Scouting Pierce Johnson's Return, Plus Some Mike Olt Math

Scouting Pierce Johnson's Return, Plus Some Mike Olt Math

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.

@ajwalsh08

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  • The question is what BABIP is supposed to convey, since HRs are obviously excluded. Is it really a defensive stat (especially since some sources indicate that the short term depends on such things as whether the third baseman can get to the line drive just inside the line)?

    Obivously, a player with a BABIP based on HRs is better than one with a BABIP based on fanning.

  • In reply to jack:

    BABIP is usually used to imply the kind of luck a guy is getting on non-home-run balls put into play. The outcomes of such balls, as Voros McCracken pointed out nearly two decades ago, are largely out of the control of the batter - batters can control the fly ball/line drive/grounder/popup stuff, and they can even influence the general part of the field the ball will go towards, but they cannot control batted balls well enough to get outside the range of the fielder in the general area they hit the ball to. As a result, BABIPs tend to generally stay in a certain range for most hitters.

    However, within this .250-.350 BABIP range, specific hitter skills will have an effect. Guys who are fast and hit the ball on the ground will often have BABIPs on the upper end of that range. Guys who hit a lot of flyballs and home runs (like Olt, Alvarez, etc) will have lower BABIPs, as it's really easy for outfielders to get under most flyballs.

    So what this means when looking at the BABIP of a guy like Olt is that, yes he's getting unlucky to an extent, but don't expect the BABIP to rebound towards the .300 range - maybe expect more of a .275 or lower BABIP

  • In reply to Tommy Cook:

    That's sort of what I got out of the articles, but then I don't see the value of "bad luck" as measuring a batter's performance.

    I had supposed that someone like Babe Ruth would have had a low BABIP, but Fan Graphs said he had a consistently high one until near the end. Of course, Adam Dunn can barely stay above average, and was below for 11-13.

  • I really enjoyed attending the game and meeting you. Johnson looked pretty sharp until last inning. The offspeed stuff definitely seemed ahead of the fastball. Bryant hustling out the double was awesome to be able to view. The single Bryant laced to left center was hit right on the screws. Micah Johnson is a really fun guy to watch on the Barons. I love the undersized players.
    @BG2383 (on twitter)
    Ben Garrett

  • I've always considered BABIP as an indicator of how hard balls are hit

  • In reply to Rob Letterly:

    Obviously home runs are hit real hard, but don't count.

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    In reply to Rob Letterly:

    Rob, I agree with you in large part. People always assume that those with a low BABIP had back luck and it will correct itself, but BABIP does have a lot to do with how solid of contact you are making. When people looked at Rizzo's BABIP last year, they chalked his low AVG to bad luck, but if you watched the actual games and not the stat sheets then you would have seen that his low BABIP was due to a lot of weak contact and not bad luck. This year he has been consistently making hard/solid contact and what do you know? His BABIP and his AVG are up. Same with Olt this year. Sure he is making hard contact on the 4 home runs, but if you watch his at bats, when he isn't striking out, he is getting jammed inside and rolling over on the outside pitches. This leads to weak contact and ball put in play that are going to give you a low batting average. I do think Olt, just like Rizzo, will adjust and get more comfortable and improve his rate of solid contact, which will improve his Avg.

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