Is This A New And Improved Corey Patterson?

When the Orioles called Corey Patterson up, I pegged him as about a replacement level player – below average bat, good glove, some speed – and a fine back-up outfielder. Then I added the caveat “Patterson might hit well for a couple games. He might make an outstanding play in center. But at the end of the day, he’s still Corey Patterson.” Well it’s been 50 games already, and he’s still sparkplugging it up at the top of the O’s line-up. Time to eat some crow?

Corey’s hitting .289/.335/.423 with a .347 wOBA that’s the highest he’s produced in a season since an 83 game stint at .359 in 2003 for the Cubs. The above average bat and OK UZR (-0.7 in left-field and +1.4 in center) have made Patterson a 1.0 Wins Above Replacement player at the All-Star break. That’s clearly much better than I expected – are we seeing a new and improved player in his second go-around in Baltimore?

Not exactly. Sure, his walk rate of 5.9% is a fair bit above his career mark of 4.6% – a difference of three* free passes in his 221 PA – but he’s still chasing a lot of pitches out of the strike-zone (38.1%). Corey may be walking a little more than he used to – as tends to happen with players as they get older – but it’s not a huge jump. ZiPS projects the mark at 4.9% for the rest of the season.

* Number of walks in his first 14 games: 8.
Number of walks in his next 36 games: 5 (one intentional)

Then there’s the matter of his BABIP; .361. It’s well above his career average (a perfectly ordinary .298), and a career high. And it’s not really based on anything either – his expected BABIP is (surprise!) .300. Corey’s been exceedingly lucky on how many balls have fallen in for hits. If he had that .300 BABIP, his average would tumble to .237; his OBP and SLG to .285 and .360, respectively.

The strike-out rate – for which Patterson previously got the moniker Korey – is back up to where it was in the Chicago days at 24.4%. His contact rate isn’t atrocious – 77% compared to a league average of 80% – but all that swinging* is what gets him into trouble.

* Interestingly, it’s only an issue with balls. He’s swinging at pitches in the zone at an almost exactly league average rate, according to FanGraphs. Maybe he’s trying to work the count as the lead-off man, but can’t manage it due to his pitch recognition issues.

The 5 home runs are more or less legit, and if he were to play for the rest of the season he’d likely finish with 10-12. And it they’re all game tying grand slams with two outs in the ninth, that would be swell. After all, he has been so clutch this year (.385 wOBA in high leverage situations, .288 wOBA in low leverage situations).

So no, Corey Patterson isn’t a vastly different player than was expected. I didn’t hold his good luck against him too much when filling out his player report card for the Trade Deadline Primer though – he really has provided the team with some valuable production while Felix Pie was hurt. If the O’s could find a contender in a need of a 4th outfielder who was willing to part with an actual prospect to acquire Corey’s services for the rest of the year, they should jump on the deal with great haste. It would be like getting something for nothing; it didn’t really cost the Orioles anything to pick up Patterson, and he has no future with the team anyway. If a trade isn’t there – and I don’t really expect a GM to covet Corey all that much – then that’s one thing. Holding on to him for “need” of a lead-off hitter until he turns into a pumpkin as his BABIP regresses would be a mistake though.