The Eyeball Scout is pleased to note that we are breeding eyeball scouts younger and younger these days. As an example, our newest employee is just 20 months old and has already weighed in on Bruce Maxwell. Just as soon as she has a more nuanced vocabulary, we will be bringing in Dennis Eckersley to teach her to say, “Yuck!”
However, as much as the Eyeball Scout encourages group think and plagiarism, he is unable to merely use Jules’ reactions and analyses as his own. What have the Eyeball Scout’s eyes seen with regard to Bruce “Bad Guy!” Maxwell, Matt “Marry Me (seriously, text me)” Chapman, and Marcus “Egg Finder” Semien?
Bullish as I generally am on Maxwell as a key catcher going forward, the past month has not been pretty at the plate. Maxwell is 0 for 8 in August following a sad July in which he batted .179/.338/.304. There is no doubt that Maxwell knows the strike zone and has the patience to draw walks and maintain a solid OBP. Most puzzling is the lack of slugging from as big and strong a player as Maxwell, who is now slugging all of .348 for his career.
My take on Maxwell is that he suffers from a similar malady to the one which plagued Yonder Alonso for years: he does not gear his approach to use his lower body, generate a more desirable launch angle and produce more fly balls driven to the outfield.
Maxwell hits a lot of ground balls (48.8% this season compared to Alonso’s new found 32.6%), which is especially lethal for a hitter who will not beat out any infield hits and who is a big double play threat. If Maxwell were to gear his swing to launch more fly balls, synching his upper and lower body to support his swing, he would have legitimate power to all fields — he’s that strong.
And for Maxwell to be successful, he is going to have to provide some slugging to go with what figures to be a good OBP. there is no reason a batter with his eye and his strength should not be able to slug over .400, but it is going to require a shift in approach that, I believe, starts with a similar tweak to his swing mechanics. Paging Coach Alonso: can you help?
If you want to get excited, consider that with 1.1 WAR in 38 games Matt Chapman is on pace, over a full season, to be better than a 5.0 WAR player -- and he’s batting .217 with a .295 OBP. The sky is the limit for this ol’ Chap and his 112DRS, +22.0 UZR/150, 18 extra base hits.
What I have noticed about Chapman at the plate is that he appears to guess an awful lot. This includes several 3-2 counts and other 2 strike pitches. With less than 2 strikes it’s often wise to look for a certain pitch or to focus on one half of the plate or the other — that approach doesn’t work for every hitter but can work well for some. Chapman, though, seems to be taking it to extremes and applying the approach even with 2 strikes, and that’s risky business. I’m also not sure it’s necessary.
A better approach, to me, is to look for “very hittable pitches” with less than 2 strikes, ready to pounce on them and prepared to let go pitches that, even if strikes, are not great pitches to hit. Any fastball in the heart of the plate, any hanging off speed pitch, when you see it let your eyes light up and attack it – “strike like Cobra”. That’s what Chapman should be on the prowl for with less than 2 strikes.
With 2 strikes, because he has power to all fields Chapman can look for balls to hit hard where they are pitched: outside pitches might get driven to RF, inside pitches to LF, fastballs driven more the other way and off speed pitches pulled more often — just put a good swing on it, make solid contact, and let the ball fly.
In other words, I don’t think Chapman needs to focus on what pitch is being thrown so much as whether or not the pitch is in his “happy zone”. Lay in the weeds for those hittable pitches, and be ready to ambush. In a way it’s a simpler approach and that’s a good thing. Most of all, I think it’s an approach that would serve him well.
First off, I realize that necessity is the mother of invention and the A’s don’t have a natural #2 hitter at this moment, but a #2 hitter Semien is not. Way too much swing and miss in his game, not enough bat control, not enough OBP against RHPs, to make the #2 spot in the order a good fit for Marcus against all pitching. Against LHPs it’s fine, but I really hope going forward that against RHPs the A’s will settle on Semien batting more like 6th or 7th where he belongs.
Defensively, I think Semien has taken a step back again and here is what the Eyeball Scout specifically notes about Semien’s defensive efforts of late…Marcus takes an awfully long time to get rid of the ball, slow on the transfer turning DPs, needing to tap his glove even on plays whose urgency prevent the ‘timing crow hop,’ and especially slow when the crow hop and glove tap are combined. The arm strength is fine but is much neutralized by how long it takes Semien to actually make the throw.
And then, of course, there’s the inability to throw straight when he has enough time to think. Semien’s best throws come on his most difficult plays, but on routine ground balls he has still not found a way to reliably hit the 1Bman in the chest most of the time. Either Semien throws a sinker that would make Kendall Gravemen proud, or he drops the arm slot down and throws that lazy tailing-sailing special that is, for the 1Bman, a ‘swing and miss pitch’.
In sum, we’re back to every play being a bit of an adventure and as the A’s try to shore up their defense – and putting Chapman and Olson at the corners, Powell and Pinder in the outfield, is a great start – Oakland is going to need to get better defense up the middle than they currently project to have with the Semien-Barreto duo.
Ultimately, in Semien and Barreto the A’s likely have two shortstops in name but two second basemen in reality. If he gets back to hitting 27 HRs (and I wouldn’t be surprised if he never hits more than 22 again), Semien’s defense might play well enough at SS for him to stay there for a while, but if he settles into being more of the .250/.330/.400 hitter he often appears to be, then putting him at SS every day is going to be a stretch. It’s just too important a defensive position.
Of these three, who are you most worried about long-term?
This poll is closed
Matt Chapman (too many Ks)
Bruce Maxwell (too little slugging)
Marcus Semien (too stretched at SS)