When the Twins signed Ryan Doumit, they gained a switch-hitter who had a moderate level of pop and decent batting average ability thanks to a high line drive rate. What they did not necessarily sign was a patient hitter who has been able to coax walks. The former Pittsburgh Pirate has held a 6.8% walk rate for his career, a mark that is slightly below the average of 8%. However, this spring, bolstered by nine walks in 54 plate appearances, Doumit has turned in a 15% walk rate.
Could Doumit have turned a corner in his career? Has he added another dimension to his offensive game?
Maybe this is a step forward for Doumit. While we should never base anything on a sampling of 50 plate appearances, who’s to say that the switch-hitter has not honed his strike zone judgment or made a concerted effort to improve his discipline?
Interestingly enough, Doumit’s plate discipline numbers from a year ago paint a story of a hitter who has been scrutinizing pitches more. According to Fangraphs.com, prior to the 2011 season, Doumit had an out-of-zone swing rate of over 32% in each of the previous three seasons, a rate well above the average. This past season, he whittled that down to 26%, which was below the average.
So it is possible that the walks amassed in Florida are the fruits of his labors that he implemented in 2011 but it seems unlikely. This is spring training. It is chock full of erratic pitchers, minor league arms who may be intimidated of major leaguers and those who are just “working on things”. Doumit’s sudden spike in a little over 50 plate appearances has little or no statistical bearings on his future production. After all, players have monster springs more often than not regress to their true levels. Consider this: a year ago, Jason Repko drew a team-high 10 walks in Grapefruit League action – a whopping 15% walk rate for the fourth outfielder. When the regular season rolled around and those pitchers who lack command were vetted, Repko’s walk rate came crashing back down to earth, finishing the year with a 4.2% walk rate over his 144 plate appearances.
What’s more is that there are not a lot of hitters who have had a sudden and sustained walk rate spike in the middle of their careers. The Oakland A’s Moneyball philosophy was to draft patient hitters because they could “teach” power (or inject them with steroids or whatever) but they could not teach discipline. Doumit, while sporting an 8% walk rate in the minors, is unlikely to have his numbers transform radically this late in his career.
So, will Doumit’s spring patience carry into the regular season? It’s improbable, but not impossible. In the end, he likely finishes the year with a walk rate close to his career average of 7%.