Second baseman Scooter Gennett has been one of the brightest spots for the Brewers since inheriting the everyday gig once Rickie Weeks landed on the DL with a hamstring injury. No adjustment period has been needed for the diminutive Gennett, who is currently hitting .331/.368/.535 with six home runs in 154 plate appearances.
In fact, over the last 30 days, Gennett has been one of the best hitters in the National League.
Sure, he owns an unsustainable .435 BABIP over that stretch, but even figuring in some regression, he’s shown some good things at the plate. Perhaps the most surprising has been his power production. Most people expected Gennett to hit for average at the big-league level, but no prognostications had him compiling a .204 ISO through almost a fourth of a season. Especially since his previous career-high was a .154 ISO with the Class-A Timber Rattlers in 2010. Sustainability questions aside, he’s been utterly tremendous to watch at the plate over the past month.
Considering his impressive performance this year and Weeks’ well-documented struggles, should he be a lock to land the Brewers’ starting second baseman role for Opening Day next year?
At first glance, it seems to be a resounding yes. His +1.4 WAR through only 49 games is essentially two-wins better than the -0.3 WAR that Weeks provided in over 100+ games. He’s also only 23 years old and sits on the correct side of the development curve, which is always important to be cognizant of when projecting future performance. Furthermore, he’ll make the league minimum next season, so the organization could conceivably look to unload Weeks’ contract and potentially garner improved performance for much less money.
As mentioned earlier, the power production has been a massive surprise, but he’s otherwise doing exactly what we expected him to do. He’s spraying the baseball all over the field and commanding the inside and outside portions of the plate. He’s hitting for a high batting average and not walking or striking out much. And if we analyze his heat map this year, we can see just how well he’s handled pitches all over the strike zone.
If the ball is in the lower two-thirds of the strike zone, Gennett has found considerable success. It appears opposing pitchers can attack him up in the zone, but that’s doesn’t appear to be a black hole. Instead, it’s just not solid red, like the remainder of his heat map.
It should be noted the young man isn’t an asset with the glove. He’s already been below-average in defensive metrics this season, and that’s not projected to improve much. Scouting reports have long said Gennett will have issues defensively. Unfortunately, he doesn’t profile anywhere else defensively, so the Brewers will have to make it work if they like his bat enough to give him regular at-bats. It will be something to watch, as many of the Brewers’ up-and-coming pitching prospects are extreme ground-ball pitchers. Gennett isn’t a great fit in that regard.
However, if Gennett can produce at the plate, his defensive deficiencies will be tolerated, and in many ways, Brewers fans should be quite accustomed to that statement by this point. It’s something the organization has been willing to do for years.
That was roughly 500 words praising the 23-year-old Gennett and his chances to start for the Brewers at second base next season. And much of it is deserved. It’s time to address the elephant in the room, though.
Scooter Gennett is essentially unplayable against left-handed pitching.
He’s enjoyed a tremendous stretch at the plate this summer, but even during that stretch, he has only hit .095/.136/.095 with zero extra-base hits and zero walks against southpaws. The young man has feasted on opposite-handed pitching, and it’s masked his struggles against lefties. And before citing the small-sample size mantra — which would be interesting given the overall excitement surrounding his success in just 49 games — it was also a significant issue with Triple-A Nashville.
This isn’t a flaw that’s suddenly being exposed by major-league pitching. Gennett has a track record here. Even with Double-A Huntsville in 2012, he only hit .241/.271/.335 against lefties. His struggles with the Brewers against southpaws is simply an extension of past problems — and is likely the reason the Brewers called him up to merely platoon with Rickie Weeks earlier this season. He’s been forced into everyday duty with Weeks on the DL, but he’s already starting to be limited against left-handed pitching. On Sunday, Ron Roenicke removed him in favor of Jeff Bianchi once the Cubs went to left-hander James Russell in the seventh inning.
To limit Gennett against left-handed pitching next season, the Brewers have a couple different options. They could platoon him with Rickie Weeks, who has hit southpaws throughout his career, including this season. They could also choose to part ways with Weeks and his contract — through a Casey McGehee type trade — and opt for a cheap free-agent platoon partner, such as Jamey Carroll or Mark Ellis. Alternatively, the organization could commit to Gennett and hope he improves against lefties with consistent at-bats, though that’s admittedly not an option if the organization truly wishes to compete next year.
It’s important to realize that despite his tremendous stat line through August and September, Scooter Gennett hasn’t shown he’s anything but a platoon second baseman. With that being said, he appears to be a very good platoon second baseman, especially if he mashes opposite-handed pitching to the extent he’s shown the past couple seasons. It’s then a matter of deciding whether the organization is going to pair him with a right-handed platoon partner, or simply ride out his struggles against southpaw and hope he can make up for it against righties.
Neither are ideal options, but Scooter Gennett has shown he can be successful at the big-league level if put in the correct position. It’s now up to the organization to decide what makes more sense in terms of roster construction: maximize the second base position with a platoon partner, or upgrade elsewhere and go with the limited, yet inexpensive option on a full-time basis.
That answer likely lies in the Brewers’ ultimate direction this offseason, which remains rather unclear at the moment.