Wednesday the 15th of May, 2013. The New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Double-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, has won 5-4 over the Portland Sea Dogs. This is not amazing. In baseball, scores of 5 to 4 happen all the time. In fact, there might not be a more average score in baseball than 5-4. There's another part of the box score that is definitely odd, however. A certain Ryan Schimpf was at third base to start this game, yet never came to bat. He was not replaced either. Ryan Schimpf played a full game of minor league baseball at third base, yet did not record an at bat. One of these things has to be wrong, right? Every position player has to come to bat, they can't skip a turn if they don't feel like batting. So what happened? You've probably already guessed, but Schimpf did come to the plate, did complete his at bats, but those at bats simply ended in walks. All five of them.
This is outrageous, though. How can box scores be so misleading? They're telling me Schimpf did not have any at bats, while in fact he had five of them. Ryan Schimpf got on base five times, yet the box score does not even acknowledge that he came to bat. This thing we call "box score" seems to be an outdated piece of "technology" that does not serve our purposes very well, how on earth did they even come up with this use of the term "At Bat"? The answer, I believe, is called Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin. While I was thinking about this subject, I was listening to some very relaxing piano music by the great Chopin, and it dawned on me: this is how the creators of the At Bat statistic saw hitters who took a base on balls. In their minds, Ryan Schimpf appeared near the plate five times - this is why the statistic "Plate Appearance" does count walks - but did not bat. While the opposing pitcher threw some amount of pitches for strikes, and four of them wide of the plate, Schimpf was not even paying attention. Schimpf was listening to the works of the great Chopin, in his head or by way of an iPod or something similar.
This theory, though well thought-out, is flawed. While Ryan Schimpf might have been listening to Chopin at the time of his plate appearances, I am pretty certain that he was actually paying attention to the baseballs that were thrown in the direction of the plate, even if they didn't end up near said plate. I mean, as a batter, you want to get out of the way if a fastball is coming right at you. And Schimpf faced Daniel Bard, who throws very hard but not accurately, so in this game, so he had every reason to be paying attention, if only to avoid serious injury. Gameday also has record of Schimpf swinging the bat a whopping two times during this game, though minor league Gameday's accuracy is doubtful in this case. Schimpf might have swung the bat even more. In any case, this should be sufficient evidence that ignoring the ability to take a walk was a mistake by the creators of the At Bat statistic. It's also evident that Schimpf is a patient hitter.
How much is that patience worth, however? Ryan Schimpf is currently hitting .227/.374/.515 and has homered nine times already, while drawing 29 walks. Those facts are related, as it is easier to draw walks when the pitcher knows you can hit a ball very far. And you can see that Schimpf has that ability in this video, even if the quality and camera angle do justice to neither Schimpf's power nor Chopin's music. The obvious flaw in Schimpf's game is visible in the low batting average, caused by a tendency to strike out and a tendency to hit flyballs and popups, which go for hits less often. If major league pitchers have a way to throw strikes to Schimpf that end up as Ks and popups most of the time, then Schimpf will have little value to a major league baseball club, especially since his defensive position is also a question mark.
Christian Lopes, 20-year-old second baseman for the Lansing Lugnuts, has flaws that are the opposites of Schimpf's flaws. Lopes has the ability to make solid contact, avoiding strikeouts and hitting line drives. However, he is lacking both power and patience. As of right now, Lopes is hitting .299/.318/.382, almost the definition of "empty batting average", a term often associated with Juan Pierre, at least when I'm doing the associating. Lopes' five walks to twenty-seven strikeouts are not pretty, but there's still the question whether it's a product of bad plate discipline or bad pitch recognition. Discipline can be improved by simply taking more pitches, but bad pitch recognition seems to be a problem that's hard to overcome. A most striking example of this is Delmon Young, who hit the ball hard at all minor league levels but almost never walked. Young has been very disappointing in the majors, despite his obvious talent at hitting baseballs. In 2011, Young swung at significantly less pitches than in other seasons. However, he still swung at the same amount of pitches out of the strike zone, just less at pitches withing the strikezone. As you would expect, that did not improve Delmon Young. Here's a fun article with some nice Delmon Young gifs to end this paragraph.
You might, at this point, be asking why I focus on the flaws of prospects so much more than on their strengths. The answer is not really that complicated. Flaws are exploitable by major league pitchers (or hitters, for that matter). Unlike minor leaguers, major leaguers are well equipped to punish a player's flaws, and they have the resources to find out about a player's flaws before the game. That's why I'll usually take a well-rounded player over a specialist, because the well-rounded player's numbers are less likely to drop off sharply when they reach the majors. Of course, it's not impossible that young players improve aspects of their game drastically. With you, I'll be hoping this happens for all of the Blue Jays' prospects. But until then, I'm here to warn you about their flaws, and prevent you from getting overly excited. Until next week, when I'll talk about the MLB draft!