Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Projecting Brennan Boesch's 2011 Season

Yesterday I wrote about Carlos Guillen's microfracture procedure. But before any of that happened, Guillen went to the disabled list with a strained hamstring back in April that opened the door for Brennan Boesch to come in. Boesch was hitting .379 for AAA Toledo and the Tigers thought he could help fill in at designated hitter.

Boy we're they right about that.

Boesch proceeded to take Detroit by storm, posting a .973 OPS in May, and a stunning 1.025 mark in June. During that two month stretch he blasted 26 extra base hits, including 11 home runs in just 188 at-bats while driving in 36. Things went awry after that however and since the end of June, he's struggled to a .204/.287/.274 mark in the 226 at-bats since then.

So what gives?

Well, as is so often the case when relatively unknown players surge to incredible heights, there was a pretty significant amount of luck involved. During Boesch's incredible two month run he was buoyed by a BABIP of .384 - obviously a completely unsustainable rate. Since then he's suffered the predictable regression that always eventually follows. When paired with Brennan's Minor League track record of mediocrity his decline shouldn't have come as a huge surprise.

That being said, there are things to like about the 25 year old's game. He's a big body at 6'6" from the left side of the plate and he uses that ample frame to generate plus power. Many of the homeruns he hit we're of the definite no-doubt variety. That power was evident in the minors as well as he jacked 28 home runs as a 24 year old at AA Erie last year. He's also got a plus arm and moves well in the outfield, especially given his frame, getting consistently good reads on fly balls off the bat.

Brennan's draw backs are a poor eye at the plate - he struck out in 19.7% of his Minor League at-bats, while walking in just 5.9% of his plate appearances. And poor contact rates - a MiLB batting average of just .273 rarely translates well in the Majors.

In the Major's Boesch had a propensity for getting out on his front foot in an effort to get inside the ball and pull it to right. That has made him extremely susceptible to off-speed pitches as well as fastball inside. His batting averages against sliders this year has been just .235 and against changeups he's been even worse at .228.

Essentially Major League pitchers learned very quickly that you could get inside of Boesch's power by pounding him inside and his lack of plus bat speed has really hurt him.

I think Brennan has the raw tools to eventually be a solid if unspectacular hitter. His plus power will always play well but he's going to have to learn to adjust. You can cheat pitchers in the minors by letting your hips fly open, but you can't get away with that at this level.  It might cut down on his homerun totals, but if the Tigers can teach him to stay back and stay inside the ball more often, he can stick. His defense should, at the very least keep him from being a defensive liability while giving him the possibility of being an asset.

I'm certainly not bullish on Boesch but I think he could provide a long-term line of something in the neighborhood of .250/.320/.450. I'm sure that's not what some Tiger fans want to see, but it's really not that bad at all. That's close to league average offense in right with the potential for above average defense. Overall, he's a solid player. Just probably not the star Tigers fan might've thought they had stumbled onto in June.

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