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A Few Notes From April

Sometimes, rather than having a bunch of thoughts on topic, I find myself in a position of wanting to mention a few different things, but only have a brief snippet to say about them. Today is one of those days, so, we’re doing a notes-style column with some nuggets from the first month of the season.

Jeff Francoeur is off to a good start in Kansas City, and hitting coach Kevin Seitzer is giving credit to his new found plate discipline.

“The amazing part for me is how disciplined he has become when everyone said he couldn’t be,” Seitzer says.

This “disciplined” version of Jeff Francoeur is swinging at 38% of the pitches he’s been thrown out of the strike zone, the 16th highest total in baseball. It’s also the second highest mark of his career. He has cut way down on the percentage of strikes that he’s swinging at, however, so it’s possible that he has become more disciplined in a subtle way and is doing a better job of waiting for a hittable strike. Or, perhaps, he’s just trying to be more patient at the plate, but doesn’t have good enough pitch recognition to determine ball from strike.

Either way, he’s off to a strong start, and Seitzer has more insight on Francouer’s approach than we do. I will guess, however, that he won’t see long lasting success while still chasing nearly 40% of pitches out of the strike zone.

Also noted by Ken Rosenthal, though on Twitter this time, Jonathan Broxton‘s velocity has taken a pretty big nosedive from where it was two years ago. His PItch F/x velocity chart should be a bit scary for Dodgers’ fans, and the fact that his fastball averaged just 93.8 MPH last night is a sign that this doesn’t seem to be correcting itself.

Given that his strikeout rate is plummeting as well, this should be an area of real concern for the Dodgers. Broxton is leaning on his slider more this year than he has in the past, perhaps because he knows his fastball isn’t what it used to be. The problem is that he doesn’t have great command of his slider, and it’s a pitch he needs to throw ahead in the count to have sustained success. Without the big heat to blow by hitters, he’s significantly less effective. Getting Broxton throwing back at 97 again should be a priority for LA.

I have learned my lesson of declaring any player “done” after a slow start to the season – see this mistake in 2008 – but Raul Ibanez is exhibiting every sign of a player who might just not have it anymore. His hallmark has always been a high contact rate for a hitter with decent power, but he’s down to 73.4% contact this year, and we’ve seen a huge spike in his strikeout rate to go along with it.

In addition, only 3 of his 14 hits have gone for extra bases, and he’s the proud owner of the worst UZR (non Aubrey Huff division) in baseball. Ibanez has been fighting off old age for years, but the fact that he is 39 is eventually going to catch up to him. Given that he’s been worth -1 WAR in the first month of the season, it seems like this might be the year where he finally stops being useful.

Pablo Sandoval is hitting .319/.382./565 so far this year, and it seems like Operation Get Less Fat has been a huge success. It’s probably worth noting, though, that the oversized Kung Fu Panda of 2010 hit .368/.433/.575 in April. Let’s not proclaim a return to greatness just yet.