Is Kosuke really better?

Kosuke Fukudome had a terrible second half last season. And he followed it up with a terrible World Baseball Classic, which led into a terrible, abbreviated, spring training. Then he went 0-4 in the season opener, and didn’t start in game two, and I, at least, concluded that he’d be lucky to get half the plate appearances in center field.

Then in game three, he went 4-5 with a walk and a home run, and he hasn’t really stopped hitting since. Through seventeen games (that is, through everything before the Arizona series), he had, in 77 PAs, a .371/.481/.661 line, with four home runs.

This isn’t just as good as his hot start last year, it’s better. After 77 PAs last year, Fukudome looked like he’d be the rookie of the year, with a .317/.442/.460 line. This  year, he’s hitting for a higher average, and as a result, getting on base more. His walks are down from 14 at this time last year to 13 this year – but last year, two of those were intentional, and none are this year. And he’s slugging 200 points better, because he’s hit more home runs in the first seventeen games than he did in the first 50 last year.

Can he keep it up? Well, almost certainly not. His batting average on balls in play is .413, which is unsustainable (although actually a little low for his also-unsustainable 31.3% line-drive percentage). And it’s a little higher than his BABIP at the same point last year, which was .387. So we can expect that average to drop a bit. But home runs aren’t part of BABIP, so if those keep up, he’s going to be much better.

In fact, he’s likely to put up a much better line for the whole season, anyway. Fukudome hit, after this point last year, .249/.346/.368. If he were to equal last season’s numbers, he’d have to go .241/.339/.333. It’s possible he could hit those average and on-base numbers, but I’m not sure he could equal that slugging number for the rest of the season if he tried. So it looks like, while Fukudome could still fall below the high hopes people had when he came to MLB, he’s in the midst of what we’ll look back at as something of an improvement on the season.

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