Friday, February 15, 2013

Johnny Giavotella: Breakout Candidate

On Wednesday, Baseball Prospectus took the time to select nine players who they predicted to have breakout seasons in 2013. In the article, nine BP writers were given one selection a piece. Three of those authors selected Royals. I don't think it would come as a shock to anyone that two of those were Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez, but Johnny Giavotella's inclusion on the last was a bit surprising.

Giavotella was selected by BP writer Sam Miller. As evidence for why we can expect the former second round pick to break out, Miller pointed to Giavotella's robust .331/.391/.477 line and his steady walk and line drive rates. Last season in Omaha Giavotella posted a BB% of 11% (league average is 8.6%) and a LD% of 19.6% (league average is 18.3%). Unfortunately, Giavotella was only able to carry one of those over to his 36 game sample in the American League.

Photo courtesy of KCMB Kansas City News
Despite the dip in batting average between his Triple-A and Major League lines, Giavotella maintained a line drive percentage over 19% at each stop. What hurt Giavotella was his batting average on balls in play dropping from .338 in Omaha to .276. The Major League average babip was .296 in 2013, so when you factor in that Giavotella making more solid contact than the average Major Leaguer, it is reasonable to suspect that part of his poor performance was babip induced.

Of course, another big part of Giavotella's game is his ability to control the strike zone. Given that he is just 5'8", pitchers don't exactly have a large target to aim at. Thanks to Giavotella's strong wrists and quick swing, he has been able to take great control of the strike zone throughout his minor league career walking in 9.3% of his at bats. In the Majors, that number has been reduced to just 3.5%.

Another problem that Giavotella faced in his Major League time, was the spike in strikeouts. The University of New Orleans product struck out in just 10.4% of his at bats over 921 plate appearances at the Minor League level. However, over 314 Major League plate appearances, this number has ballooned to 17.5%. Due to the rise in strikeouts, Giavotella's above average line drive rate becomes less of a factor.

It is true that Giavotella's batting average isn't necessarily reflective of his peripheral contact rates. However, there are other issues contributing to his lack of success at the Major League level. This is evident even when one normalizes his babip to a point that reflects his line drive percentage. Considering this, one still arrives at a line somewhere around .250/.280/.315.

While it is good to see that Giavotella is still squaring up balls at the Major League level, he still needs to make a lot of progress in the pitch recognition department. It would have been nice if he was afforded this opportunity last summer, but ultimately he is yet again going to have to win his spot in Spring camp. Giavotella will always have a strong strike zone. The fact that he has proven the ability to turn on pitches and square up Major League pitching, leads me to have confidence that, if given the opportunity, his plate discipline will come around as well.

When talking about 2013, people list breakouts from Hosmer and Moustakas and the health of Cain and Perez as important factors in the likelihood of contention. A breakout from a guy like Johnny Giavotella could be a huge bonus for the organization. Let's hope Gio can make it happen.

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