Rule 4: Beware of sluggers with poor plate skills.
As we noted in Rule 3 of this series, mining for prospects almost always requires focus on “all-around” ability, and not just a single skill. Needless to say, the easiest way to go wrong is when power hitters come along with shiny home-run numbers but big strikeout rates.
Fans love to get excited about hitters with lots of long-balls on their resume, especially when the player also looks big and “toolsy.” In reality, however, it is extremely rare for a guy to have extended big-league success with just tools and power. Bo Jackson — a freak of nature — may have done it for awhile, but not many mortals will make it long in the majors with a .309 OBP like Bo’s.
So, the first thing to remember is that it is possible to be a slugger who does not strike out a ton. Obviously, those are the ones you want: Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, Mark Teixeira… the guys who hit it hard with strong plate skills are the guys who get lots of MVP votes.
But if you don’t have one of those, what do you look for? Two things: first, is he actually hit ting enough home runs to make up for the high K%? and, second, does he walk?
In other words, if your guy is going to survive a high strikeout rate, he has to actually hit a lot of home runs, and draw walks. The “profile” for this type of hitter is the “Slugger Who Walks,” and the two poster boys are Mark Reynolds and Russell Branyan. Although both have been total “whiff machines,” they both made MLB careers out of home runs and walks. Reynolds career K% is a massive 32.6%. Branyan’s was 32.9%. It can be done, but it’s not easy. Both those guys have HR% (HR/PA) well over 5% and BB% (BB/PA) well over 11%.
Problem is, most guys (even those who look like “sluggers”) don’t come anywhere near those HR and walk rates. Lots of guys who come up as “sluggers” have HR% well under 4%. They don’t slug enough or walk enough to make up for the strikeouts.
What then? Then you have what I call a “Random Moon Shot Guy.” He won’t give you consistency at the plate, but there will be times when he connects and sends a “Moon Shot” into the stands.
I am actually not opposed to the Random Moon Shot Guy, as long as you know what you are getting. The fact is, they do change the scoreboard and that wins games. But … you want your Random Moon Shot Guy at a glove position if at all possible, and you don’t want him in the middle of the order.
Miguel Olivo at catcher is fine if you can bat him 7th or lower and hope for some timely long-balls. But if you have to bat him lower than that, he’s going to be miscast. And if you are playing this kind of guy at a corner position and expecting him to hit in the middle of the order, then you’re almost certain to be disappointed.