Revisiting the ’09 Mavericks Hitters
Since the Mariners signed on with the affiliate in ’07, we’ve talked a lot about the High Desert effect and what exactly that means to the development of prospects within the organization. It’s common to see the Mavericks at the top of the leaderboard in runs scored per game, and last year was no exception, as they lead by 0.40 runs and were first in most offensive categories, save doubles, base stealing, walks and strikeouts. To start the season, three prominent hitters from that ’09 lineup were promoted to the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx, Joe Dunigan, Alex Liddi, and Carlos Peguero. So how have they fared thus far and what lessons can be taken from it? Let’s take a numbers-heavy look at what each of the three have been doing, starting out with Dunigan.
After knocking fourteen out of the park in Wisconsin in 2008, Dunigan hit out thirty in the Cal League in 2009, on his way to a .294/.355/.570 season. Equally impressive was that he seemed to improve his eye while moving up, going from a 142/30 K/BB to a 129/43 K/BB. By the end of the year, he wound up on a number of all-star teams for both the league and the level.
This season, he was battling to get a .189/.259/.339 after Thursday night’s game and running a 51/10 K/BB through 137 plate appearances coming into it. So, what happened? It’s not just that he hit .337/.380/.687 at home and only .253/.318/.443 on the road. He actually had a higher line drive rate in away games, and adjusting for luck, the OPS difference is probably closer to .200 than .300.
No, it was more a general inconsistency that did him in. After spiking to fifteen in June, Dunigan’s walks tapered off to seven in July and then two in both August and September. Adding to that, his strikeouts similarly spiked in July, with four every ten at-bats, and were a little under one every three for the remainder of the season. What we’re seeing to open 2010 seems to be a continuation of this. Dunigan hadn’t yet “put everything together”, so to speak, and was doing only a few select things well at any given time. Now that tougher pitchers are exploiting him, he’s struggling to do anything at all.
Next up is Liddi. The numbers Liddi put up in High Desert were a bit more of a drastic break from what we were accustomed to seeing out of him in the Midwest League. He didn’t even post a .700 OPS there and in some respects got worse in his second season. High Desert, however, proved to be no issue, and he ended the season with a .345/.411/.594 line, knocking out twenty-three home runs when he had never topped ten before, and forty-four doubles when he had never exceeded thirty. His eye improved a bit, going from a 115/42 K/BB to a 122/53 K/BB in seventy more plate appearances, but the success seemed to be more in him reducing his strikeouts than walking significantly more.
This season, Liddi is running a .289/.344/.472 line, which, while not as his previous levels, isn’t bad by any stretch. What’s different in how he approached hitting while calling Mavericks Stadium his home? A curious number that stands out in Liddi’s season is that of those twenty-three home runs, nineteen were from April to June. From July on, he only knocked four out.
It’s something that might be more troubling if not for the fact that his line drive rate those final three months nearly doubled and he walked thirty times while striking out just fifty-three. Right now, we’re seeing the same kind of developments out of him, with a 21/4 K/BB for April and a 14/6 for May. When Liddi wasn’t hitting the ball out nearly as often, he was actually improving his overall approach. The spray charts would support the idea that he’s a more complete hitter as well. Of his home runs that weren’t “inside-the-park” jobs, nine went to left, but six went to dead center and six went to right.
That brings us to Peguero, who is probably one of the biggest surprises in the system right now with his twelve home runs. Peguero’s case is a little different because he had a bit of a slow start to his career, with an elbow strain and a wrist injury keeping him off the field and a bit limited at the plate. The 2009 season was his first completely healthy season in a while, and he hit .271/.335/.560, which included fourteen triples and thirty-one home runs. As eye numbers went, he was running a 172/42 K/BB, chasing Halman for the strikeout lead, but also improving on a walk total that had never exceeded sixteen.
A glance at the stat line has him hitting .331/.411/.610 currently, the home run totals tying him for fourth in all of minor league baseball. So what’s the deal? Peguero is genuinely baffling in a lot of respects, because you look at his home line last year, .304/.344/.671, and compare it to a road average of .233/.280/.439, with fewer line drives to boot, you’d expect him to be having pretty much the same issues as Dunigan has been having.
Peguero doesn’t have so dramatic a first half and second half split as you see with others, he hit eighteen out before July, and thirteen out after, twenty-three walks before July, twenty- two after. What’s striking though is that his strikeouts jumped from eighty-six to ninety-nine in the second half, in part due to a July where he K’d in nearly half his at-bats. It’s part of the reason I’m a little bit leery of him at present, even if he wasn’t ever as pull happy as Dunigan was (Dunigan had one opposite field dinger all of last season, Peguero had three and a greater concentration to center).
Both Peguero and Liddi are walking more in May than they did in April, however, which is a testament to some level of adaptation in both. I’d hone in on that because it’s quite difficult to explain Peguero, other than he’s healthy and likely succeeding where Dunigan is not because he can go the other way on a pitch. There’s not much to go on as far as the strikeout stuff because Peguero has twenty-four Ks in sixty-eight at-bats for May, compared to eighteen in eighty-two at-bats for April.
A month and a half isn’t enough data to make any conclusive judgments on, but it does give support to the notion that Liddi is the superior prospect of the bunch and troubles Peguero’s recent success. Will Liddi get around to hitting for power again? Will Peguero’s strikeout rates be more in line with ’08 (1 per 4 PA) or ’09 (1 per 3.2 PA)? Can Dunigan figure out how to hit? We can’t easily answer any of these questions yet, but the signposts look good for Liddi, at least positive for Peguero, and bad for Dunigan at the moment.