward his true skill level. Coming into this season, Infante had a career high of only 16 home runs, and he simply isn’t a power hitter. His hot start to the year was most likely a fluke—the benefit of some good luck and random variation—and not the type of numbers that should be expected from Infante going forward.
As for his recent slump, it too is the result of luck and random variation, only the opposite end of it. Infante should eventually heat back up, just not to the level of production from earlier this season.
All data from Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference, and Texas Leaguers