Patience Is a Vice

The emotions that surround a player’s promotion to the big leagues are intense. Dealing with the realization of a lifelong dream coming true, sharing the moment with friends, family and loved ones, and putting on that uniform for the first time in a 24-hour span takes a special mindset to separate the emotions from the moment. Even veterans still talk about having butterflies on opening day, or the start of a postseason series.

When a prospect gets to the major leagues, they want to do everything they can do to stay there. Sometimes, they know up front they are only up for a specific assignment and will be sent back down at a later date, but everyone gets one chance to make a first impression. Often, that impression is made with the bat and players will try to force that issue.

Josh Donaldson had a successful 2013 season that saw him finish fourth in the AL MVP voting, building upon the success he had late in 2012 as he hit .290/.356/.489 after his final recall from the minor leagues.  Donaldson has hit .298/.377/.497 since returning from the minor leagues, which allows many to forget that he hit .154/.172/.246 in his first 130 at bats at the major league level walking just three times.  Yasiel Puig‘s debut last season generated as many comments about his skills as it did his impatience as he walked just 7 times from his call-up date through the middle of July over 161 plate appearances.

Conversely, you get call-ups like Robbie Grossman with the Astros. Grossman was traded to his hometown team by the Pirates in 2012 as part of the Wandy Rodriguez trade. Grossman made his major league debut on April 24th, and was given 131 plate appearances before being sent back to Oklahoma City. That sample size was enough to look at Grossman’s strikeout rate as well as his walk rate, which were 23.7% and 12.2% respectively. Grossman had posted double-digit walk rates throughout the minor leagues, and his strikeout rate was in-line with what he demonstrated in the minors as well. What did not mesh up with his previous performance was an empty slash line as he hit .198/.310/.243 with just five extra base hits.

Grossman’s .310 on base percentage was due to his willingness to work counts. His 3.72 pitches per plate appearance during his first call-up was better than the likes of David Ortiz, Robinson Cano, and Ben Zobrist during the same time. The problem was that accepting a walk quickly became Grossman’s best chance to get on base, and to his credit, he maximized those chances by swinging at a low 36.5% of pitches thrown his way. Only Jose Bautista swung at a lower percentage of pitches during Grossman’s first call-up (min 100 PA). He returned to Triple-A Oklahoma City in late May and remained there for 226 plate appearances, where he posted a more traditional .265/.374/.368 line with a 14.2% walk rate and a 20.4% strikeout rate.  He also made some changes during his demotion.

Prior to his demotion, Grossman had a slightly crouched posture, with a more open stance, and started his swing with his hands level to his chest as shown in the image below from a game in early May.

grossman

The changes Grossman made in his stance were quickly evident when he returned to Houston on a homestand in early August against the Boston Red Sox. Here is Grossman at the plate against Boston as he prepares to hit a home run off Ryan Dempster.

grossman2

There are several noticeable changes to Grossman’s stance at the plate. His stance is more closed, he is closer to the plate and his posture is more upright than it was in May. Grossman’s hands have a higher starting position and his bat starts at a lower angle.

The changes allowed Grossman to hit the ball with more authority, as the average distance on his flyballs increased 13 feet from the first half to the second half and hit 13 extra base hits in 157 plate appearances before being shelved with an oblique injury just after Labor Day. Earlier in the season, Grossman was unable to drive mistakes in the strike zone, such as this hanging 86mph changeup from Anibal Sanchez.

grossman1

The adjustments to his swing  allowed him to take advantage of those types of mistakes with more authority as he did with Dempster’s fastball in early August.

grossman2

The improved production at the plate led to Grossman becoming more aggressive as he re-gained his confidence at the plate. His walk rate declined dramatically as he became more aggressive at swinging at pitches both within and outside of the strike zone.

Split PA BA OBP SLG K% BB% BABIP Swing% O-Sw% P/PA
Apr-May 131 0.198 0.310 0.243 23.7% 12.2% 0.275 36.5% 14.8% 3.72
July-Sep 157 0.322 0.351 0.466 24.8% 4.5% 0.413 44.2% 23.6% 3.67

Grossman’s improvements last season allowed him to make a better first impression the second time around. The Astros believe they have found their starting left fielder for 2014 to add to their growing list of improving young players that are key to their rebuilding process.




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21 Responses to “Patience Is a Vice”

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  1. Cool Lester Smooth says:

    I don’t think patience is the issue, necessarily.

    The problem is passivity, when players go up to bat looking for a walk rather than trying to hit the ball hard.

    Like Grossman in his first stint, or JBJ.

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    • bluejays49 says:

      Those words mean the same thing. No player actually waits around hoping for a walk.

      A patient player waits to get into a favourable count, or doesn’t swing unless he thinks he perceives the pitch to be favourable. That’s contrasted by the player who will swing at anything he perceives to be in the strike zone, regardless of count or pitch type.

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  2. Nathan Shields says:

    That 0.413 BABIP is going to have to regress eventually, but I still don’t think he’ll be as bad as he was on his first call up.

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  3. pudieron89 says:

    Those stances look exactly the same.

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    • James says:

      Look at the hand position.

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    • dang says:

      I am not a pro, but it’s easy to tell his hands are up higher in one shot than the other. The bat is almost horizontal in one of them.

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    • Nathaniel Dawson says:

      Hard to tell anything for sure, as the first two shots are in different stadiums, so the centerfield camera won’t be lined up exactly the same. A slight difference in perspective can be misleading at times.

      It’s pretty clear he has his hands higher in the second shot, but I’m not sure if the other things are an actual change, or whether it just looks that way because of the differing camera angles.

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  4. hubertdu says:

    Where are you pulling the FB distance splits from?

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  5. GilaMonster says:

    I agree to a certain extent. When I watched Xander Bogaerts last year I though the same thing. I loved his patience, but you can’t let good pitches fly by you working the count.

    Good players are used to playing in AA or AAA where pitches struggle with control and you can stand there and be walked a good percentage of the time. In the major, pitchers can hit the edges of the strike zone or break pitches into the strike zone. If you think you can make solid contact, you need to swing. Once you get the hang of the major league strikezone and how pitchers use it, you can work on being Votto or Encarnacion.

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  6. coldseat says:

    All the adjustments mentioned in the article clearly points to the Astro staff believing that he was pulling out the front shoulder to quickly (which also causes his back shoulder to drop). Close stance, move closer to the plate, straighten up, move hands higher which lifts the back shoulder. Chances are more likely than not, he will adjust again as something else pops up.

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  7. Apocalyptic Mermaid says:

    This seems pretty anecdotal to me. I think it’s more likely we have 2 same plus of 130 plate appearances, and in Donaldson’ case, they were bad because of SSS, and in Grossman’s, we don’t know yet because our only other evidence is still in SSS territory.

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  8. Bounty says:

    What’s interesting is that in the still pic, his hands are higher. I notice however in the gifs, it looks like he pulls his hands back to just across his chin height before he starts his swing. So I’m not sure how much that’s changing things.

    Also, while his stance might start off more closed, his hips finish more opened up in the 2nd gif. He gets his body into that one, rotates through it better. The biggest difference I see (I think..) is he’s finishing or following through with his hips/body. His front foot is planting more open (to allow the rotation) as well.

    * All that said, I know nothing, and these are guesses. *

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  9. Steve Holt!! says:

    So… Grossman’s home run made Dempster retire??

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  10. benagain123 says:

    Dempster was Grossed out

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  11. Nash says:

    This isn’t the first time he’s posted serious 1st half/2nd half splits. Here’s a nice writeup that discusses his 2011 minor league season:

    http://www.drstrangeglove.com/2012/02/21/robbie-grossman-is-for-real/

    Looks like that was more a matter of a change in his batted ball profile, though. Either way, I’m eager to see if he’s capable of putting it altogether. As much as I like the power surge, that gaudy BB% is still going to be his calling card.

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  12. J says:

    Sees like a good place to include a link to Grossman hammering a home run on to Eutaw Street behind Camden Yards. Believe this was just after his recall.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NdFL93dYuI

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