John Fay has an article up on the Enquirer’s website about Dusty Baker and his outlook on 2011. His belief is that Dusty is still playing for every last win he can get in 2011 and that it is costing the Reds valuable time in the field for guys like Sappelt, Alonso, Frazier and even Devin Mesoraco. I agree with him completely on this. There simply isn’t much reason, other than a few extra wins (which is pretty arguable that Lewis and Cairo are worth even that over the rookies, especially at this juncture in the season) to not be playing the young guys. However, the main thing I wanted to talk about was something further down the article that touches on Denis Phipps. Here is a quote from Bill Bavasi:
“He’s always been potentially a five-tool guy,” said Bill Bavasi, the club’s director of scouting, player development and international operations. “He runs well. He plays a good center field. He has a terrific arm. The ball comes off his bat as well as anyone we’ve got.
“But he just hadn’t hit.”
“A lot of it is confidence,” Bavasi said. “There’s no sophisticated explanation as to why it clicked. It’s making contact and confidence.”
The last sentence there is what I wanted to address. Making contact and confidence is NOT why Phipps is hitting better now than he ever has before. Phipps is actually making LESS contact this season than he ever has before. In AA, his strikeout rate was 24.6%. In AAA it has been 25.4%. The highest it has ever been before this season (where he had at least 100 PA) was 21.8%. Now, is he more confident? Maybe. If so, that certainly could help improve his quality of contact. Rather than being uncertain and simply trying to put the bat on the ball, he is more certain and swinging a little harder and thus, getting better contact when he does indeed put the bat on the ball. There could be something to that, as his Isolated Power (SLG-AVG) is up from past seasons. However that could also be a function that he is just getting more hits and generally the more hits you have, the better chance you have at some of them finding the gaps for extra base hits (particularly when you aren’t a slap hitter type). However the largest reason that Phipps has gone gangbusters on us is this: His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .443 this season. Not only is that insanely unsustainable, its also nearly 50% higher than his career BABIP coming into the season.
While there is some control for hitters over BABIP, to the extent in which Phipps is doing it, there isn’t. Joey Votto has the highest BABIP in baseball over the last few years and his is in the .360’s. There are a few reasons why Votto can do that, but it is mostly because he simply never hits pop ups (he has 1 in the last two seasons, where as most guys have 20-40). As a stats guy who also loves to mix in scouting when evaluating players, I am of the belief that batters have a control over these things: How often they make contact, how often they walk, how much power they hit for and the types of batted balls they hit (fly balls/ground balls – line drive rates generally fall in a 4-5% window for everyone who deserves to be playing in the Majors, so it is generally not something the players control). So, lets take a look at those things for Phipps from 2011, compared to the last three seasons.
So really, we are only seeing a slight uptick in power and a gain in strikeouts compared to past seasons in his profile. The major thing is his nearly 50% increase in average on balls in play, which as I have noted, isn’t really sustainable at anywhere close to his current rate. So if Phipps really a different player than before? Yeah, he is a little bit. But this isn’t a Dave Sappelt or Devin Mesoraco type of break out like those two have had in the past where they drastically changed their skillsets which led to improved numbers.
Arizona Fall League
This list isn’t official, but its from a reliable source:
Reds going to the AFL: Yasmani Grandal, Travis Webb, Cody Puckett, Donnie Joseph, Brad Boxberger and Nick Christiani.
Four relievers and two position players. There could be another guy added, as some guys find themselves on the “taxi squad” and are only eligible for I believe two games a week. The good news for me though, is that some of the stadiums have Pitch F/X, which means plenty of good scouting information on the pitchers and a solid idea of the plate discipline on the hitters.