This week I decided to take a look back on the hitters from the farm system in the 2014 season and see where they struggle and excel in certain offensive categories. I limited things to players with 150 plate appearances in the 2014 season while excluding players who have been released, traded, are over the age of 25 or didn’t play in the US (the Reds have two Dominican Summer League teams). That left us with a sample of 54 players to look at.
Plate discipline is very important for a hitter. The general theory is that if you swing at good pitches (strikes) then you are going to make better contact than if you swing at bad pitches (balls). It seems to make perfect sense and with the advent of the Pitch F/X data, we can see just how true that actually is. Guys that walk in proportion to their strikeout totals tend to produce better at the plate. There is more than one way to success. Some guys walk and strike out a lot and can be successful. Likewise, some guys don’t walk much but also rarely strike out and those guys tend to also find success. Where players begin to run into trouble is when their strikeout-to-walk ratio is worse than 3.00, and sometimes even in that 2.00-3.00 range depending on their other skills. Below I’ve charted out the 54 players on the list based on their strikeout and walk rates while highlighting certain players and showing the different areas of what it likely means.
Those within the gray area fall in an ideal ratio of strikeouts and walks. The perfect player would be lower and to the right of the chart, while the big time free swingers are in the upper left part of the chart. I’ve highlighted a few outliers as well as some of the top hitting prospects. You can see all of the data for the players at the bottom of this post.
Strikeouts and power
Strikeouts are a part of the game, now more than ever. The strikezone in the Major Leagues has expanded by over 40 square inches in just the last FIVE years. That is going to put scoring runs at a premium and the easiest way to do that is with power. Extra-base hits get guys closer to the plate and sometimes it will bring them (and others) all the way around the bases. Striking out less is obviously a good thing, but striking out more isn’t always a bad thing as long as it is offset by other things (more power, walks). In this chart we are looking at a guys strikeout rate versus his isolated power (slugging – average).
Like the chart before it, the ideal rate is found in the gray area. Obviously the more power a player has the more strikeouts are acceptable as the trade off still works out.The higher and more left on this chart, the better. Age comes into play as power generally develops as players get older.
It does need to be noted here that park factors do play a big part here as several places where the Reds affiliates played in 2014 have park factors that skew things. The California League where Bakersfield played is a big time power booster. Left field in Pensacola is a big power booster, but right field saps power in the park. The Pioneer League where Billings plays is also very hitter and power friendly. Dayton and Louisville are close to being neutral in terms of the stadium and the league.
Strikeouts, walks and power are generally what drive a players offensive abilities. For the most part, players don’t have a ton of control on what happens in terms of the ball being a hit or an out once they put the ball in play. While they do have some control, a large majority of players fall in line with the .290-.310 BABIP range, leaving how often they make contact, how often they walk and how often they hit the ball over the fence to be the large driving forces behind their hitting value.
A player who finds himself in both charts gray areas has a lot working for him and the more in the gray area, the better. A guy like Jesse Winker is well established in both and it is why he stands out among the Reds hitting prospects. He does it all well at the plate. Players who are in one gray area but not in the other will likely need to make improvements in order to become quality big league hitters, though there are always exceptions to the rule. Of course the further away from the gray areas that they are, the less likely it is that they can be an exception in the long run without improvements.
Next week I will look at the pitchers in a similar matter, so be sure to check back.