Earlier today I finished up the season review articles for all six of the Reds minor league teams that play stateside. One thing jumped out, they all really struggled on offense as a whole. What jumped out when looking at the teams was that every one of them except Dayton finished last or second in last in walks. Dayton finished 13th out of 16 teams. It got me to thinking about a quote Dusty Baker made earlier in the year, and while I wasn’t able to track down the exact quote (it was actually made on TV, which is likely why it was tough to track down). Lance McAllister had the closest thing to it that I could find from July.
Dusty Baker talked about the Reds hitting woes in the pregame show yesterday.
I found it interesting he said, “the whole organization is not hitting”.
He talked about figuring out whether it’s the personnel not doing what they are supposed to do, or the instructors not instructing properly. He said most of the time it’s the instructor or teacher, sometimes it is the pupil.
I do agree with what he said about sharing the blame. The best teacher in the world isn’t going to be able to do something with a guy who just can’t differentiate a fastball from a breaking ball or change up. With that said, when an entire organization is so bad from top to bottom in their approach, you have to wonder if it isn’t an approach to teaching or a philosophy being taught. There are other things that could be at fault too.
The age of players matters as well. Plate discipline generally improves, albeit only by small amounts in most cases, as guys age. The Arizona League Reds, Billings Mustangs and Bakersfield Blaze were all among the youngest teams in the league (with Bakersfield being easily the youngest in their league). So perhaps that is part of the equation.
I went back and looked at all players 25 and younger on a stateside Reds farm team with at least 75 plate appearances this year. Here is the breakdown of walk rates among the players:
A walk rate over 8% is average or better and nearly half of the system has at least a walk rate that high. A walk rate in the 6-8% range is not terrible, but something you would like to see improved upon. However the amount of players under 6% is concerning as one out of four players in the system falls in that category. There are some guys considered real prospects in that group too.
I have long been of the belief that if it is possible to teach guys plate discipline, no one has really figured it out yet. Generally speaking, as noted earlier, it is a pitch recognition problem and that is something that you usually either have or you don’t. There have been plenty of studies that show that players generally don’t make strides in their walk rates over time at the Major League level. While there isn’t much on what happens at the minor league level, from my observations over the years, it seems to hold true with younger guys as well. There are certainly guys who were able to figure it out, but they are few and far between.
Let’s take a look at the Dayton Dragons as an example as to why I don’t believe it is a teaching issue. They ranked 13th out of 16 teams overall, suggesting that they were a very aggressive team by comparison to the league. That team had Jesse Winker (13% BB rate), Phil Ervin (12.5% BB rate), Jeff Gelalich (11% BB rate), Sammy Diaz (10.4% BB rate), Seth Mejias-Brean (9.9% BB rate) and Joe Hudson (9.5% BB rate) on their team. If teaching something that went against drawing walks, those guys weren’t listening. I am sure that isn’t what was being taught though. That team however had two of the most aggressive hitters in the system though with Junior Arias and Tanner Rahier getting a large chunk of playing time. Robert Ramirez also had a decent chunk of playing time with a low walk rate as well.
I posted the rankings of each team on the farm in their respective leagues on twitter and one user wondered if it wasn’t an issue with players that are being targeted in the draft/free agency. I really don’t think it is an identification problem when it comes to player acquisition, particularly when it comes to the draft.
Perhaps a slight adjustment here or there could improve the system as a whole when it comes to the walk rate, but despite the numbers on the surface looking just atrocious, when I dug deeper I really didn’t see something that jumped out and screamed there was a problem with the entire system having a poor approach. There are some guys who are very aggressive hitters, but those guys are always going to exist. Maybe it just so happens that the Reds have a few more of those guys this year than they have in the past (Junior Arias, Tanner Rahier and Juan Silverio had a combined 1491 plate appearances and had 41 walks, which combined would have ranked tied for 10th in the system with Travis Mattair and Avain Rachal, who only had 233 plate appearances) that got a lot of playing time and drug down the team rates a bit overall.