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On Jason Botts and perception vs. reality

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Over at the DMN Rangers blog, in response to a question from Evan Grant about the future of Jason Botts with this organization, a reader makes the following comment:

As I mentioned before on Botts, situational hitting last year was horrible. You can make the argument that he had a limited opportunity at the major league level, but there was a reason that he only saw 50 plate appearances. I have zero tolerance for players who take third strikes - especially with runners on base. I would think a lot of the fundamentals are established by the time players reach this level, so I question if someone like Botts can be trained to protect the plate and put the bat on the ball. If he makes the necessary adjustments, I hope there is a place for him this year.

Botts had 60 plate appearances in 2006, not 50, and he had 18 strikeouts -- still an unacceptably high rate, of course.

Of those 18 strikeouts, 11 were looking.

Now, when Botts was initially called up, he went through a roughly 3 week stretch where he was playing pretty regularly...from May 23 through June 12, Botts played in 10 games, starting 9, and had a line of .258/.385/.484.

In that 10 game stretch, Botts had 4 strikeouts looking. 1 was with none on and 2 out against Gil Meche, 1 was with 1 on and 2 out with a 12-5 lead in the 8th against Keith Foulke, and 2 were against Jose Contreras with none on, in a game where Contreras allowed 6 hits in 8 innings and struck out 11.

So up to that point, there's no basis for the claim that Botts is particularly prone to striking out looking with runners on base.

Strangely, though, Jason Botts pretty much quit playing regularly after that.

Over the next ten days, Botts played only twice, a pair of starts. He struck out four times in those games, all looking, twice against Brandon Webb with runners on base (2nd and 3rd, up 3-0 with 2 outs on a 3-2 pitch, and runner on 1st, up 3-0 with 1 out on a 1-2 pitch), and twice against Padre pitchers with no one on base.

After the June 22 game against the Padres, Botts didn't start again until July 3. He pinch hit 6 times, and didn't strike out looking in any of those appearances.

On July 3, he struck out looking 3 times, twice against Ted Lilly and once against Scott Downs, all with runners on base, all while the Rangers were leading.

Botts only appeared in one more game, a start on July 9, where his only strike out was swinging. He was sent back to the minors soon thereafter. After that promising start, Botts went 3 for 19 with a walk before heading back down.

So, what can be taken from this?

Well, complaining that Botts strikes out looking too much with runners on base seems off base. Of particular interest, to me, anyway, is that Brian Gorman was behind the plate for the 3-K-looking game, and Tony Randazza was behind the plate for the Brandon Webb game. As this chart indicates, Gorman has one of the highest K rates and lowest walk rates of any umpire, while Randazza is also above average in strikeout rates.

For a player like Botts, who relies on controlling the strike zone, being patient, letting borderline pitches go, and waiting for a pitch he can drive, an umpire like Gorman, with a big strike zone and a high rate of calling batters out on strike, is a nightmare.

And similarly, it would seem that a player like that, whose strength is patience and working the strike zone, erratic playing time doesn't appear to be the best way to get into a groove. A player of Botts' type, someone who works the strike zone rather than being a hacker, would seem to be the type of player who needs regular playing time to produce, and doesn't respond well to starting once a week.

And while there are obvious sample size issues, Botts' performance in the majors in 2006 would seem to bear that out. While playing regularly, Botts performed. And during a 27 day stretch, when Botts started only 4 times and went 3 for 19, he didn't perform.

I don't know...maybe it is nothing. Jason Botts may not be able to hit at the major league level.

But it bothers me when someone points at 20 plate appearances over a month, and says that, based on that, Jason Botts doesn't deserve a major league job.

And it bothers me when someone suggests that Jason Botts doesn't know baseball fundamentals because he strikes out looking too often with runners on base, when that happened a whopping half-dozen times in 2006, with 5 of them being in a two game stretch with umps with larger than usual strike zones.

And it bothers me when people claim that Botts needs to "earn" a regular job, since it seems to me that that was exactly what he was doing in the majors last season before he inexplicably got turned into a one-start-per-week guy, and what he did in the minors by posting a nearly 1000 OPS.