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Observations From An Eyeball Scout Without Eyes

Kansas City Royals v Oakland Athletics
Scientists have captured evidence that sometimes Ryan Noda actually puts the ball in play.
Photo by David Durochik/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Normally right about now I would be down in Arizona watching young players and reporting back on how everything looked through the lens of the Eyeball Scout.

Instead I came down with shingles — they’re not just for roofs anymore! — and if you’ve ever had shingles I would welcome your anecdote in the comments as experiences vary considerably. That’s partly because shingles attaches to a nerve, and which one it finds can inform how bad the symptoms are.

Unfortunately for me, the nerve of choice was the one running from my right ear along the jaw line, making chewing nigh impossible, sleeping nearly as challenging, and creating pain roughly at 11 on the classic 1-10 scale. I now have drugs that should help. (Yay drugs. “Just Say Yes,” kids.)

Shingles also comes, at no extra charge, with a hideous rash that turns to blisters and then scabs, over a period of weeks. So you logged on to hear from the Eyeball Scout and instead you got the Elephant Man, and really the only thing those two have in common is Stomper.

No matter — shingles resolves itself, and as far as scouting is concerned who needs to actually see stuff in order to offer insights and analysis? It’s the internet, people! Also, as painful as this rendition of shingles is my doctor said I was lucky it didn’t find one of the two nerves just above as those could have put my eye in danger. The Eyeball Scout is thankful, as you really only want to be a blind Eyeball Scout one time.

Anyhoo, here are some of things I’m “seeing” by way of listening and following the news...

Nick Allen

There is much concern over whether Allen can hit enough to play every day at SS, and the A’s already appear to be hedging their 2023 bets with Aledmys Diaz seeing time at SS. What is it that Allen has to do in order to hit just well enough to claim an everyday gig?

Because he will never hit for much power, Allen is going to need a very good “line drive” or “barrel” rate on the balls he does put into play. Especially with no shifting, there is no way to defend against line drives.

Allen’s line drive rate in the big leagues last season was 16.9%. The median across MLB last year was 20.75% with 14.6% being the lowest. So Allen was a little closer to the bottom than he was to the middle, something to watch going forward. Kick that LD rate up a couple ticks, get it to or near 20%, and you might have something.

Also Allen needs to be far more selective in getting “his pitch” than he was in 2022. His putrid showing against RHP (.179/.232/.226) was informed largely by Allen’s tendency to swing often and in the process chase a lot bad balls.

Counter-intuitively, Allen’s LD rate was actually much better against RHP, 18.8% to 13%. But the stat which offsets this and more is that Allen struck out at a 23.3% rate against RHP compared to just 10.6% against LHP.

In other words, when Allen made contact he actually barreled the ball more often against RHP. He just didn’t hit the ball nearly as often against RHP, and to my eyes the quickest antidote would be to become far more selective against RHP, guarding against “chase pitches” more by only swinging at mistakes and “pitches he’s looking for and gets” early in the count.

Spring training results don’t tell you a whole lot, but 16 PAs in it’s “so far so good,” I suppose. Allen is 4 for 12 with 4 BB and 3 K.

Ryan Noda

I think there has been some collective disappointment in Noda’s spring training performance so far, as he is striking out a lot and taking a lot of strikes. I’m here to tell you that if this is Noda at his worst you’re going to love this guy.

Being “too passive” and “not making enough contact,” Noda’s slash line is nonetheless 182/.379/.409, giving him a .788 OPS. He has 7 BB and 13 K in 29 PAs, which is silly — he has literally either walked or struck out in 20 of 29 trips to the plate.

Noda won’t continue to BB and K at this high a rate, but like Brandon Belt his philosophy appears to be not to swing at pitches he can’t hit and not to swing at pitches he believes to be millimeters off the plate, even with 2 strikes.

No doubt if Noda continues to strike out at a 44.8% rate in the regular season he will be a terrible player. But his stats right now are all “small sample extremes” of what you can actually expect: a low BA, a high OBP, high SLG, a lot of BB and a lot of K.

In a “disappointing” showing he has an OPS of .788, and his defense at 1B has looked (ok fine, sounded) very good. Even though he’s currently in a funk, I’m still a fan.

Brent Rooker

How does a slash line of .333/.520/.500 work for you? That’s either Todd Linden or the next big thing...and there’s reason to think Rooker might actually be a keeper.

Just due to options, in all likelihood Rooker is ticketed for AAA to start the season, although only Seth Brown, Ramon Laureano, and out-of-options Cristian Pache appear to be locks in the outfield.

Rooker could potentially beat out Esteury Ruiz for the spot of RH batting OFer. Or Conner Capel, also having a good spring (4 for 16 with a HR, 2 doubles, and 5 BB), could be the choice in order to offer more L/R balance.

But whether he breaks camp with Oakland or awaits his turn in Las Vegas, Rooker has a lot to suggest his 2023 ST prowess might not just be a mirage.

In his minor league career, Rooker has a .269/.366/.543 line that reflects his combination of patience and power, and while his big league cups of coffee have been disappointing (.200/.289/.379), they are a small sample (270 PA) and even in that sample he showed a 6.7% BB rate and an ISO of .179.

At 28, Rooker is running out of time but he is at the age we have seen a few breakthroughs such as Brandon Moss (28), Nelson Cruz (27), and maybe even our own Seth Brown. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.

Really the biggest drawback for Rooker is that he offers little defensive value. His best position might be DH, but on a team that struggled mightily to score runs last year if anyone can hit enough they are going to get their chance.

Just keep an eye on Rooker as a possible “hidden gem” to emerge, most likely, mid-season.

Ken Waldichuk

Oy. 0 for 3 with 3 starts left before the team heads to Oakland and selects its 26 man roster. The stats speak to all the troubles Waldichuk is having: 6 IP, 9 hits, 9 ER, 7 BB, 4 K, 13.50 ERA.

But remember: we’re conditioned not to put too much stock in spring training results, especially early. So does it matter that Waldichuk is struggling so mightily?

To my “eyes” (provided by the play-by-play from Johnny Doskow and Ken Korach), Waldichuk is having not one, not two, but three different problems:

1. Obviously he is not throwing enough strikes, walking more than a batter an inning. In the minors Waldichuk has a 3.6 BB/9 IP rate, which is 2 batters every 5 innings. But currently he is emulating Luis Medina, Wandisson Charles...Not the comps you want to see from your #2 prospect.

2. He is not getting a lot of swings and misses, even though by reputation and track record he has “swing and miss” stuff. In the minors he has thrown 234.1 IP and struck out 349. But he is not missing bats so far in the Cactus League.

3. The balls hit off of them are consistently rockets. Today in the 1st inning you had Steven Kwan’s double followed by Jose Ramirez’ HR. Then in the 2nd inning Mike Zunino’s HR and an out Myles Straw lined so hard off of Waldichuk the ball caromed to Jonah Bride and he caught it on the fly. Just a lot of hard contact in those 6 IP over 3 starts.

So do the A’s overlook these results and give Waldichuk a spot in the rotation out of spring training? I think unless he really gets it together in his last 3 starts, the answer is no. Oakland has plenty of options, with Paul Blackburn, Shintaro Fujinami, and Drew Rucinski being locks, Kyle Muller, Adam Oller, and James Kaprelian if he’s ready all very much in the mix. (Most likely JP Sears is headed either for the bullpen or AAA and Freddy Tarnok seems more like a guy who might be called up mid-season.)

By stuff and pedigree, Waldichuk is amongst the A’s best 5 SP candidates. But stuff and pedigree only go so far, and I think along with Kaprelian’s start on Sunday, “must see baseball” will be Waldichuk’s 4th and 5th spring training starts. Right now I’d put my money on him starting at AAA.

Your thoughts? Your shingles stories? Anyone care for a mint?