Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Notes on Engel Beltre and Jimmy Paredes

Continuing my look at players from the Oklahoma City/Round Rock game, in this post I'll look at a player on each team that has shown athleticism and raw talent, but have had questions raised about their hitting abilities.

Engel Beltre is a 23 year old outfielder in the Rangers organization, originally acquired in the Eric Gagne trade with Boston. He made his MLB debut this season, playing in 17 games so far in a couple of different stints. After hitting at a league average level in AA in 2012, he played the whole year (not counting his MLB time of course) in AAA, and was very slightly below league average. While he doesn't strikeout at an alarming rate, he doesn't walk much, and wasn't the stolen base threat this year that he was the year before.

Plate discipline seems to always be the question with Beltre, and in the game I saw him, he was pitched backwards a lot, meaning breaking balls coming early in the count and fastballs coming late. He was late on 89 MPH, but did take a close 91 MPH fastball before swinging horribly at 80 MPH. At times he showed a good contact tool, fouling off fastballs to stay alive in counts. Here is some video of one of his at-bats:

He also had an at-bat that might possibly encapsulate all the frustration over his hitting abilities at once. He started by trying and failing to bunt, then whiffed at an ugly breaking ball, and then took a 0-2 fastball in the zone for called strike 3. It was apparent, even at the AAA level, that Beltre was not seeing the ball well, not anticipating what was going to happen, but instead guessing.

Beltre has not seen a lot of time in the Major Leagues, seeing 115 pitches tracked by Pitch F/X. The following graph is the left-handers' average locations broken down by results.

So far in the big leagues, Beltre is whiffing on pitches that are actually harder than the pitches he is making contact with, even though his whiffs are lower than the contact pitches. This does raise the question as to whether or not he is struggling with velocity. So I looked at all the pitches Beltre has seen 94 MPH or higher as a MLBer to see if there is evidence that he is struggling with velocity

Obviously Beltre isn't seeing any hard pitches inside, so it is not like he is being busted in. This suggests that scouting reports are saying that he has good bat speed, and that isn't the best way to pitch him. High and away with hard fastballs seem to be risk and reward so far, as he will miss, but he will also make some occasional contact as well. Down and away with hard pitches have led to a couple of whiffs, but obviously the sample size is small so far.

In his time in the Major Leagues so far, this is the pitch furthest out of the strike zone that Engel Beltre has swung at, in GIF form:

Jimmy Paredes was acquired by the Astros from the New York Yankees in the Lance Berkman trade in 2010 and the 24 year old has played in 108 big league games for the team at a well below replacement pace. He has struggled in all facets of the game, hitting, baserunning, and defense despite being ranked as the organization's 7th best prospect after 2010. At AAA this season, he has been okay, above league average, but not really hitting like you would want for a guy that you think could perhaps help the Major League team.

Seeing him live, I did like the bat speed. However, he wasn't above the frequent  bad chase out of the zone. On a breaking ball that stayed up he got his hands through the zone well and got a base hit, but later in the game he had a horrible swing on a pitch that was bounced for a whiff. The next pitch in that particular sequence was bounced on the plate, and while he held back, he wanted to swing. Yet he continued to tease by smoking a double on a 83 MPH breaking pitch by staying back on the ball.

Defensively, I saw him play shortstop, though Houston has had him playing just about everywhere since they acquired him (RF, 3B, 2B in the Majors, with some shortstop and centerfield sprinkled in at Oklahoma City). He stayed back on a grounder that turned a routine play into a base hit. Yet, he had a nice turn at short on a double play. He can play multiple positions and with his athleticism, so you have to think he is going to keep getting chances despite the problems at the plate. Perhaps the biggest difference in Paredes' game from Beltre's (besides being a year older and being a switch hitter) is defense. Beltre is an obviously plus defender with great range and a great arm, with the ability to patrol centerfield, while Paredes is not a real good defender at any position, making him a forced utility player.

He has seen 1374 pitches tracked by Pitch F/X, so we can feel more confident about his sample size. Here is his result locations chart:

Not surprisingly, his whiffs are the lowest and slowest pitches. He swings at pitches a little lower than the average pitch, showing a small glimpse of his plate discipline lacking against low breaking pitches. His contact comes on higher pitches, usually fastballs, meaning they are coming in an opposite direction from the average pitch thrown and his average swing. He isn't waiting for the pitches he can hit well, meaning he is failing at the the most basic part of plate discipline. 

Here is a GIF of Paredes' "worst swing" in the Majors so far

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