Evaluating Players in the Dark and Scooter Gennett

To make it as a big-league ballplayer, you have to do very hard things well, like hitting a very fast-moving baseball.  You also have to be able to do some reasonably easy things well, like see the baseball.  Why, then, couldn’t Brewers second baseman Scooter Gennett see the ball in the minor leagues?

In a recent Brewers broadcast, tv announcer Brian Anderson relayed a story about Scooter Gennett and his somewhat surprising performance in the majors (149 wRC+ and 1.4 WAR in 49 games so far).  Gennett claimed that he was just seeing the ball so much better in the majors due to poorly-lighted minor-league ballparks.

While minor league plate discipline data may not be a reliable comparison, if he was able to see the ball better in the majors, you would expect certain things to happen.  He’d make contact frequently, and probably solid contact.  Take a look at his contact numbers now 51 games into the majors:









His contact numbers so far are comparable to Matt Carpenter’s.  What we don’t see in Scooter’s major league data, however, is a real solid line drive rate to indicate he’s able to better put the barrel of the bat on the ball.  In fact, he ranks just 28th out of all second basemen this season with at least 150 plate appearances  with a slightly-above-league-average 22%.  He doesn’t appear to actually be recognizing pitches any better– his walk rate is actually down from his time in the minors, and his strikeout rate is up.  But there seems to be something to indicate that he’s seeing the ball well–he’s swinging and making contact on plenty of the pitches, and he figures out where the ball is and puts his bat on it.

Which bring us to the question:  What the hell is going on in minor-league ballparks, if in fact Scooter Gennett’s contact rates are really closer to Matt Carpenter’s and he feels the ball was harder to see in Nashville?

If you’re the Brewers, or any team really, wouldn’t you want to know that difference?  Especially when your other second base options this year have been Rickie Weeks (86 wRC+), Jeff Bianchi (57 wRC+), and Yuniesky Betancourt (Yuniesky Betancourt)?  I don’t know much (anything) about exterior lighting, but I would think that if there was a possibility that field conditions were affecting a team’s player evaluations, teams could reasonably justify investing some money into the lights for the minor-league affiliates.

“Seeing the baseball” seems like it’s discussed for well over half of players’ and managers’ attributions of a hitting streak or an unexpected jump in power, and this may account for Scooter Gennett’s explanation of his success with the Brewers in 2013. But with the margins for error and to gain a competitive advantage so small in the majors, these kind of anomalies may be well worth the attention of baseball ownership and their affiliated clubs.

Sean Roberts writes mostly about the Brewers at Sausage Racing Form. You can find him on twitter at @sean_hq or at sausageracingform.wordpress.com.

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I know quite a bit about exterior lighting, and should therefore probably make a few phone calls, starting with the Brewers.

I highly doubt that there is an actual issue with the lighting at these parks, though.

Peace Rose
Peace Rose

Gather ’round children,
let me tell you a song
about a man who they call

Now he plays second base
and knows how to hit,
but he can’t see in the dark.

So one day a young man
came from Mark Attanasio
and said, “Here’s my boy