A Tribute To Alex Sanchez
Before we launch into our discussion of adjustments, I wish to give a tribute to Alex Sanchez, who played for 4 teams in his not-so-illustrious 5-year career. No, Sanchez didn’t die or anything — I was just thinking about him the other day and decided to look up some stats to refresh my memory of him.
Sanchez is a truly unusual player in that he was perhaps the worst baseball player ever to bat .296 for his career. Yes, he was basically a .300 hitter who was terrible. Sanchez could bunt and slap his way on but couldn’t really do a whole lot else.
So despite getting a hit about 3/10ths of the time that he ever batted, Sanchez managed only a career .330 OBP and he slugged .372. His foot speed was offset by his poor skills, causing him to be thrown out in 1/3 of his base stealing attempts.
And then there was his fielding: mind-numbingly bad. Imagine Eric Sogard’s hit tool and Yuniesky Betancourt’s plate discipline combined with Jack Cust’s facility with the glove. Fangraphs has his career UZR/150 in the OF at -15.2 (-21 DRS), and you would understand why if you saw him play. I happened to be at a game when Sanchez clanked a routine fly ball as part of a 2-error Custapalooza that was mind-boggling to witness.
Yes, Alex Sanchez batted .296 for his career and nobody wanted him. He played for 4 different teams (Milwaukee twice, Detroit twice, Tampa Bay, and San Francisco) and retired at age 29 because nobody would give him a job. His career WAR was -0.7.
Adjustments are hard to make and they’re also essential to make. Billy Burns (whose strengths and weaknesses kind of follow a discussion of Alex Sanchez) didn’t walk enough, but when he tried taking a lot more first pitches all of his stats plummeted. It’s not as simple as "take more, walk more!" in the cat-and-mouse game of adjusting and having the enemy adjust back.
Yet the ability to adjust is likely going to determine the fates of young players who are utterly essential to the A’s success in the near future. Everyone from you to me to Matt Chapman’s cat knows that the A’s 3B prospect needs to strikeout less. The question is whether there are adjustments Chapman can make that will cut down on the Ks without ruining his game in general — the "more contact" version of Burns’ conundrum.
There are a number of ways to cut down on your K-rate:
- You can swing, and put balls in play, earlier in the count so as to avoid any more two-strike counts than necessary. The downside of adopting this approach — and it’s significant — is that you will also lower your BB rate, something that in Chapman’s case is a strong and important part of his profile.
- You can hit more to the opposite field as a way to see pitches longer and avoid being as vulnerable to chasing bad balls. This may be a winner for Chapman, whose plus power allows him to hit with authority to all fields. Like Josh Donaldson and Mark Canha, Chapman does not have to pull the ball to dead LF in order to find or clear a wall.
- You can shorten/quicken your swing, which is ideal but also far easier said than done. If it were something Chapman (or Matt Olson) could simply do without ill side effects, it’s hard to imagine they would not have done it by now.
So to what extent is Chapman "what he is" and to what extent can he adapt just enough to strikeout a bit less while still maintaining his power, patience, and overall strong batting profile?
Then you have pitchers where you want to say "add a cutter!" (Overton) or "smooth out your delivery!" (Puk, Mengden) but then you have to assess the chances that a pitcher can, even with the best coaching, make a significant adjustment that is not part of what they are used to.
Thing is, it can happen in the blink of an eye just as it can never happen. Remember Dallas Braden in the bullpen during spring training, and Russ Springer (good dog) saying, "try throwing a cutter like this" — and legend has it that Braden took to it like a fish to water. You would hate to give up on a pitcher who is one pitch away, or one mechanical tweak away, from taking a huge step forward, and yet most of the time it doesn’t happen that way.
So...in the comments section talk about the adjustments needed for some of the A’s best young talent to get over the hump and into big league success/stardom, what they should try to do and whether you think they can do it. In a game where 1/10th of a second difference in bat speed matters and where 2 MPH constitutes a huge difference in velocity, it’s worth sweating the small things because they are big.