Saturday, May 15, 2010

Is Boesch for Real?

Rookie Brennan Boesch's excellent start has been a big surprise to most of the baseball world.  Since replacing Carlos Guillen, who is out with a strained hamstring, the 25-year-old outfielder has hit .361 with three homers and 11 extra base hits in 17 games.  Playing for double-A Erie in 2009 and triple-A Toledo in 2010, he batted .290/.338/.526.  So, he does have legitimate power but he has hit for much better contact as a Tiger so far than one would expect.

Can he keep it up?  Most scouts are skeptical of his hitting ability.  For example, The Baseball America Prospect Handbook had him ranked as only the 25th best Tigers prospect before the season.  It contained the following passage:
He has bat speed , but his stroke can get long and has an arm bar that results in a lot of holes.  He has particular difficulty pulling his hands in when pitches come inside with fastballs. 
It also mentioned that he needs to improve his approach.  I think it's obvious what that means just by watching him.  He swings at everything.  In fact, he has swung at about half (49.5%) of pitches outside of the strike zone.  The major league average is just 27.3%.  As a result, he has just two walks in 61 at bats.  One would think that major league pitchers will eventually take advantage of his free swinging approach.

An indicator that his batting average will likely soon regress sharply is his high batting average on balls in play (BABIP).  He currently has a .380 BABIP, whereas his career minor league BABIP is .316.

In his favor is the fact that he has pounded right-handed pitchers the last two years.  He batted .300/.349/.583 against them in the minors in 2009 and the beginning of 2010.  In contrast, he only batted.267/.310/.395 versus left-handers.  Because of this severe platoon split, the Tigers have used him almost exclusively against right-handed pitchers so far.

Nobody doubts his power.  The question is whether he will continue to get on base enough to justify leaving him in the regular line-up permanently.  He didn't walk much even in the minors where he received a free pass in 6.1% of his career plate appearances.  So, he'll probably need to bat at least .275.

It may be difficult for him to hit as high as .275 as a regular but he might be able to do it in a platoon role.  So far, he is making it hard for me to doubt his ability to hit right-handers in the majors  If he can keep it up, it would give the Tigers the young left-handed power hitter they've been needing for years. 

Data for this article was taken from FanGraphs.com and Minorleaguesplits.com.

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