Stretch Break: Brennan Boesch
By Chris Hannum
Is this actually the same batter that we saw last year, and that the Tigers developed all these years? I for one, expected nothing whatsoever from Brennan Boesch this year – but I have been impressed (and downright amazed) by how he has performed this April.
True, he was hot early last year – and frankly helped to carry a .500 team to an ephemeral division lead – but he was hot in a different way. The ‘book’ on Boesch was that he was a hacker with a swing full of holes – he would hit the ball a mile when he made solid contact, but that would rarely happen. His minor league stats (which weren’t all great) weren’t taken to be precisely comparable, since his specific weaknesses would be exposed under the MLBs intense scouting and scrutiny and easily taken advantage of by pitchers with better command. His awful second half in 2010 seemed to validate all those claims, once opposing teams knew what his weaknesses were Brennan Boesch was no more likely to do damage than Adam Everett.
Presumably, those teams still know what his weaknesses are… right? Maybe he doesn’t have those weaknesses anymore. Take a look at these numbers:
Notice the difference?
Part of Boesch’s great year thus far, and his performance last year, can be chalked up to a high BABIP. He’s currently at .389 so far this year, and there’s no way he’ll sustain that. That’s fine. His BABIP in the first half last year was .384, in the second half it was .201. Not all of that drop was luck, the fact that his BABIP has risen at all tells us that Brennan Boesch knows what they did (to him) last summer and he isn’t getting fooled the same way this spring. He’s also hitting for less power at the moment, which will probably turn around as the summer wears on – since he hasn’t been victim of any Pudge-esque offseason loss of mass.
What we’re seeing is Boesch striking out less and walking more. He’s never really been an exceptional whiffer, striking out just a bit above league average, but even when he was hot last year he was striking out in about 20% of his plate appearances. Now it’s down below 15%. His walk rate was below average, at 7.8% – now it’s significantly above at 11.1%. He’s taking more pitches, yes, but he’s also taking the right pitches. It’s easy to ratchet up your walk rate just by refusing to swing in certain counts, but it usually doesn’t improve your performance. You strike out more and put the ball in play less. Boesch isn’t doing that. If he can maintain that – he’s going to be an immensely valuable part of the Tigers lineup even when his BABIP falls a bit down to earth – especially if a few more balls fly out of the park on those 90 degree days.
The little secret of player development is that not all players are equally able to develop. It doesn’t always matter what the coaches say, some guys just don’t internalize it well. In short, they have trouble learning and trouble adapting. The guys you really want to have in your organization are baseball’s equivalent of the ‘gym rat’, and Boesch seems to be one of those. Those are the guys who might start their minor league career slow, but they accelerate. They’re also the guys who can make those necessary adaptations in the bigs to keep their careers on track – and most of all, since they learn their minor league stats don’t necessarily mean much of anything. Placido Polanco has a career minor league OPS of .664 compared to .761 in the bigs – it’s obviously not a fluke after 14 years in the major leagues, Polanco just got better. Here’s hoping the same goes for Mr. Boesch, who’s making a believer out of me.