What's Wrong With Jedd Gyorko?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

As a bat-first second baseman and a key cog in the Padres future plans, the rough start to Gyorko's 2014 is troubling. Where is he struggling, and how can he turn it around?

.194/.222/.267.  Jedd Gyorko's batting line? Nope, that belongs to ex-Padre starter Woody Williams.  Gyorko's is actually worse.  Your twitter feed/annoying friend/inner self-torturing troll is already letting you have it:

"OMG DIDN'T WE SIGN HIM TO AN EXTENSION WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT IF HE'S GONNA BE BAD?"

"A-actually he was pretty good last year and"

"YEAH RIGHT OWNERSHIP IS TOO CHEAP TO SIGN GOOD PLAYERS.  BRING IN THE FENCES!!1!"

But he is playing pretty poorly right now.  The Padres offense is going to continue having problems shifting into high-gear without a useful contribution from the young star who was projected to add meat to the middle of the lineup.  How are things different this season, and where are they going?

The Approach

Gyorko is nearing 150 PA on the season.  Still a relatively small sample, but not insignificant.  Usually by this point k/bb ratio will have stabilized and the batted ball profile should look normal.  Indeed there is nothing surprising about Gyorko's surface-level plate discipline stats - walks and strikeouts look almost identical to last season.  Like my first time, Gyorko's rookie season could be called a "success," but it was also filled with embarrassing moments and proclamations of "I guess that's it."  Gyorko's k/bb ratio is about the same as last year, but it was pretty ugly then too.  The Mountaineer seems to be making a concerted effort to adjust from his aggressive rookie approach in an effort to cut down on strikeouts and increase is OBP.  Although he is seeing close to the same number of pitches per plate appearance (about 3.9) Jedd is swinging at just 45.6% of pitches, after clearing over 50% last season.

There are two reasons for this.  The first is that there is now a "book" on Jedd Gyorko, and that book says to throw him sliders from the right side.  In 2013, Gyorko was worth -5.9 runs on plate appearances that ended in sliders, vs. 3.9 runs above average on plate appearances ending in fastballs.  The scouting reports have picked up on his trouble with breaking balls and the pitchers have caught on.  Gyorko is taking many of these pitches - hoping for a fastball, but many are peppering the strike zone and forcing him to hit from behind in the count.  On the surface, Gyorko's selectivity looks promising since he's swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone (ostensibly cutting down his whiffs), but he's likewise passively watching a lot of his best pitches fall right through his wheelhouse.

The other reason Jedd appears more passive this season could be tough medicine.  Gyorko is swinging at fewer pitches this year because he swung at way too many pitches last year.  While 2013 was largely successful, his .301 on-base percentage was uglier than girls I wake up with after the Svedka wears off.  Towards the end of the season, Gyorko made a noticeable effort to take more pitches and be more selective in his offerings.  In September and October, Jedd drew a walk in 9.4% of plate appearances - up from 6.3% on the season as a whole.  For reference, I tell the Svedka girls to "take a walk" 100% of the time.

Jedd was a relatively patient minor-leaguer who had a strong ability to effectively manage the strikezone.  Sure, this is the scouting equivalent of "he has a really nice personality" but regaining that aspect of his game should help take Gyorko to the next level by cutting down on his strikeouts and improving his sub-par OBP.  In the meantime it could continue to be an ugly transition, but a necessary one for a young player dealing with a league that is constantly trying to identify and exploit his weaknesses.

The Results

When Gyorko does swing at the ball, he is doing a decent job of making contact.  His whiff-rate is still pretty high, but clearly improved over last season's number.  That doesn't mean he isn't getting fooled.  Jedd is hitting a ton of ground balls, and is ice-cold on pitches low in the zone.  This combination is usually indicative of a hitter "saving" a bad swing by rolling over the pitch and reaching for it.  Hitters will often end up making weak contact and pulling the ball (to the left side of the infield in Gyorko's case).

While it's always better to whiff less, the ideal scenario is that Jedd continues to trend towards avoiding bad pitches altogether rather than making weak contact.  The West Virginian second baseman is hitting over 20% more ground balls this year than last, mostly at the expense of line drives.  Gyorko is just having a tough time consistently getting the thick part of the bat onto the ball.  As a guy without the patience of a Yasmani Grandal or the wheels of a Cameron Maybin, Gyorko is going to have to do a better job of making solid contact in order to contribute on offense.

The Verdict

The good news is that Jedd Gyorko was drafted for one reason: to hit.  Hitting is something that Gyorko has done at every level he's played.  Historically, Gyorkstore has shown an admirable ability to adapt to tougher pitching with continued exposure.  After starting slow at virtually every level in the Padres organization - including with the big club in 2013 - Jedd has always found a way to adjust and finish strong.

Many prospects have promising rookie seasons only to wash out and fade away.  I know what you're thinking.... is this about Khalil?  It is, but it isn't.  Both were surprisingly powerful middle-infielders with strike-zone problems, but that's where the similarities end.  Greene never had an OBP greater than .350 after A-ball.  Before 2013, Gyorko hadn't posted an OBP lower than .350 since little league [citation needed].  Greene was billed as a superior athlete with great hair and enough potential to one day figure out how to be a good hitter.  Gyorko's profile was always that of an advanced hitter with lagging tools and the most generic hair imaginable.  Guys like that usually don't make it up to the show unless there is something special in their bats.  It may sound glib, but something has to be said about the fact that "good hitters" find ways to hit.

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