I'm going to be straight-up with you. This article is going to be all about Daric Barton. I'm not doing this because I hate all of you and want to see you argue in the comments, I'm doing it because he's been an interesting player this year. Get yourself settled in, too, because SamYam is writing about Barton on Wednesday as well. It's all part of Troll The Community Week here on Athletics Nation. We'll also be talking about Jack Cust and holding a Giants Appreciation Day (absolutely not).
But seriously, Daric Barton. Here's a quick look at his career trajectory as a professional baseball player:
- Can't-miss prospect in Cardinals' system
- Can't-miss prospect in Athletics' system
- Exciting September call-up
- Crappy rookie
- Even worse diver
- Five-win player, top-5 MLB first baseman
- Injured mess
- DFA'd again
- Injury replacement
- Possibly good hitter?
There have been some ups and downs. Barton's career has been a rollercoaster, and the fans have been waiting in line for three hours in the hot sun and mostly getting in fights with each other about whether the ride will even be fun or not.
Barton has received 477 major league plate appearances in the last three seasons and 899 more in Triple-A, which is a nice way of saying that he's spent the last few years in the minors. With Josh Reddick on the DL, however, Brandon Moss has moved back to right field and Barton has made an unexpected return to the cold corner in Oakland. This is actually Barton's second stint replacing Reddick in the lineup this year. Here's how the first one went in mid-May:
.143/.217/.286 in 23 PA's, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts
Oh, that Barton! Why don't you try swinging at a pitch, ya knucklehead? Quit taking strike three! #FreeMichaelTaylor!
Here's what he's done in his second stint:
.313/.395/.406 in in 38 PA's, 5 walks, 3 strikeouts
Hey loser, learn how to swing a....oh wait, those numbers are pretty good. He even hit a 400-foot homer off of Yu Darvish. Obviously, both of these batting lines come in uselessly small sample sizes, but it's worth noting that his minor league strikeout rate has dropped from 21.3% to 15.8% to 11.7% over the last three seasons. My question is this: Has Barton changed something in his approach to become a more functional hitter, rather than a guy who comes up to the plate looking for a walk and then complaining when he takes a borderline strike three?
Let's take a look at some of the common criticisms of Barton's approach at the plate.
1. Barton is too passive at the plate and thus lets too many hittable pitches go by.
In 2010, when Barton led the AL in walks, he saw 4.39 pitches per plate appearance. He took everything. He'd swing now and then, but mostly just to ensure that his arms wouldn't fall asleep. Tough to take walks when you have pins and needles in your hands. He was good at this approach, too, as he walked more than he struck out and posted a wRC+ of 126 (that's nerd-speak for "26% better than the average hitter").
In 2011-12, when he was abjectly terrible, he saw 4.42 pitches per plate appearance. He was almost exactly as patient as he always had been, but now it wasn't working anymore -- he was striking out more than he was walking, and his wRC+ numbers were 71 and 86, respectively (that's nerd-speak for "Adam Rosales playing first base").
In his 38 plate appearances since being recalled in late August, Barton is seeing only 3.39 pitches per plate appearance. That is a massive drop. That's one entire pitch fewer than he has traditionally seen in each trip to the plate. My immediate reaction to this stat is that Barton has become more aggressive at the plate, and that, if he sees a good pitch early in the count, he's willing to go after it rather than let it go to work a longer at-bat. It should also be noted that he hasn't taken a called third strike in any of those 38 plate appearances, which could mean that he's doing a better job of aggressively protecting the plate with two strikes.
2. Barton is terrible in clutch situations.
Here is what Barton did in various situations during his fantastic 2010 season:
|Men On Base||.260||.378||.383|
|Men In Scoring Position||.233||.368||.322|
The theory was that, since he wasn't coming up looking to make contact, he was ineffective at driving in runners when pitchers had to bear down, throw strikes, and get the big out in the big spot. Now, I'm not a big believer in putting stock into clutch stats, since they are inherently small samples and tend to fluctuate over time for almost all players; you might be statistically good or bad in the clutch in a given season, but that doesn't mean you're an inherently good or bad clutch hitter ability-wise. These things tend to revert to the mean over time, and the best predictor for how good a guy will be in the clutch is how good of a hitter he is overall. Indeed, Barton did much better with runners in scoring position in 2011 and 2012, even though he was much, much worse overall in those seasons. Here is what he's doing with RISP since his recent recall in August:
5-for-11 in 13 PA's, .455/.462/.455, 7 RBI, one walk, one sac fly
He's still willing to take that walk if it's all he's given, but he seems more interested in making contact and driving in the runner. Of course, we're only looking at 13 plate appearances here, so it's important to remember that we're not drawing any serious conclusions. We're investigating possible reasons for his current hot stretch, and identifying trends to monitor over the rest of the season.
3. Barton has no power, partly because he's passively reacting instead of aggressively attacking.
As previously mentioned, Barton recently hit a 400-foot homer off of Yu Darvish (actually, 399 feet). According to Hit Tracker Online, it was his longest major league homer since 2008. When you don't have a lot of power and your offensive game is based on being a slap hitter who reacts to pitches as late as possible, I can imagine that it would be tough to square up and really drive a ball. One long home run doesn't mean that he's a new player, but he's also hitting a ton of line drives since his recall after several years of unfavorable batted ball profiles. Perhaps he's going up to the plate with a mindset to get his pitch and drive the ball, instead of hoping to make contact if a pitch looks like it's going to sneak into the zone.
Like I said, it's too early to draw any serious conclusions about Barton. He might just be having a good couple of weeks. When I watch him, though, I don't feel like I'm watching the same guy that so many people complained about over the last several seasons. He seems a bit more aggressive, more interested in swinging and making contact. When there are runners on, he's trying to drive them in. When he has two strikes, he's swinging the bat. And when he hits the ball, he hits it fairly hard. Will it continue? Who knows, but these are some things to keep an eye on -- he is almost certainly going to continue getting at-bats if he continues to play like this.
Daric Barton, y'all. He's back, and we're going to have to deal with it. The good news is, he might be good again. He might have finally figured it out. Maybe. We'll see. And there will be debates. Oh, there will be debates. May as well start them right now.
Winter is coming.