Scooter Gennett Can Hit Lefties

Each of the past three years in Spring Training, there has issued forth from Maryvale Baseball Park a repeated refrain: Scooter Gennett plans to play every day. This has always been an easily dismissed notion: entering the season, Gennett was the worst MLB hitter of all time against lefties, measuring by OPS: he owned a .297 mark over 119 plate appearances. All 31 players with a worse OPS versus lefties with a minimum of 100 at bats are pitchers, as are the vast majority of the rest of the bottom 100 behind him. Sports fans are prone to hyperbole – when players fail, they are The Worst, and when they win they’re The Best. In Scooter’s case, when he was failing at such a spectacular rate against lefties, the fans were right.

I tell you this because I want you to understand just how startling Gennett’s splits this season really are. In 2016, Gennett is hitting .273/.373/.477 against southpaws, an OPS which ranks ninth in baseball amongst left-handed hitters with at least 50 L vs. L plate appearances. His .850 OPS versus lefties this season is better than that of Bryce Harper, Anthony Rizzo, Carlos Gonzalez, David Ortiz and Jake Lamb, just to rattle off a quick list of All Stars. I hope you’re fully understanding what I’m telling you here: the worst lefty-on-lefty hitter in the history of Major League Baseball is outhitting Bryce Harper against lefties.

Of course given the relative scarcity of left-handed pitching, and the three weeks Gennett spent on the disabled list in April and May, even a half-season of ball still represents a small sample size of 51 plate appearances. This accounts for roughly one third of his careers PA versus lefties however, and it’s already a career high for PA in a season. In past seasons, Gennett’s inability to compete against lefties has forced the Brewers to abandon hope of him being an everyday player rather early in the season, but he’s finally making good on his proclamations in 2016.

I’ve written in this space previously about the Brewers new focus on taking pitches and getting walks, and Gennett has been at the fore of that movement for Milwaukee along with Ryan Braun. Against lefties, that improvement has been especially pronounced, as he has a 13.7 percent walk rate, compared to 7.3 percent against righties. In fact, Gennett’s splits are actually reserved this season: his .260/.313/.395 batting line against righties is significantly worse than his line against southpaws, a sentence that even as I type seems impossible to believe. Gennett’s poor performance against righties in 2016 has actually pulled his wRC+ down below the league average.

Prior to this season, your author predicted that Gennett would end the 2016 campaign in a different uniform. With the impending promotion of Orlando Arcia forcing Jonthan Villar out of the shortstop position, I surmised that he would simply slide over the the other side of the base and push Gennett, who had previously proven he couldn’t be an everyday player, out of a job and off of the team. With Gennett suddenly showing the ability to man the keystone daily, that move doesn’t seem as obvious anymore. There are going to be a lot of moving parts this month as the Brewers move forward with Phase 3 of the rebuild, and while Gennett’s long-term place with Milwaukee is still foggy, he’s no longer a lock to be cast aside.

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