Re: Isolated Discipline and Prospect Evaluation
Why is this important? Because it is that ability to make consistent contact that is critical to the advancement of power hitters through the minor leagues.
In the case that I was discussing above, I was talking about Jay Bruce. I said that Bruce was worrying me because of the number of strikeouts that he has accumulated during his time in the Midwest League so far (along with a few other points, including his lack of walks).
As I mentioned in some of my posts, power hitters typically employ a swing that is conducive to strikeouts. If you look at the majority of the best power hitters in recent memory, they have racked up a lot of strikeouts during their time in the majors. It is a byproduct of their game. The really good power hitters have an ability to select zones and swing at balls that are in or near those zones. However, a number of them can be fooled into chasing pitches or they have a hole in their swing that pitchers can exploit for strikes.
In the minor leagues, these guys are not nearly as advanced. There are usually plenty of power hitters up and down every team's farm system, but a number of them might never see the majors for a variety of reasons. Others might never live up to the potential placed on them because of gaudy power numbers they put up in Low A. Injuries and other factors can be at fault, but I believe there is a reason that comes up time and again: Strikeouts.
When evaluating a power hitter in the minor leagues, I take a look at his strikeout numbers. This is important because strikeouts are a very good way of telling just how often a player makes contact. I grant you all, it is not without its flaws, but no statistic is perfect. As I said above, I believe the single most important thing a power hitter can do is make consistent and hard contact with pitches. This will increase the likelihood of that hitter getting a base hit, if not an extra base hit. A hard hit ball is much harder to field than a soft one, plus a hard hit ball is much more likely to make it into the outfield, which can advance baserunners (as in the case of a sacrifice fly).
As a hitter moves through the minor leagues, he will start facing more and more advanced pitching. Both the hitters and the pitchers make adjustments as they go through their leagues. Pitchers learn how to change speeds, hit their spots, throw their breaking pitches for strikes, not give hitters easy pitches, and so on. Hitters have to learn how to adapt to those things.
However, if a hitter has trouble making consistent contact in Low A, he will likely have a much harder time adjusting to the pitching in High A. Thankfully, he has coaches who can help him in making these adjustments, but as I mentioned in my quoted post above, hitters typically stay within their profiles. A guy who strikes out 120 times and walks 50 times a season in the minors will likely to continue to do so in the majors. It is rare for a player to make a radical change to those numbers. He could improve on them, but reversing them is incredibly difficult to do.
This is what I find particularly worrying about Jay Bruce. His K/BB tells me that he is trying very hard to make consistent contact, as do his power numbers. He is attempting to put the ball into play and doing so with good success. However, he is not taking walks, and ergo not preventing himself from making an out. Plate discipline is necessary in trying to make that consistent contact, hard because hitters will rarely see more than one or two pitches in an at bat that they can convert into an extra base hit. Guys who strike out in around or more than 25% of their ABs raises a red flag if they do not boast guady walk numbers.
So, as he continues to move up the ladder, he will have to work very hard no that facet of his game because pitchers will use his eagerness or holes in his swing against him. Strikeouts are actually a preferable out for a defense to get because it does not advance base runners, reduces the likelihood of errors, and it creates an out. For a hitter, it might not necessarily be a bad thing as long as he does a very good job of getting on base (e.g. Adam Dunn). This is why you see a lot of people screaming about Dunn's lack of clutchiness, needless to say.
So, this is why I use K/BB. I am of the mindset that a player has to be able to maintain a reasonable K/BB as he advances through the minors. Names like Russ Branyan and Dave Kingman come to mind in terms of high K/BB guys who actually made it to the majors. That's not an illustrious group. Those guys did not make consistent and hard contact and they also were not good at preventing themselves from making an out over the course of their careers (although Kingman had his moments).
I think that is something the Reds would like to avoid with Stubbs and Bruce. Strikeouts are not something that should be ignored in their cases.