Scout Diary: Feb. 2, 2020. Hitters

Part 1 of this week’s scouting assignment is to try and unpack the astonishingly difficult world of evaluating hitters, starting with the difference between “pure” and “power” hitters following the lines laid down in the book “Baseball Uncenscored” by MLB scout John Story.

The mission

Part 1Identify one “pure hitter” as described in “Baseball Uncensored” and one “power hitter.” Describe how each is important in the line-up and why. How has the “power hitter” changed the game? How does this affect scouts when analyzing hitting?

Story writes that the goal of the good hitter is “to consistently hit the ball hard,” and that regardless how that goal is achieved, solid hitting mechanics are reason the best hitters achieve that goal. (p. 73) By that logic, the overall measure of the hit tool is the player’s ability to consistently hit the ball hard. The job of the scout, then, is to recognize this where it exists, and recognize what gifts a player has that will allow him to achieve this at a high level with proper attention to skills that can be developed and the effort required to master them.

He describes excellent hand speed and aptitude as natural abilities. Adjusting one’s hands to the pitched ball and a short compact stroke are, he writes, learned skills.

The big question for Story is whether a player has or can learn to generate bat speed. The key, he writes, is the hands, and how the small muscles trigger the swing. To this he adds, balance, knowledge of the strike zone and a good approach are also components.

So let’s look at two hitters, one pure hitter, and one power hitter.

Jump to 1 year as a scout page

Pure hitter: Kensuke Kondo

Kondo is a 26-year-old on-base machine for the Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan’s Pacific League. He qualifies as a pure hitter by virtue of his ability to consistently hit the ball hard. Here’s how he compares to other NPB hitters with 350-plus plate appearances the past two seasons according to Delta Graphs:

  • Lowest soft-contact percentage: No. 1 (2019), No. 8 (2018)
  • Lowest swinging strike percentage: No. 2 (2019), No. 4 (2018)
  • Lowest swing percentage out of zone: No. 7 (2019), No. 6 (2018)
  • Highest hard-contact percentage: No. 19 (2019), No. 10 (2018)

By those numbers we can deduce he consistently makes solid contact, knows the strike zone, and has a good approach. Here’s a youtube video of Kondo:

Kensuke Kondo

Here’s how Kondo looked in his days at Yokohama High School

Kensuke Kondo in high school.

Power hitter: Hotaka Yamakawa

Yamakawa is the first baseman and cleanup hitter for both the Seibu Lions and Japan’s national team. He was the PL’s 2018 MVP. His qualifications as a power hiter – according to the Story line – are: 23% of his fly balls are home runs, this was the 7th highest figure in 2019, the 5th highest in 2018.

In his career, he has hit one home run per 11.45 at-bats. Among hitters with at least 1,000 at-bats and 100 home runs, this rate – that Story calls “power efficiency” (p. 80) – ranks Yamakawa fifth  — in Japanese pro baseball history. Ranked ahead of him are: Sadaharu Oh (10.66), Randy “I’ll be a Hall of Famer in 2021” Bass (10.93), Charlie Manuel (11.25) and Orestes Destrade (11.35).

First, a look at Yamakawa in his days as a Fuji University star:

Hotaka Yamakawa in university
Hotaka Yamakawa during his first full season.

The power ball lottery

The realization over the past 10 years that balls driven at a velocity of at least 98 mph at an angle between 26 and 30 degrees result produces optimum results that often outweigh the cost of increased strikeouts has been the biggest game-changer since the period from 1919-1921. Then, the confluence of Babe Ruth showed home run hitting could be a productive tactic, and clean baseballs allowed others to replicate his experiment. Since then, the fear of the cost of a strikeout has steadily declined and now has all but evaporated.

If I’m a scout, I’m on the lookout for strong players with quick wrists, who can make the necessary adjustments. The other side of the coin is finding pitchers who can exploit those hitters, and consequently, batters who can put the ball in play against the shifts that have since been implemented.

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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