Unlike some players, the strengths and weaknesses of Dayan Viciedo are painfully obvious. Since his teenage years, it has been clear that Viciedo has good batspeed, lots of power, and under the right circumstances, the ability to square the ball up. The problems are everything else. His approach is a mess, he has a comical platoon split, and although he has a strong arm in left his range is a disaster. On the other hand, he doesn’t turn 24 until March 10th. So what can the White Sox expect out of a guy like Viciedo for 2013?
Viciedo swung at the 10th-highest percentage of pitches out of the zone last year.
While we’re on the subject, that was only high enough to put him third on the team, which is hilarious. As you can see from the composition of names on the list, swinging at a lot of pitches out of the zone isn’t dispositive of whether or not you’re a good player – but the list is composed of anomalies, guys who succeed in spite of their hacking tendencies, or some of the worst players in the majors. Josh Hamilton has 80 power (on the 20-80 point scouting scale) and is a bizarre outlier almost any way you slice it. Delmon Young and Jeff Francoeur are really, really bad, and in some ways are the worst-case scenarios for Viciedo if he doesn’t fix his approach. Alexei is a slick fielding shortstop, and Pierzynski is a catcher with a rather unusual profile. Not to belabor the point, but Viciedo is one of the least selective hitters in the majors, and you usually need some sort of defensive value to compensate, or you risk being unplayable.
Viciedo also has one of the biggest platoon splits in the majors for his career, posting a 1.014 OPS against left-handed pitchers (.356/.390/.624), while managing only a .634 OPS against right-handed pitchers (.225/.274/.360). This tells us a few different things. Clearly Viciedo has the talent to hit really, really well if he can pick up the ball out of the pitcher’s hand and get a good look at it, as he seems able to do against lefties but not righties. In this discussion, age is still on Viciedo’s side, hopefully indicating that there are some areas of his game (like pitch recognition) that will get a little bit better with time. It also means that even if he never learns to hit righties at all, he can at least hang around and be useful as part of a platoon – a tactic that the 2012 As used to great effect. Another way to look at it is that if he can continue to obliterate lefties, he doesn’t really need to do that much better against right-handers in order to get his overall line into the positive realm.
If you continue to look in the realm of optimism, Viciedo is still relatively new to the outfield, having been an infielder for the bulk of his career. Between his age, that semi-recent positional adjustment, and his really nice arm, it’s not hard to imagine him getting a little better in left. Perhaps some of his routes will get less bizarre. Still, Viciedo was never going to have a lot of range given his footspeed and his physique.
Bill James’ system has always struck me as a little optimistic for offense, but next year it has Viciedo hitting .271/.316/.455, based almost entirely on his BB% increasing from 5.2 to 5.7, and a slight recovery of BABIP, where it looks like he got a bit unlucky last year. It would move his OBP from the “very, very bad” to the “below average” realm (the league average for non-pitchers last year for BB% was 8.1 and for OBP was .324). I don’t think that’s unrealistic at all. It’s difficult to improve your BB%, but not impossible. Corey Hart, a non-elite talent, posted BB% numbers of 6.6, 6.4, and 4.1 at the start of his career, but as he aged managed to get a bit more selective, hovering between 7-9% since 2009. Meanwhile, Adam Jones has slipped back below the 5% mark since his 2009/age 24 season, but has simply hit for more average and power as he aged into his prime, yielding an above average bat.
It’s clear that Viciedo will have to improve in some areas if he is going to be a viable everyday player. There are reasons to hope that he can improve enough in those areas to look more like a Corey Hart or Adam Jones on offense than a Delmon Young. Everything I’ve ever heard about Viciedo is that he has a great work ethic and really wants to improve, for whatever that’s worth. The downside is that history is littered with low-patience lefty-mashers and if they don’t have much of a glove, they don’t really serve much of a purpose. Viciedo is going to have to hit for average and power, as he will never walk much, but he certainly has the tools to do it, and is young enough that minor improvements are still possible. A Viciedo with modest defensive improvements and a line like Bill James’ projects is a much more helpful player than the one we saw in 2012. And if Viciedo ever starts hitting righties at all like he hits lefties, maybe there is still there that ever-so-slight chance he turns into a force at the plate after all. Would a .285/.330/.480 season really be that surprising? I’ve got my fingers crossed.