I've really enjoyed the Tennessee Smokies' visit to Birmingham. Catching CJ Edwards on Sunday was awesome; I've been absolutely blown away by Kris Bryant's combination of athleticism and professional approach at the plate; and last night I got to see Pierce Johnson's return to full-season minor league ball.
Johnson came out cold, walking the first two batters he faced. The first came after a battle of an AB (Micah Johnson might be a name to remember for the White Sox); the second, not as much. But then Pierce started getting swings and misses -- particularly with his breaking ball, which had great movement down and away from right-handed hitters. He pounded the low-and-away corner with this pitch all night, and when batters didn't swing, the ump called it a strike.
In contrast, the fastball was a bit more all over the place, but I'd chalk that up to Pierce's first night back in the minors rather than a lack of ability. Regardless, Johnson got into a pretty good groove in innings 2 through 4.
I and buddy @BG2383 were surprised to see Johnson come back for the fifth inning, but it looks like the manager wanted him to throw 75 pitches (he ended up at 78), or get two full turns through the Barons lineup. All three batters he faced in the fifth reached base safely.
The final line for Pierce is very meh -- 8 base runners and 3 runs in 4 innings. But an optimistic Smokies fan would point out that, between two walks to start the game and three base runners in the fifth to finish it, Pierce actually had a nice night: just three base runners, and 5 strikeouts, over 4 IP. Of course, we don't get to pick and choose which plate appearances we look at, but if nothing else I think last night showed that Johnson, despite having pitched fewer than 50 innings in A+-ball last year, has been assigned to the appropriate level of competition. Once he gets the feel for his fastball back, he'll be even better going forward.
It's April 23, and from a statistical perspective Mike Olt has a strange batting line: his batting average (.195) is actually higher than his BABIP -- a paltry .174 at this point! Of course, that's what happens when you slug 4 home runs in your first 44 plate appearances.
There are a couple of ways we could think about rewriting the script of this early season to force Olt's numbers to make more sense. I mean, that BABIP is lower than low -- only about a dozen guys with at least 40 PAs have a lower mark.
Interestingly, 12 of the 14 players with lower BABIPs than Olt have also hit at least one home run -- and 6 of them have hit at least three. (Pedro Alvarez has 6 home runs and a .151 BABIP). Of course, home runs don't count as balls in play -- but you could look at what Olt's BABIP would be if each of his 4 homers had bounced off the outfield wall instead of the seats in the bleachers.
If you convert each of Olt's 4 bombs to doubles, his BABIP becomes .296 -- a very reasonable mark. But then, of course, his full slash line would be really ugly: .195/.250/.317. Blech! (For what it's worth, Olt's HR off Wandy in Pittsburgh looks like his only cheapo of the year, according to Hit Tracker Online.)
If you'd rather be more generous/make yourself feel better because you're a Cubs fan and everything is the worst, you could take a couple of Olt's ground ball outs and see what would have happened had they found their way past the infield. Each time you convert a ground out to a single, you'll add about 43 points to Olt's BABIP, and 24 points to each component of Olt's slash.
So if you think Olt deserves four home runs and his BABIP should be in the .261 range -- that's converting two ground outs to singles -- his slash line becomes .244/.295/.561. Alternatively, if you take that cheapish HR from PNC and call it a double, and give Olt one extra single from his ground outs, you get a BABIP of .250, and a slash of .220/.272/.488.
As I've noted a few times recently on this blog, ZiPS and Steamer have Olt hitting about .220/.300/.400 the rest of the way. If you take the ZiPS projection and add four additional extra base hits for him over the 400 PAs it thinks he'll get, you get a .226/.301/.430ish for Mike's year end line, which at this point looks like it would count for a power-heavy, league-average bat at third. The Cubs would take that in a heartbeat I do believe.
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