Gregg Zaun and I like to argue, and that’s a good thing.
It makes for bold television, better informed viewers, and, best of all, I’m always right.
We were talking about JP Arenciba’s approach to the plate. Zaun was of the mind that JPA, who is presently worst among all qualified major league catchers in strike out percentage at 35.9%, can strikeout as much as he wants because he’s going to hit 30 homers this year.
Also, so sayeth the Zaun, JPA’s free swinging mentality keeps him from, “clogging the base path”.
Now, to be fair, Zaun did say if JPA is batting earlier in the line up, he should work the count. But if JPA is batting farther down the order, he can swing freely all he wants because if he gets on base he’ll wear himself out and slow things down for all the other hitters.
Lets go back to that clogging the base path thing. Saying it that way makes it sound like having runners on base is a bad thing; like it doesn’t put pressure on the pitcher or give hitters an incentive to manufacture runs; like Jose Reyes (not in the lineup) is not going to be able to steal because JPA is worming his way along the paths; like games can be won entirely on solo shots and not consistent run production from all available avenues.
It also makes JPA sound slow. Granted, he’s not going to break any land speed records, but he’s hardly slow. In fact, he’s got average speed according to major league speed standards. He’ll never steal bases, but he can go 1st to third.
The argument also relies on slugging. It isn’t so much that JPA can hit 30 or more homers, it’s that HE MUST hit 30 or more homers to justify the strikeout pace he’s currently on. Now, don’t get me wrong, I respect JPA’s power and his OPS is lovely at .869, but that’s largely propped up by his slugging. If his slugging goes, he goes.
Why? Because he absolutely refuses to walk.
Adam Dunn, a base clogger in every sense of the word, walks. A lot. He K’s a lot, but he also takes his walks and because of it, he’s got a OBP nearly 100 points higher than JPA, career.
Consider this: despite hitting 6 homers and earning a power threat billing in 2013, JPA has walked ONCE this season. He swings at about 34% of the pitches he sees that are outside the zone, career. To put that in perspective, Jose Bautista, the Jays biggest power bat, swings at about 21% of the pitches he sees outside the zone. Jose clogs bases, and because of it he’s one of the best all around hitters in baseball.
JPA could stand in the box and not swing at this point and the chances that he walks would be higher than someone like Maicer Izturis, Brett Lawrie, Rajai Davis, or Emilio Bonifacio— all of whom have better OBP than JPA despite not being power threats.
I like the homers from JPA. I’m not anti power. I am, however, anti giving away outs. JPA is 27 years old. He does not have to be an either/or player just because he’s a catcher and power-hitting catchers are novel. He can, and should try to strikeout less. I’m sorry Zauny, but there is absolutely no way you are going to convince me that walks are a bad thing (unless you’re talking about a pitcher giving issuing to many of them).