Gyorko Loses Patience, Finds Power

Jedd Gyorko drew two walks last week. This may not sound like much, but it’s as many as he drew over the previous five weeks.

When Gyorko made the big club out of spring training, he immediately established himself as an NL Rookie of the Year candidate by hitting .284/.341/.461 through his first 60 games and playing a better-than-expected second base. Then a right groin strain put him on the shelf for a month, and he returned a different hitter:

Dates PA BA OBP SLG ISO PA/HR BB% K%
4/1/13-6/9/13 255 .284 .341 .461 .177 31.9 7.8 21.2
7/12/13-9/17/13 218 .209 .234 .403 .194 19.8 1.8 27.5

The increase in power is nice, but hacking at everything is a poor long-term strategy. Guys who strike out 15 times as often as they walk don’t survive.

As I was writing this, Gyorko drew two more walks on September 18. That was as many as he’d drawn in the previous 34 games and his first two-walk game since May 19. He did it again the next day. The current article uses September 17 as the cutoff date for statistics. When we discuss adjustments, bear in mind that he may have made some already.

How impatient has Gyorko been? Here’s one way to look at it:

Player Dates PA BB K
Jedd Gyorko 7/12/13-9/17/13 218 4 60
Adam Lind 4/21/13 4 4 0
Chris Iannetta 5/9/13 5 4 1
Chris Iannetta 5/18/13 5 4 0
Matt Tuiasosopo 5/19/13 5 4 0
Carlos Santana 5/23/13 6 4 0
Seth Smith 6/12/13 5 4 0
Robinson Cano 6/22/13 5 4 0
Gordon Beckham 8/10/13 5 4 0

Seven guys have drawn four walks in a nine-inning game this season. Iannetta did it twice in less than two weeks. Six more have drawn at least four walks in an extra-inning game.

Shocking tables aside, Gyorko has been hyper-aggressive since returning from the disabled list. He is hitting the ball with more authority, but also missing it with more regularity.

* * *

It’s no surprise that Gyorko’s BB% and K% have deteriorated at the big-league level. This happens to most hitters. His pre-injury rates seem in line with what he did as a prospect (we’ll get to that later) given the difference in quality between minor- and major-league pitchers.

What is surprising, and even alarming, is the complete absence of plate discipline since then. You know what we call hitters who strike out 15 times as often as they walk? Pitchers. Granted, Phil Niekro and Gaylord Perry are in the Hall of Fame, but not because of their patience at the plate.

Five non-pitchers have amassed as many as 100 career plate appearances with a 15-to-1 K/BB ratio or worse. It’s a forgettable list:

Player Years PA BA OBP SLG BB K
Joe Cannon 1977-1980 232 .176 .183 .211 1 54
Ernie Bowman 1961-1963 217 .190 .200 .244 2 33
Alejandro Sanchez 1982-1987 215 .229 .233 .402 1 66
Al Cuccinello 1935 173 .248 .262 .376 1 20
Todd Dunn 1996-1997 130 .234 .246 .352 2 42

Alejandro Sanchez actually flashed some power. I probably saw him play, but 25 years later, I have no recollection of him. You don’t want to be the next Alejandro Sanchez.

It’s driving you crazy, isn’t it? Dennis Rasmussen, then pitching for the Yankees, walked Sanchez with one out in the sixth on May 1, 1986. He later came on to score what would prove to be the winning run when Tim Laudner singled off another former Padres pitcher, John Montefusco. Okay, maybe it wasn’t driving you crazy. Maybe it was just me. Either way, we don’t have to think about that anymore.

* * *

Fortunately, given his track record, Gyorko won’t continue hitting like this. Still, his K/BB for the season is 4.75 (well, it was a few days ago). His current line looks suspiciously like that of a typical Khalil Greene campaign, which is respectable for a middle infielder but which raises concerns.

There is a time and place for aggression at the plate. “Always and everywhere” isn’t it.

I won’t bother with a full table, but here are the career plate appearance leaders for non-pitchers with a K/BB of 4.75 or higher:

  1. Shawon Dunston, 6276 PA – Drew 30 walks once in 21 professional seasons
  2. Miguel Olivo, 3968 – One of my sick obsessions ($)
  3. Bill Bergen, 3228 – Probably the worst hitter ever
  4. Craig Paquette, 2766 – His A-ball manager, Grady Fuson, liked him
  5. Andres Thomas, 2185 – At least one person thinks he was the worst Braves player ever
  6. Wily Mo Peña, 1845 – Hit .324/.390/.556 for the Portland Beavers in 2010; I wouldn’t mind one of those sippy cups
  7. Chris Johnson, 1828 – He might win a batting title, so there’s your hope
  8. Whitey Alperman, 1758
  9. Rob Picciolo, 1720 – Former Padres coach; I’ve mentioned him in the past (Dunston, Olivo, and Thomas show up here as well, as does former Padres third baseman Luis Salazar)
  10. Todd Greene, 1657 – Once-promising prospect who never developed; signed by the Padres on January 5, 2006, released on February 3, 2006.

* * *

At the risk of appealing to my own authority, here’s what I said about Gyorko in Baseball Prospectus 2012:

He is a strong kid with thick legs and a quick bat that generates line drives from the right side a la Jeff Cirillo. Gyorko added power to his game in 2011, although 25 homers might be pushing the limits of his ability.

Some folks will enjoy the Cirillo comp, but I’m no longer sure it applies. He is a career .296/.366/.430 hitter who never knocked more than 17 homers in a season. Gyorko already has 19 bombs as a rookie despite missing a month, while a .366 OBP seems impossibly distant.

My comments in Baseball Prospectus 2013 are even more awesome:

Gyorko is a pure hitter who combines an advanced understanding of the strike zone with line-drive power to all fields. He will knock a few home runs, though probably not as many as he did last year in the hitter-friendly PCL.

“Advanced understanding of the strike zone”? Who writes this stuff? In my defense, he was better in the minors, against admittedly inferior pitching:

Level PA BB% K%
A- 115 7.8 22.6
A 183 10.4 16.9
A+ 389 9.8 16.7
AA 415 10.4 18.6
AAA 408 8.3 16.7
Total 1510 9.5 17.7

The usual small-sample caveats apply, but you get the idea. He walked more and struck out less.

* * *

According to my notes on an earlier draft of this article, now would be a good time to make a point if I have one. Very well.

Baseball is a game of adjustments, and Gyorko needs to make some. He cannot sustain success with his current approach. He is aware of this and is working to improve it:

I’ve been swinging at some pitches out of the zone, that’s not a secret. I know I need to be more in the zone. I’ve gone through stretches where I’ve been seeing the ball well, which means I’m swinging earlier in the count, putting the ball in play… I’ve got to take that walk if it’s available. I think my approach is getting better. It’s still a work in progress.

He has shown in the past, albeit at lower levels, that he can tell balls from strikes. His four walks in the two games after most of this article was written don’t necessarily mean anything but are encouraging.

With the possible exception of Chris Johnson, Gyorko is better than every hitter presented here as an example of poor plate discipline. This is damning with faint praise but worth acknowledging. Given his minor-league track record, expect Gyorko’s strike-zone judgment to improve with experience.

* * *

What do you think of Gyorko’s rookie season so far? His future? Leave a comment, send an email (geoff@sonofaduck.com), or hit me up on Twitter (@ducksnorts).

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  • http://padrespublic.com/ AvengingJackMurphy

    We need a good Jeff Cirillo story. #CirilloFillibusterNOW

    • bp – lobshots

      I bet Jerko would walk more if there were four outs every inning…

  • Patrick R.

    Great piece, but the prognosis seems about murky. Do you think it’s more that he has consciously changed his approach in a bid to add more power, or do you think it’s a combination of that and learning the league/being a rookie?

    • Geoff Young

      Thanks, Patrick. I’m not sure, but given his age and track record, my suspicion is that the issue is more about him learning the league. I like that he is attacking pitches he thinks he can hit, but a little selectivity would go a long way toward ensuring he sees more of those. Hopefully these last two games are a step in the right direction.

  • ballybunion

    Groin pulls are notorious for lingering. I suspect his altered approach will be forgotten by next Spring Training, when he goes back to what got him to the Show. At least he took himself out of the ROY running. I think that’s good, since the track record of ROY winners seems to consist of 1, no-brainers, 2, journeymen who got more votes than future HOF’ers, and 3, busts. A couple years, nobody should have won, but like the best picture Oscars, somebody has to win every year.