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Eyeball Scout: “It’s A Miracle! I Can See!!!”

Arizona Diamondbacks v Oakland Athletics
“If one more person makes a Roebuck reference...”
Photo by David Durochik/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Yeah they televised a game. Plus I’m free to write on a Monday, as shingles is still keeping me from being able to go back to work. And so having just given an “eyeball report sans eyeballs” I will now offer a brief bit of eyeball analysis from the A’s-Giants game yesterday, with a “video highlight” chaser.

Ryan Noda (with eyes version)

I have to say, watching Noda for the first time only solidified my man-crush. In yesterday’s game, Noda had 3 plate appearances. In the first one he wasted no time in smacking a hard single. Then he was discerning in working the count full only to be frozen by a big Ross Stripling curve for a called third strike. “Another K looking,” sure, but really a “tip your hat” pitch by Stripling. In his third at bat, with 2 strikes Noda was unrelenting in taking close pitches for balls 3 and 4 to earn a walk.

What I saw from Noda was a guy whose swing generates hard contact easily, a guy who waits for his pitch and knows the strike zone, and is determined not to expand the zone. It will be interesting to see what areas in the strike zone give him trouble and how, when pitchers get the book on him, he will respond. Because one thing he appears really skilled at is not expanding the zone.

JP Sears

I thought Sears looked really good in his 5 IP. He basically made one mistake, which hurt his stats a bit, and that was a lazy breaking ball that Wilmer Flores clobbered for a 2-run HR. But generally Sears showed a fastball that played (hitters’ reaction to it always belies its velocity), a nasty slider, and a changeup that worked well off his fastball suggesting it is tunneling well (look at me using the latest fashionable jargon and such).

In particular, when you isolate on his L/L matchups you see some potential dominance as his slider has late sweeping action that takes it from in the zone to well down and away but is hard for batters to lay off. Out of the bullpen Sears could be a matchup weapon, as well as a multiple innings reliever, and I would give him a leg up on that bullpen spot right now since the A’s are short on lefties in the pen.

But as a SP that same slider has potential as a “back foot slider” and we saw that a bit in his early starts for the A’s after the trade. The changeup is also a strong weapon against RH batters and I don’t see Sears as someone unable to neutralize RH hitters.

I still like him a lot as a potential rotation piece, albeit towards the back end, and thought Sunday’s start acquitted him well.

Cristian Pache

Oh March. How you tease us. Remember that if he could just put up a 90 wRC+ Pache would be a solid every day starting CFer. And if he could hit above league average he’d be an All-Star.

So here is Pache, looking like a guy who can really hit. His first at bat was superb, as he laid off a couple good chase pitches, then stayed back on a 3-2 pitch and whacked it into the right-center field gap for a triple. He also hit a sharp grounder between SS and the second base bag, knocked down at SS for an infield hit.

I can’t comment much on the fly out because the new pitch clock rules take some getting used to for the pitchers, the hitters....and the fans. Between innings I went into the kitchen, with my trusty internal clock telling me when it was time to land back in the TV room, only to find my internal clock is now 10 seconds off. And of course Pache was leading off and of course he had to swing at the first pitch. But I’m sure it was great.

Overall, in 25 plate appearances this spring, Pache is 10/24 (.417) with 1 double and 2 triples. He has walked once and he has not struck out at all.

Here’s the potential problem with Pache’s success this spring. Spring training has a way of making AAAA players look especially good. Why? Because the very definition of a AAAA player is someone who is always good enough until they hit the big leagues. And in spring training what you see a lot of is either AA and AAA pitchers, or big leagues pitchers who are in their “AAA phase” of readiness.

So is Pache’s success this spring a mirage or a sign he has turned a corner? I suppose you could take odd comfort in the fact that Pache hasn’t exactly lit it up in the minors. With a career .278/.328/.404 slash line, this isn’t a guy who “only can’t hit in the bigs”. OK that wasn’t so comforting.

More comforting might be how Pache is coming to his success, lifting more balls from gap to gap and going 25 PAs without a single K. For me, that would be a little more encouraging if it came with 3-4 walks but what it has mostly meant is that every time Pache bats he puts the ball in play. Not sure how sustainable that is — but it’s a lot better than his 2022 season in Oakland or at Las Vegas.

Anyway, mirage or not he did look good Sunday and man can the guy play CF. Fingers crossed.

Esteury Ruiz, Highlight Reel?

Ruiz has made a habit, this spring, of turning potential “nice running catches” into “spectacular diving catches” by taking arc-like routes to the ball and then outrunning the mistake.

Burst (initial) and closing speed are essential factors in outfield success, which is why Rajai Davis continued to get work for years (he finished his career almost exactly league average as a center fielder). But it’s far from ideal not to take the most efficient routes to the ball.

I have watched video to try to identify what the problem is because fortunately, these are correctable issues. What it looks like to me is that Ruiz approaches fly balls by trying to “get/stay behind the ball” as he is tracking it.

“Getting behind the ball” is what you want to do setting up for a catch and throw, such as when a runner is tagging up. It has utility, but not when tracking balls you are chasing. There you want to quickly identify a destination and then take the straightest, i.e., fastest, route to the ball.

It seems to me that as a relatively new outfielder, Ruiz’ comfort is highest when seeing the ball from “behind the ball” and perhaps this instinct is getting in his way. I could be wrong — I’m no outfield coach — but that’s what I see in the clips I’ve watched.

Luckily, along with an outfield coach the A’s happen to have a skipper who was one of the very best at getting quick reads and taking efficient routes to the ball: watching Mark Kotsay play CF in his prime was pure joy, and Kotsay did not have exceptional speed to outrun mistakes. He did it with pure fundamentals and I’m sure he will be a terrific resource for Ruiz.

That’s what I’ve actually seen, with my real eyes, the last 24 hours. Now back to being blind until the Bay Bridge Series!