Alex Liddi playing defense
Last night, I closed by writing about Justin Smoak, and how terrible he is. Figured we could use something a little sunnier today. So here's this on Alex Liddi, who you probably haven't thought about a whole lot over the past few months.
It all started when I thought I'd be writing about Carlos Peguero. As with Anthony Vasquez, I just can't stop looking at Carlos Peguero's statistics. I might still re-visit what I was looking at tomorrow or later on, but Peguero led me to Tacoma, and Tacoma led me to Liddi. Liddi's become a less significant prospect on account of his own performance and also on account of Kyle Seager's, but he's still a prospect in the uppermost level of the system.
Liddi's been known for a while, and his profile has always been pretty simple: good tools, plus strength, not nearly enough contact. Liddi's a guy who strikes out, and he's always been a guy who strikes out, and we've expected that the strikeouts would hold him back from becoming a quality big-league player. One way to put that is that big-league pitchers would probably exploit his weaknesses. Another way to put that is that strikeouts are basically zeroes, and Liddi wouldn't have enough non-strikeout plate appearances to produce ones or twos or however the hell you extend this sentence. Too many strikeouts. Not enough of the other stuff, most of which is better than strikeouts.
All right, so, take it to a couple days ago. Tucked in near the bottom of this assorted notes article on Mariners.com:
Wedge said he likes what he's seen from Alex Liddi since he was recalled from Triple-A on Sept. 4. Liddi was in the starting lineup on Sunday for the first time since being optioned on June 12.
"He has looked a little bit better in BP," Wedge said. "His swing's a little bit more together, he's using his lower half better, which allows his hands to work a little bit better."
Hardly seems like anything. Wedge is complimenting a guy's batting practice, and a year ago, Wedge was complimenting Carlos Peguero's batting practice. There's a reason this was tucked in near the bottom of an article. But there's substance in the numbers, even if the substance is thin, like fat-free milk. We look at Liddi's 2012 contact rate splits.
Majors: 69% contact
June, minors: 67%
July, minors: 69%
Aug/Sep, minors: 77%
A year ago, Liddi made 60 percent contact in the majors, and 72 percent contact in triple-A. So this stretch-run sample in 2012 in Tacoma stands out, and it's based on 239 swings. Over the same period of time, Liddi slugged .540, which is a good number to slug. Liddi slugged .466 in June when he didn't make as much contact, and that's a decent slugging percentage too, but it's good to see the power and the contact at the same time.
Naturally, the sample is small, as we're talking about less than 150 plate appearances. The contact-rate spike could be something or it could be nothing. Additionally, it's still a below-average contact rate, just by less than it used to be. Alex Liddi is not suddenly a finished, quality product. He's a guy who might've made an improvement.
But this is the sort of improvement Liddi needs to make if he intends to have professional baseball pay for the rest of his and his family's life. It's never so much been Liddi's eye; his plate discipline isn't outstanding, but he's not an indiscriminate hacker. Think of this like Trayvon Robinson. Robinson's eye is all right, and he improved his contact, and now he's a little more interesting. Liddi is a little more interesting, and not long ago he was among the best raw talents in the organization.
Liddi was added to the Mariners' 40-man roster after 2010, and he was optioned in 2011 and 2012. What that means is that Liddi has another option year to go, which'll be 2013. He can open in Tacoma and try to improve upon the gains it looks like he might have already made. If Alex Liddi is indeed more of a contact hitter now than he used to be, then he's closer to being a big-leaguer than he used to be. Maybe next year he can continue making progress. God knows he has enough power that he doesn't need to put the bat on the ball 90 percent of the time.
Liddi could still make it, if this improvement is real, and if this improvement is a sign of more improvement to come. It's not a lot to go on, but it's something, for a guy who needed something like this. How might a future Seattle Mariners roster accommodate a quality version of Alex Liddi? Let's not get that far ahead of ourselves. But at least you didn't just read a whole blog post about Carlos Peguero.