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5 Reasons To Ride Scooter Gennett

When I started this column, I never anticipated choosing four middle infielders to start the series, but it’s been a wild baseball season. Scooter Gennett did everything the Brewers asked him to this spring, playing in the outfield and trying to become the utility player, he did not anticipate being waived. But, as in life, everything happens for a reason.

Through 456 games with Milwaukee, Gennett hit .279 with 35 home runs and 160 RBI. Gennett lost his job at second base to Jonathan Villar, who stole 62 bases with a .285 average last season and needed a position change with the offseason acquisition of Travis Shaw. Upon his release, Gennett did not clear waivers due to a claim by the Reds.

Cincinnati did present a clear need for a second baseman, but taking a flier on Gennett seemed like a low risk one for a team in the midst of a rebuild. He battled early on for playing time, but his production earned it for him. Of course, many will not forget the four home run with 10 RBI game on June sixth, more famously, the anniversary of D-Day in World War II. This one game outlier seemed to pique fantasy interest in the second baseman, but would he play enough to justify it? It’s time to not only figure out if he’s worth buying the rest of the season, but could Gennett be reaching a new level of production?

1. Batted ball data

It makes sense to start with Gennett’s balls in play data to see if there’s something percolating beneath the surface statistics. For starters, his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) seems to be high, sitting 21 points above his career rate. He’s hitting line drives 21.9 percent of the time with less ground balls and more fly balls this year. Many players seem to be buying into the dawning of the fly ball era, some with mixed results like Francisco Lindor, but Gennett is thriving.

He’s traded five percent in regards to each category and hitting ground balls along with fly balls, 39.1 percent of the time. Despite this, Gennett’s been able to double his home run per fly ball rate compared to last season, fueled by a spike in both pull percentage and hard contact rate. His pull percentage increase by almost nine percent accompanies a rise in hard contact, up 9.9 percent. This allows his isolated power climb to be supported by the change in approach.

2. Home run distance

Since Gennett is hitting more home runs this year, it makes sense to see if he’s hitting them further. Last year, Gennett hit 14 home runs over 542 plate appearances. According to ESPN’s home run tracker, of his 14 homers in 2016, seven fell under the “just enough” categorical designation. This sits one spot above the lucky rating, but poked a hole in his power last year suggesting half of his home runs barely cleared the wall. However, Gennett did average 392 feet on his home runs using the average true distance number last season.

This year, Gennett’s averaging 388.2 feet per home run, slightly below last year’s number. But only three of his 11 carry the just enough tag. Seven of his home runs this year fall under the plenty and one no doubter. This could fall in line with the increase in hard contact in 2017 along with rise in pull percentage. Although the distance does not provide clarity, take solace in the shift from just enough at 50 percent last year to 27 percent this season.

3. Plate discipline

Anytime a player shows a spike in power, he often trades plate discipline to accomplish it. In the curious case of Scooter Gennett, so far, he’s not doing so. Keeping his contact rates in line with last year and his career rates, Gennett’s actually decreased his swinging strike percentage compared to last year. More importantly, he’s reduced his O-swing percentage (swings at pitches outside the strike zone) by three percent. Far too often a hitter trading contact for power will exhibit spikes in aggression, Gennett seems to be an outlier in this regard keeping contact the same with better contact. Very interesting.

4. Hitting second, in front of Joey Votto

May will dismiss a player’s spot in the batting order making a difference in production. In the case of Gennett, moving to second in the Reds lineup will not only increase his overall counting statistics, but, should ensure he keeps seeing fastballs. Teams will not wish to walk Gennett, who does not take them often (five percent of the time this year). Putting people on base for Joey Votto makes for bad baseball.

Why does hit resonate in regards to Gennett’s value? To this point, he’s being thrown fastballs 53.5 percent of the time. Using Statcast data, Gennett’s hitting .304 against four-seam fastballs with a .732 slugging, three doubles and seven home runs. If looking for reinforcement, check out his hot zone chart from regarding his slugging versus fastballs this year:

Scooter Gennett hitting zone

Gennett has hit second in 11 games this year with 15 hits in 47 at-bats, nine runs, four doubles, four home runs, 10 RBI, a .319/.373/.660 slash line and very impressive .340 isolated power. These numbers, along with the improved hard contact without sacrificing contact or discipline, make Gennett much more interesting as a 27-year-old.

5. Projections

Due to his past numbers with Milwaukee, computer projections the rest of the way will default to a player regressing towards his career rates. While some regression could ensue due to Gennett’s higher BABIP, ZiPS still sees him playing 77 more games with 33 runs, eight home runs, 35 RBI, three stolen bases and a .277/.318/.449 slash line. If this happens, Gennett would reach 61 runs, 19 home runs, 75 RBI, and four steals.

Gennett’s current pace of 134 games, 60 runs, 24 home runs, 86 RBI and two steals seem to be close. Odds remain he will fall somewhere in the middle of the two, which means he reaches career numbers in regards to his home runs and RBI. With the multitude of injuries this year, taking a flier on Gennett makes sense, especially if he can stay in front of Votto in the lineup. Gennett’s numbers will benefit from his one day outburst, but he’s been solid all season long and this dates back to spring training. Gennett suffered from a roster surplus in Milwaukee, but he’s readily available in most leagues, can be used at second, third, and outfield in leagues with 10 game minimums in the midst of a career season. Ride Scooter while he’s hot.

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