After a relatively quiet trade deadline, Brewers fans can trade one hobby for a new one. The old hobby — dreaming up deadline deals for the Brewers’ spare parts and big contract veterans — heads to the wayside (or at best, an August waiver trade), in favor of the new one: following the plate approaches and performances of the Brewers’ new gang of outfielders. There’s not much that’s good about Ryan Braun‘s suspension, but perhaps the only silver lining is that the Brewers can use Braun’s missed time during a lost season to see who can play in the outfield. Caleb Gindl and Khris Davis are currently thriving in their respective roles, bringing above average production to a club that desperately needs sparks from their bats. The Brewers haven’t averaged 4.00 RS/G during a month since April, and nearly 27% of the club’s plate appearances have come from players that can best be defined as either replacements or replacement/bench fringe players. Similarly, over 40% of the club’s plate appearances have come from players underperforming their 2012 campaigns. To see Gindl and Davis performing well is to gain hope that these outfielders can move from prospects to contributors for future Brewers clubs, ultimately leading to more runs scored.
Gindl’s Disciplined Contact
Caleb Gindl’s performancee in the majors this year contrasts his plate approach developments over the last few years in Nashville. Batting on the Brewers’ Pacific Coast League farm, Gindl’s plate approach increasingly moved from discipline and contact to an approach that yielded more strike outs and (eventually) more home runs.
Contrasting his strike-out-and-power approach in the PCL, Gindl is currently profiling as an extreme contact hitter with the Brewers. Specifically, he is hardly striking out — and, hardly homering, which results in batted-balls-in-play during more than 78% of his plate appearances. Gindl’s high walk rate shows that this contact approach is driven by discipline, rather than a swing happy inclination. According to FanGraphs, Gindl is currently swinging at fewer than 28% of pitches outside of the strike zone (which is almost as low as Rickie Weeks territory), which could be due in part to the fact that nearly 46% of his pitches are inside the strike zone.
Still, even if Gindl has relatively few opportunities to swing at pitches outside the zone, he is refraining from doing so, which is a promising sign for his ability to command the zone at the big league level. That 1.3% home run rate is nothing to worry about if Gindl’s strike zone command continues — he has shown at the PCL that even if he doesn’t possess prolific home run prowess, he can hit ‘em out of the park at a serviceable rate. That should only improve at Miller Park if Gindl continues to command the strike zone.
Davis’s Three True Outcomes
“True Outcomes” are for batters what “FIP” is for pitchers: the three true outcomes — K, BB, and HR — are batting results that keep the ball from heading into play, ultimately outlining productivity and plate approaches. Now, one might argue that if the goal for a pitcher is to keep the ball from heading into the field of play (and therefore, at the mercy of his fielders), a batter’s goal should be to knock the ball into play and see what happens. This is only partly true, for a batter can also use his batting approach to drive the ball, specifically in order to hit home runs. While a batter shouldn’t necessarily think home run at the plate, driving the ball will eventually produce homers for most batters, and driving the ball also has some collateral damage in terms of strike outs and walks. Specifically, if a batter is looking to drive his pitch, he may be inclined to work the count and lay off pitches that he can’t drive; this, in turn, will produce strike outs in many cases (due to swings to drive the ball and deep counts) and, hopefully, walks (due to discipline in laying off pitches that cannot be driven). Of course, this is all theory, and power hitters come in many shapes and sizes. But, the three true outcomes can outline a batting approach just as they can suggest whether a pitcher will have success; in this case, a true three true outcomes player embraces strike outs, walks, and home runs to produce at the plate.
Khris Davis has only seen 35 plate appearances thus far in 2013, but that hasn’t stopped him from racking up the homers, walks, and strike outs. Alongside 11 strike outs, Davis boasts 2 homers and 3 walks, resulting in relatively strong productivity without relying on batted balls in play. Compared to Gindl, Davis sees fewer pitches in the zone, but he also swings more frequently in general, and at more pitches outside the zone, too. According to FanGraphs, Davis swings at 39% of pitches outside the zone, which is among the highest O-swing ratios on the roster (placing Davis in the company of Yuniesky Betancourt, but behind prolific outside-the-zone swingers like Alex Gonzalez and Jeff Bianchi). Of course, with Gindl’s power profile — 4 of 8 hits have gone for extra bases — and solid walk rate, the number of swings at pitches outside the zone is relatively unproblematic. The problems could emerge should pitchers be able to consistently exploit Davis’s willingness to expand the zone to the detriment of his power.
Unlike Gindl, Davis’s 2013 MLB batting profile is similar to his general approach and production in the high minor leagues. Davis’s strike out and home run rates are much higher in the MLB thus far, but those are only exaggerations of his general trends from the minors, which include liberal doses of homers, walks, and strike outs. It seems clear from Davis’s profile that he’s not going to be a contact hitter, relying on batted balls in play to produce at the plate, but that’s okay: baseball needs true outcomes just as much as duck snorts, and if Davis can continue to hit the longball and draw walks, the Brewers will gladly stomach his strike out totals.
With Norchika Aoki‘s control years dwindling in Milwaukee, Davis and Gindl could turn their late season opportunities into longterm gigs in the majors. At worst, Davis could potentially convince the organization to run a RF platoon during 2014, and at best, Davis and Gindl could steal a starting job for the future — especially with Aoki’s contact-and-speed approaches failing to yield the same benefits of his 2012 breakout. Here, Gindl and Davis become exciting players to watch as 2013 moves to its final stretch, if only to add another potential positive to the 2014 organizational outlook.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC, 2000-2013.
IMAGE (AP, Morry Gash): http://www.wsbtv.com/ap/ap/top-news/gindls-hr-in-13th-sends-brewers-past-marlins-1-0/nYyXG/