Sunday, September 14, 2008

What's the Matter with Travis, He's All Right

(With thanks to the Flintstones, the title paraphrases a Flintstone song)

For a long while now, I've been accused of being in "love" with Travis Ishikawa. I once got into an on-line "discussion" that turned nasty with the other poster trying to use my dead father to insult me, while also lying that he had "research" that showed that a player repeating A-ball had never. And never is a long time in baseball, so I knew he was trying to blow smoke up people's behinds, as he would have to go through the minor league history of every major league baseball player to prove that and I called him on that. He whined that I was "ruining his fun".

The funny and sad thing is he took pride in "telling it like it is" without holding anything back and giving others the heat. I later gave him the fact that Moises Alou had repeated A-level and he claimed that he said few, only he didn't know that the Internet Archive had his post captured for posterity, including his assertion that Travis Ishikawa was not worth keeping after his rough start of the 2004 season (he wanted to DFA him) and that it would be better to keep Brad Vericker and Jason Columbus.

Now that Travis is having great success in the majors, I finally have the opportunity to say this: it's only one year, it's small samples (though his MLEs for this season support a nice OPS), he will need to prove it next season and the season after that. He has had too many setbacks plus too many current negatives to say that he has arrived for certain, so all you people who recently jumped on the Ishikawa bandwagon should take pause.

First of all, he still hasn't figured out how to hit LHP. Even in the minors, where the LHP are not as crafty as they are in the majors, he hit an MLE of .158/.283/.219/.502 in 114 AB. The only good thing of note was that he had 20 walks to go with his 29 strikeouts (and that's a very high rate of strikeouts in any case).

Second of all, he still strikes out too much. Even against RHP, against whom he has hit an MLE of .279/.341/.536/.877 in 2008, with 17 HR in 308 AB, he still struck out 59 times, or about an 81% contact rate (or 19% K-rate), which is OK but the better hitters can keep their contact rate above 85%, meaning that he's going to struggle to keep his BA high even against RHP.

Third of all, overall his MLE of .252/.331/.458/.789 for his minor league stats would only be adequate at 1B, the average MLB 1B has an OPS in the .810-820 range, the better ones in the high 800 and above. And his HR -rate would put him roughly in the 20-25 HR range, again, only adequate at 1B, which has a much higher standard for offense than any other position, mainly because the best hitters who cannot field any other position ends up here, as 1B is considered an easier defensive position. The only good thing is that .789 would be great compared to any Giants 1B of the past 5 years at least.

That said, I think Ishikawa deserves a chance to start at 1B for 2009, though in competition with Ortmeier, Bowker, McClain and whoever else wants a MLB starting job. Including his superlative MLB stats thus far into the MLE would probably boost his OPS for the season to an adequate level for 1B. He has also been known for this great 1B defense and he's probably among the best in the farm system in terms of defense there.

He is what he is, probably a platooon 1B who can kill RHP, but overall has a low BA, high walk and strikeout rate, and high HR rate - a true three true talents ballplayer - and also play great defense at 1B. Sandoval would make a good platoon buddy with him, with Sandoval catching regularly but playing 1B against LHP, allowing him regular rest from catching but keeping his bat in the lineup, and giving his backup regular play. But with Posey positioned as our backstop of the future, Sandoval probably would be either our regular starting 1B or 3B at some point, depending on where Villalona ends up, so Ishikawa's time with us might be short unless he can figure out all the problems I noted above. The good thing is that with his emergence, he has plenty of trade value that might come in handy in a year or two when Posey comes up and mixes things up for us (in a good way), or even before. Maybe Seattle might like a native son returning home and starting at 1B for them?


  1. Interesting Take on Ishikawa. Like many I was convinced he was never going to put it together mentally after his disastrous 2007 season. All the K's at all levels really scared me off. I am quite impressed by him as a person if nothing else as it takes quite a bit of humility to rebound from a year like that.
    I think he deserves a shot at 1B in spring training. I think his trade value can only go up from here if he is given regular at bats and is able to put up a .275/.360/450 line (including numbers against LHP. If he platoons, I could see him putting up a .290/.370/.550 line over a full season. But then again, I am an optimist.

  2. Gee, a platoon 1B who strikes out a lot and has a low BA. Sounds a lot like someone who we used to have.......Lance Niekro.

  3. There you go again, Boof, being the nabob of negativity. :^) Also, you sound like you would rather just sign free agents like we had previously instead of giving our young guys a chance, you would rather label them a failure and move on.

    Yes, that does sound like someone who we used to have, but I would use the name Rob Deer (who I thought was within your time), who was successful in carving out a career in the majors by striking out a lot with a low BA, but also able to hit for power, particularly HR, and take a walk at a high rate, which is something Lance never was able to figure out (Lance would be a better example for how Nate Schierholtz's downside could look like, as Lance never had a problem hitting for high BA in the minors, just the majors, whereas Ishikawa has usually struggled with BA and K's in the minors, while also taking a lot of walks and usually hitting for HR power (when not messed up by Dodd Stadium)).

    Rob, however, was a RHH, not a LHH like Ishikawa, so if he can carve out a career with such a batting line, and produce value that gave him an 8 year career as a productive hitter (109 OPS+ for his career despite not hitting RHP that well), then a LHH version of him which can mash RHP should be able to have just as good a career, particularly in the AL.

    Deer had a Three True Outcomes percentage of 49.69% TTO%. Ishikawa over his minor league career has a 40.96%. So they are very close, only Rob struck out more.

    The thing is we don't know what Ishikawa is right now. Maybe he can figure things out - like he appears to have done so far in the majors - because his ability to discern the strike zone might stand him well up here where more pitchers throw strikes, at least until they can figure out if he would chase certain pitches out of the strike zone.

    If he doesn't figure things out, certainly, Lance Niekro could be a good comparison. But you would rather label him a failure before giving him a chance.

    One could have used similar logic with Matt Holliday, not that he's like Ishikawa, but his OPS was never very impressive in the minors, even though the parks there are super-charged, much like Coors was pre-humidor, and he looked like another in a long line of prospects that fizzled for the Rockies up in the majors. How he ever got a chance in the majors based on that lackluster performance in the minors, I have no definitive idea, other than a lot of injuries.

    And, just like Holliday, we won't really know what we got with Ishikawa until we play him regularly in the majors. I think he has done enough this year to earn that chance, but he's still very much a big question mark, much like Niekro, and he could regress once pitchers figure out how to pitch to him better.

    Thus far, so very good, but the negatives hang over Ishikawa's head until he proves otherwise.

    But at least I'm willing to give him a chance, Boof would rather just bury him based on his past, ignoring the successes he has had, and not seeing if he can figure out how to handle major league pitching, much like he finally figured out how to handle AA and AAA pitching.

    Let me guess, Boof, you were part of the contingent who would rather DFA him instead of giving him a chance to develop?

  4. "Now that Travis is having great success in the majors,..."

    What the f? Should read "some success".

  5. Please, PLEASE, people, read the post under the context it was written in.

    At the time of this post, Ishikawa just came off 2 straight games with 3 hits, and 4 out of 5 games with 2 or 3 hits, 6 RBIs in those 5 games, and hitting .328/.403/.547/.950, with 3 HR in 64 AB (28 AB/HR) overall and 13 RBI.

    That's great success by most standards except Bonds. Throw in the great year he had had in the minors as well as part of the package. Lots of bandwagon jumpers were jumping aboard.

    My point, unfortunately for Travis, was that he could just be on a hot streak and it could end and bring him down. He's been a streaky hitter all his time in the minors until this season, and he's still a guy who strikes out too many times. Hopefully he can make up for that by getting a lot of walks and hitting a lot of homers.

    He's been having "some success" for the season NOW, hot streak then cold streak. 3 HR in 86 AB with 15 RBI and 9 BB is pretty good stats to have. Seasonally, in about 600 AB, that would be 21 HR, 105 RBI, 63 BB. That's better than anything we have right now.



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