Photo courtesy of Minda Haas
Spring Training statistics are mostly meaningless. I say “mostly” because there are some instances where the tiniest bit of information can be gleaned from a player’s numbers, but generally, they don’t have any predictive value. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy looking at the ridiculous ones, particularly for players who might be able to crack a big league roster in the near future.
Brett Eibner still has some work to do to reach that level, but he’s definitely off to a good start. The 26-year old outfielder has 6 extra-base hits, including 2 home runs, in 18 plate appearances in the Cactus League. His slash line is .588/.611/1.235.
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It’s an incredibly small sample in an incredibly offense-friendly environment, but those are fun numbers in any context. Baseball Reference has a rating for opponent quality, though it’s a very loose definition of that term. Essentially, guys facing MLB players have a rating of 10, and it goes down from there (8 for Triple-A competition, 7 for Double-A, etc.). You get the picture.
Eibner’s opposition quality is 8.2, so while he isn’t doing this damage against all big leaguers, he’s not feasting on rookies, either. He certainly qualifies as a post-hype prospect, and I’m not suggesting Eibner is destined for stardom, but it isn’t as if he’s some unheralded 40th-round draft pick. He was taken 54th overall in 2010, and his talent was evident. Unfortunately, the former Arkansas Razorback couldn’t put it all together.
I wrote about Eibner before last season, too, noting that injuries and a high strikeout rate were holding him back at the plate. In 2014, Eibner missed almost two months with an abdominal strain, and struck out in 26% of his plate appearances. Huh. He ended the year with a .238/.325/.378 line, with just 8 home runs in 362 plate appearances. It wasn’t his worst season by raw numbers, but the power dip was troubling.
Prior to 2014, Eibner posted isolated slugging figures of .195, .191, and .209. Last year, it was .140. Granted, dealing with an injury to a core muscle probably didn’t help that, but he wasn’t showing much power before going on the disabled list, either. His ISO before hitting the shelf was .139. Eibner still drew walks 11% of the time, but when he made contact, he wasn’t doing as much damage.
You can see as much in the images below, courtesy of MLB Farm, the first showing the location of his batted balls in 2013, and the second from 2014.
Eibner hit more ground balls in 2014 than he did in 2013, and while his batted ball luck wasn’t drastically changed, it clearly took away the extra-base hits he had grown so used to collecting. He still hit more fly balls than anything else, but you can see a lack of distance in the lower heat map. He also showed less of a tendency to pull the ball last season, as you can see a few more flies that went to center and right.
I’m unsure if the increase in grounders and reduced pull rate were caused by something Eibner changed in his swing or in his approach, or if pitchers attacked him differently, or if he was simply nursing an injury all year. It could be a combination of any of those factors, or it might be something different entirely. I’m hoping to get a chance to visit with him next month to see what adjustments were made, if any.
For now, Eibner has looked great in a limited sample. He’s mostly hitting line drives and fly balls, and he’s doing plenty of damage on just about all of them. Eibner’s even been making more contact, striking out just 3 times thus far. Again, it’s a small sample, but it’s worth mentioning.
While his prospect star has dimmed considerably, Eibner could still find his way to the big leagues in the next year or two, particularly if he can bounce back from his 2014 season. His plus arm would fit well in right field, and his athleticism should allow him to be a capable 4th or 5th outfielder, if his bat improves and if he can stay healthy. Those “if’s” are quite large, but hopefully this spring will get him off on the right foot for the upcoming season.
Spring Training stats are usually meaningless, but they aren’t worthless. In this instance, they gave me a reason to take another look at a talented player who still has some time to develop and become a major leaguer. That’s always a worthwhile endeavor.