With the offseason unfortunately upon us, it is now time to turn our attention to improving for next year. I am starting a weekly series titled "Offseason Homework Assignments" for each of the position players (I don't mess with pitchers). Today we will start with Eric Sogard.
Sogard is a good place to start because he potentially has a lot to lose. Middle infield has seen a pretty good turnover rate the last couple seasons, seeing Cliff Pennigton, Jemile Weeks, Grant Green, Scott Sizemore, Adam Rosales, Jed Lowrie, Alberto Collaspo, Andy Parrino, Stephen Drew, and Sogard all man the two positions.
By the numbers
2013 was Sogard's first season seeing consistent MLB playing time. Sogard appeared in 130 games and amassed 410 plate appearances. Here are his stats from 2013.
So basically we see a few things. 1) Sogard didn't hit for much power (.098 ISO). 2) His walk rate is quite a bit down from his career minor league mark (6.6% compared to 12%). And 3) the defensive metrics favor him, which seems to correspond with the eyeball test. If you believe in WAR, Sogard wasn't bad at 1.3.
The season stats don't paint the whole picture for Sogard. Check out his wOBA for each month of the season.
You could make a pretty good case for Sogard going through a typical rookie season: struggle to get going, find your groove through the summer, and fade at the end of the season.
The left/right splits show Sogard struggles against LHP (.304 wOBA vs. .296 wOBA).
To me, the most interesting stat for Sogard is his spray chart. Check out his wOBA to all fields.
Areas for improvement
Walk rate. Sogard isn't going to be confused with Chase Utley, meaning he is going to have to get on base to have value on offsense. He has shown in the minors he is not averse to drawing a walk, so what went wrong? One thing of interest is that Sogard was somewhat of a free swinger. Out of 204 hitters with 400 PA, Sogard's 3.62 pitches-per-plate-appearance is 178th. Since P/PA correlates fairly well with walk rate, it would be nice to see him take a few more pitches.
Stay out of centerfield. Out of 157 hitters with more than 120 balls hit to the middle of the field, Sogard's .232 wOBA is 154th. The hitters at the bottom of the list all have pretty crappy ISOs, so it may be wise for slap-type hitters to stay out of the middle of the field. The advice of "go up the middle" and "use the big part of the field" is more suited for Chris Davis, Mike Napoli, Nelson Cruz, Mike Trout, and Jayson Werth (the top five on the list).
Don't fade. Can we sign someone up to send Sogard a case of Gatorade on August 1st?
There isn't a ton of good footage of Sogard, but I was able to get enough to see a few things. One, Sogard employed a couple different strides throughout the season. See below.
His stride varied with pitch count, which depending on who you speak with is a good idea or not. I personally like the stride on the left better, and would rather see him stay consistent independent of the pitch count. Some players can adjust their swing dependent on the count and be successful (Miguel Cabrera), but some cannot (Josh Reddick).
As far as swing mechanics, Sogard is pretty simple. Probably too simple. I want to point out a couple of things. Sogard doesn't use his upper back and shoulders much in his swing. Considering his frame, I would like to see him use every scrap of muscle he has. Here is Sogard in a couple of swings as his front foot touches the ground.
Notice how much bend he has in the lead arm. That is really, really a lot. This tells me he is not engaging the rear shoulder muscles during the stride. Now here is Sogard as he puts the front foot down and launches the bat.
Still an awful lot of bend in that front arm by bat launch. I am not advocating that he should bar the lead arm, but with that much bend his bat path is pretty short and won't have elite speed. Compare Sogard at the same positions to another right-handed, left swinging, skinny second baseman.
We can really see the effects of the lack of shoulder function in his swing by examining his heat map. Sogard really has trouble getting around on the inside pitches. (For more technical info on the movement I want to see Sogard improve, go here. Interestingly, I use a former A's second baseman as an example).
I know a lot of people are calling for a new shortstop to move Lowrie to second base. I have a solution: move Sogard to short and Lowrie to second. The sum of Sogard's and Lowrie's wOBA is .648, good for 12th in MLB middle infields. So yes, the A's could get a little more production there. But considering Sogard's contract, A's budget constraints, the expected arrival of Addison Russell, I won't be worried if the A's pencil in Eric Sogard at 2nd base on Opening Day 2014. I am projecting a line very similar to Steamer for 2014, basically a .315 wOBA and 100 wRC+. Now if Sogard wants to talk about how he can get around on those inside pitches..........
What do you guys think?