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Jason Lane and Luke Scott

Looking over the Astros stat sheet, there are two oddities that stand out.

Jason Lane:
88 games, 242 at-bats, .207/.330/.397, 12 homers, 43 walks, 57 strikeouts.

Luke Scott:
34 games, 115 at-bats, .400/.461/.635, 3 homers, 14 doubles, 13 walks, 19 strikeouts.

Lane is one of the bigger disappointments in the game this year, while Scott's play over the last month is one of the bigger surprises. What does this say about each player?

We'll look at Lane first since we have more major league data to work with. Lane is 29 years old. He entered 2006 with a career mark of .271/.327/.507 in 749 at-bats, including .267/.316/.499 last year in 145 games for the Astros. His career mark is now .255/.328/.480 in 991 at-bats. He's lost 16 points of career batting average this year, and 27 points of career slugging percentage. However, his career OBP has actually increased a point this season. His walk rate is much better than it was last year. . .he's drawn 43 walks compared to just 32 all last season, in far fewer plate appearances.
His strikeout rate is up just a hair: he fanned in 19% of his plate appearances last year, compared to 20% this year. That is an insignificant difference.

So what we have here is a guy who is drawing a lot more walks than last year, and isn't striking out at a significantly higher percentage. His power production is down somewhat: his isolated power last season was .232, this year it is .190. But still, he's shown pretty decent pop. His home run per at-bat ratio is almost identical to last year, the main difference in his power is fewer doubles and singles. His EQA is .251 this year, compared to .274 last year and .276 the year before. . .obviously less effective than in the past, but the drop is enough to be due to random chance. He is having a lot of trouble against right-handed pitchers (.200/.306/.350) but has been more effective against lefties (.231/.405/.523). Note the strong overall production against southpaws despite the low batting average. His BB/K/AB ratio against right-handers is 27/44/180, compared to 18/15/65 against lefties.

. On paper, this looks like a combination of things: contact issues against right-handed pitchers, and simple bad luck. From looking at the stats and his overall track record, I think he would be a good candidate to rebound next year. I haven't seen Lane in person enough to give a diagnosis about his swing or other issues, and I'd be interested to hear what Astros fans have to say about it.

Luke Scott, on the other hand, has been killing the ball. He was a big disappointment last year, but has been an even bigger surprise this year. Combine it, and he now has a career mark of .313/.382/.492 in 195 career at-bats. I do NOT think that Scott is a "real" .300 hitter, in the sense that he could maintain this over a full season. From watching him in the minors the last few years, he reminds me a lot actually of Jason Lane, albeit a mirror-image, lefty-hitting version. I think Scott is "coded" (if you will) as a .275/.340/.450 hitter, certainly useful. I think this is a run of good luck, counteracting to some extent the bad luck he had in limited action last year.

Remember what Shane Spencer did for the Yankees in 1998? He hit .373/.411/.910 with 10 homers in a mere 67 at-bats. It was a well-timed hot streak that got him a major league job as a platoon player for the next several years. His career numbers ended up at .262/.326/.428. I think Scott will end up similar to Spencer, probably somewhat better. And I expect the same for Jason Lane as well.

That's my read on the situation. Both Lane and Scott are solid hitters, capable of helping a major league team at the very least as platoon players. Lane has had bad luck this year, Scott good luck. But their balance of hitting skills are overall quite similar.

Jason Lane Career Minor League Numbers Entering 2006: .295/.373/.521 .894 OPS
Luke Scott Career Minor League Numbers Entering 2006: .276/.359/.533 .892 OPS