What Kind of a Hitter is Ryan Sweeney?

In case you missed yesterday's SFGate story on Adam Rosales, you should really check it out. There is no other way to describe it other than it's cute; little-kids-and-puppies cute.

"First time I hit a home run, I jogged around the bases and felt I slowed the game down," Rosales said. "After that, I said I'm going to run hard. I've been doing it since I was 12 years old. I promised myself if I ever had the opportunity to play at a high level, I'd keep doing it. I'm keeping a promise to my 12-year-old self. Fans seem to appreciate it."

So, let's talk for a minute about Ryan Sweeney, who has been aptly described (TM mikev) as an "empty .300 hitter". Don't misunderstand me; I am not unhappy with Sweeney's average. My complaint is less about who Ryan Sweeney is and more about who he's not. Or more specifically, who the A's are pretending he is; a number 3 hitter, even for this lineup. (Okay, maybe not the current patchwork lineup, but the one that the A's thought they might field.) He may look the part, but even a cursory glace shows that his power numbers fall much closer in line with Jason Kendall's than they do Jason Giambi's.

Obviously this comparison is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it's an example we know well. Jason Kendall is more or less a career .300 hitter with little to no power. Yet it's not like any of his teams slotted him in as third or clean-up, banking on the fact that one day, his power would just come around. Kendall batted first, eighth or ninth.

Baseball Reference's list of "similar players to Ryan Sweeney" includes, interestingly enough: Coco Crisp (obviously at similar ages). This is not a bad comparison; Coco was a good hitter, but to say that he should have been hitting in the middle of the lineup is ridiculous.

Off the top of my head, I also think of Scott Podsednik, who is basically Ryan Sweeney with stolen bases, triples, and speed. When he hits a homerun, it is surprising. Somehow we aren't surprised when Sweeney does it, but maybe we should be. It doesn't happen all that often. In 484 AB's last year, Sweeney had 142 hits; only 6 of those were homeruns. And before you scoff and make fun of my Pods-Sweeney comparison, keep in mind that Podsednik actually had a higher OPS in 2009 than Sweeney did.  I know, I couldn't believe it when I looked it up either: .764 to .755.

So what else do Coco Crisp, Scott Podsednik, and Jason Kendall have in common? They're all 6 feet tall, and about 180-185 pounds. And not that power is always correlated with bigger hitters, but consider this:

Ryan Sweeney is 6' 4'', and 225.

And it is probably because of this that I expect him to at least wield a little more power. Looking at his minor league stats, in 2006 he had 13 homeruns (in 450 AB), and in 2007, he had 10 (in 400 AB). He hasn't been over double-digits since, and his slugging percentage has only been over .400 twice in his six full professional seasons.

Sweeney is not a middle of the lineup hitter, and it's likely he will never have the power to change this. What is it that makes a power-hitter? Can this be changed? How much of a role does size/weight play in power-hitting? Can it be taught? How many homeruns will Sweeney hit this year?

The A's will attempt to even the series this afternoon.


Current Series

Rays lead the series 1-0

Tue 04/27 WP: Wade Davis (2 - 1)
SV: Rafael Soriano
LP: Ben Sheets (1 - 2)
6 - 8 loss

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