By Nathan Petrashek
One of my pet peeves is people who buy so completely into an idea that they have completely closed their mind to any opposing, or even slightly contrasting, viewpoint. This “tunnel vision” makes having a reasonable discussion at best difficult, at worst impossible. So regardless of how firmly I might believe in something, I always try to entertain the possibility that I could be wrong. This is a worthwhile exercise in humility. And so far in 2016, Scooter Gennett is handing me a big helping of humble pie.
By midseason last year, I had pretty much written off Gennett as a platoon bat. Gennett’s struggles against left-handed pitching have been well documented; he owns a paltry .123/.183./.172 slash line, although in recent years he’s had reduced opportunities against lefties thanks to the poor results early in his career. But in the first half of 2015, Gennett couldn’t hit anyone. He slashed just .239/.275/.384 in the first half and did a month-long stint in the minors as penance.
Gennett turned it on in the second half of 2015, dominated this year’s spring training (.457 OBP, 4 HR), and has continued his hot streak to start the regular season. On opening day, Gennett rewarded manager Craig Counsell’s decision to give him increasing playing time against lefties, taking Giants’ ace Madison Baumgarner deep to right field. On the young season, Gennett has tallied 3 HR and is slashing .237/.383/.474, which doesn’t account for two doubles in last night’s abbreviated loss to Minnesota.
Most notable about the “new” Scooter Gennett is his plate discipline. Gennett has benefited from Counsell’s well-documented philosophy of patience at the plate. According to Fangraphs, Gennett has historically swung at over 40% of pitches thrown outside the strike zone; in 2016, that’s down to 25%. He’s swinging at slightly fewer pitches in the zone as well (73% career, 66% 2016), presumably looking for better contact.
This new approach has led to a marked increase in Gennett’s walk rate. Last year, Gennett drew a walk in just 12 plate appearances; in 13 games in 2016, he’s already walked 9 times. The 16% increase in Gennett’s walk rate probably isn’t going to continue at that clip, but it’s easy to see how even a modest increase will add considerable value, particularly if Gennett continues to bat from the #2 position in the lineup.
Unfortunately, I can’t completely change my tune on Gennett. While 6 of his 9 walks have come against left-handed pitching, the aforementioned home run off Baumgarner is Gennett’s only hit against southpaws in 2016; he’s 0-for-8 against them otherwise. As a result, Gennett hasn’t necessarily changed my opinion about him as a platoon player – but I’m intrigued enough by his new plate approach to at least give him further opportunities to prove me wrong.