The three young players who saw late-season call ups with the Toronto Blue Jays all had one thing in common: they struggled at the plate in the areas of pitch recognition and patience.
The Toronto Blue Jays’ 2013 season wasn’t what fans expected. After bringing in big-name veterans, the hype surrounding the trades was enough to get any Jays fan excited. Unfortunately, injuries and career-worst performances combined to make the season an emotional roller coaster for anybody who followed the team. Amidst the frustration came a bright spot: playing time for younger players. Three players are in position this year to be contributors in 2014, depending on performance. Moises Sierra, Ryan Goins and Anthony Gose will all have a chance to showcase their abilities in the coming weeks in hopes of cracking the 25-man roster. Before that happens let’s look back at what might prevent this from happening.
All three players have a strong set of tools to bring to the table. Gose might have the best tools in the whole organization, sporting what Kevin Goldstein (Director of Pro Scouting for the Houston Astros) says to be 70/70/70 (on the 20-80 scale) on his glove, arm and run tool. Moises Sierra’s former manager, Sal Fasano, claimed that Sierra possessed an 80 arm. Goins has always received positive reviews from managers for his hard work. He even had praise from GM Alex Anthopoulos, when he said “He may be giving us the best defense at second since Orlando Hudson left.”
All three also have trouble with the same thing: plate discipline. Just as Jays fans as losing their patience, so are the young players. Just how bad are these players at determining what’s a ball or a strike? There are a couple statistics which deserve a look. O-Swing% represents the percentage of pitches a player chases outside the zone, while Z-Swing% represents the percentage of pitches a player swings at which are inside the zone. Swing% shows what percentage of pitches were swung at and finally Z-Contact% shows how many swings as pitches inside the zone resulted in contact. All of this data relies on PITCHf/x.
Line Drive% of Pitches Inside Zone
Statistics from Fangraphs
Statistics (LD%) from Brooks Baseball
Some of these numbers are troubling. Plate vision, or the ability to recognize whether a pitch is a ball or a strike, is a weakness. All three players are at least 6% above league average in chasing pitches. However, contact on pitches within the zone is not as bad as you would expect based on the numbers produced in 2013. All of them swing at a significant number of pitches outside the zone which seems to be the root of the problem. In Goin’s case, he is extremely patient with pitches that end up being strikes. The 12.2% spread between swings outside the zone and inside the zone can’t be a good sign. While there are a lot of negative things you can take away from that table, there are some positives.
While the pitch selection isn’t the best, they can still handle pitches inside the zone. It is a slippery slope: once a batter starts swinging at bad pitches, there are plenty more waiting around the bend. We’ve seen that problem time and time again with Jays prospects, whether it is J.P. Arencibia or Brett Lawrie (first half of 2013) so now a question must be asked: Is this a developmental philosophy?
Dwayne Murphy was a very vocal hitting coach in his days with the Jays. He was a pull-heavy, swing-for-the-fences type of coach and for some players, such as Jose Bautista, it worked. The only problem was for players like Aaron Hill and Adam Lind, it didn’t work very well. The Jays decided to bring in Chad Mottola, somebody with an approach that was perceived to be balanced, who had worked on an individual basis with many of the players before, earned a reputation for personalizing his philosophies to the player he was working with. His stint was brief, as the Blue Jays elected to fire him after only a year as hitting coach. It is not clear what effect these two coaches had, as Mottola worked hard in Triple-A Las Vegas for years with top prospects, followed by a swing for the fences mentality in the majors with Murphy.
The new hitting coach, Kevin Seitzer shows a balance approach. He likes players to hit the ball up the middle of the field, playing the gaps. He previously worked with the Kansas City Royals and had a profound effect on the hitters there. He helped Alex Gordon break out and top prospect Eric Hosmer get off to a a hot start in his career. While some say his philosophy hurts power hitters, you can’t help but notice the generally successful record of players on his team. Although Murphy was credited with the breakout of Jose Bautista and possibly Edwin Encarnacion (although Encarnacion happened to work with Robinson Cano‘s hitting coach over the offseason before his breakout), it is important to remember players like Hill and Lind.
Seitzer also has already worked with Goins this past offseason. Seitzer “simplified” Goins’s approach and only time will tell if that will be enough to get Goins away from the strikeouts.
The young Blue Jays are often criticized for being bad hitters. When the ball is inside the zone, they are great hitters but that can be said about most players in the league. It will be interesting to see if Seitzer’s new low-strikeout philosophy will be enough for the young players to regain patience at the plate.