Question: have we all put too much faith in the abilities of Johnny Giavotella? I have to ask it. Don’t get me wrong, I hate to ask it, but I have to ask it at this point. I know 78 major league games isn’t a whole lot, but the picture that’s forming for the 25-year-old second baseman isn’t as rosy as many of us had hoped. And because he has yet to show the type of promise his very good AAA numbers indicate he has, it’s making me nervous.
I had extremely high hopes for Giavotella. I thought he might be a poor man’s Dustin Pedroia (with a little worse glove and a little less pop). His numbers in AAA over the last two seasons have been incredible (.323/.404/.472 in 2012 and .338/.390/.481 in 2011). He profiled as a high average, high on-base, gap power, offensive second baseman, which was great for the Royals, a team that is already strong up the middle defensively and sometimes has a tendency to over-value defense.
But he’s now had exactly 300 PA in the major leagues, and so far, it’s not looking so hot. His slash line, .237/.263/.331, is Francoeur-esque, and we knew his defense wouldn’t be anything to write home about. His BABIP is fairly low, .288 in 2011 and is .267 this season, which provides some hope. But he’s the one putting the balls in play.
Other than the balls not dropping, which I partially blame Giavotella for but not entirely, it seems his plate discipline isn’t what it was at AAA. I heard one of the radio broadcasters mention an interview with him in which he stated that pitchers are pitching him backwards now, and he’s struggling with that. It’s certainly reflected in his walk rate, which took an amazing dive after each call up to the majors, while his strikeout rate spikes soared. In 2011, his walk rate went from eight percent to 3.2 percent while his strikeout rate went from 11.3 percent to 17.1 percent. In 2012, same story—BB% from 11 to 3.5, K% from 9.6 to 16.8.
So, here’s my hypothesis on Giavotella’s issues. Yes, I think they’re throwing him more breaking balls, especially in fastball counts. I think he struggles with that. But I also think he’s putting pressure on himself not only to get on base but to hit. There’s no reason why that walk rate should plummet that far unless he’s pressing to swing the bat and make an impact. That pressure is causing him to swing a lot and not make contact all that often, which is also Francoeur-esque. He’s swinging at both good and bad pitches, which in the majors is not good.
The reality for the Royals might be that Giavotella will never hit the way they thought he would in the major leagues. That’s a tough reality because if he can’t hit, he can’t play. There are other options. I’m a big fan of Irving Falu. I don’t understand the assumption that he can’t be anything more than a utility player, especially considering his play indicates otherwise (I know he’s a little older than most rookies but why should that matter if he can play). His numbers are just as good as Giavotella’s at the minor league level and much better in the majors. There are other options as well—Tony Abreu, Christian Colon. But it might be that the Royals end up with more of a revolving door at second base, which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Many winning teams have at least one position that is filled in a patch-work way. But it would be nice if Giavotella can fulfill the hopes many Royals fans had for him.
This doesn’t mean that I’m giving up hope on Giavotella; I’m not. It just means that the bar’s thinning out, and I’m starting to shift my gaze from the prettiest girls in the room to the ones more likely to produce.