It hasn't been a good year for the Orioles' farm system. There have been a few positives — Kevin Gausman has had occasional success in the major leagues; Henry Urrutia is shaking off the rust; Nicky Delmonico and Eduardo Rodriguez are staying the course. But there have been more negatives — Dylan Bundy and Jonathan Schoop have been injured, Branden Kline has struggled; tools players like Brenden Webb and Greg Lorenzo have failed to develop.
Then there's L.J. Hoes.
Going into 2013, L.J. Hoes was projected to be a consistent high-average hitter. However, because he was defensively limited to a corner outfield position, the consensus was that he would have to increase his power to be a productive regular. He hasn't. In 2012, in 82 games at Norfolk, he had an isolated power of .098; in 2013, in 85 games through July 9, he had an isolated power of .099. But Hoes has stepped up his offensive game in a different direction. He's increased his walk rate, from .095 in 2012 to .130 in 2013. As a result, he's improved his on-base percentage from .374 to .405. And if he can keep his on-base percentage near .400 in the major leagues, you'd think he could play regularly, even in a corner outfield spot, even without much power.
But just because Hoes has increased his walk rate doesn't mean that he's become a truly productive player. If most of Hoes walks are coming when opposing pitchers are pitching around Hoes in key situations, or when the opposing pitcher is struck with a bout of wildness, or when a walk does no particular harm, then it's unlikely that Hoes can play regularly in the major leagues. I've looked at 24 of Hoes' walks this season, most from games I've recorded either for MLBAM or BIS but a few from Gameday.
Is Hoes drawing walks at the start of the inning, at the end of the inning, or in the middle of a rally? How many outs are there when he draws his walks?
Nine of the 24 walks were drawn with no outs; six with one out; eight with two outs. That's good; walks are more valuable at the start of an inning or rally; less valuable late in the inning.
Is Hoes drawing walks when he could be driving in runners already on base? Is he too passive?
Of the twenty-four walks I've looked at, seventeen have come with no runners on base. Five have come with a runner on first base only; one with a runner on second base only; and one with runners on first and second. It's safe to say that he's not getting the walks because he's being pitched around in key situations. It's interesting that none of these walks were drawn with a runner on third base, so he's not missing chances to drive in a run with a fly or ground out.
Combining the two points, eight walks have been drawn in what we might call leadoff situations (no outs, no one on base), which is generally the best time to draw a walk. He's scored three times after "leadoff" walks. Five were drawn with two outs and no one on base; he did score after one of those five walks when Jason Pridie followed with a home run.
How many pitches does Hoes see when he draws a walk?
Hoes has drawn four 4-pitch walks; six 5-pitch walks; eight 6-pitch walks, five 7-pitch walks; and one 8-pitch walk. During these 24 walks, he's fouled off seven pitches with two strikes.
14 of the 24 walks were drawn when the pitcher clearly was not simply trying to avoid pitching to Hoes (either with four-pitch walks, or with three balls, an automatic strike, and the fourth ball. I am NOT saying that every one of the four- or five- pitch walks was an attempt to pitch around Hoes; I remember that some were clearly not. I'm being very conservative with my interpretation here.)
How often does Hoes score when he draws a walk?
Hoes has scored after six of these twenty-four walks.
What does all this mean?
I don't know. I think it means that L.J. Hoes' increase in walk rate is not a situational fluke, and that Hoes has decided to focus on getting on base rather than hitting for power. If so, and he's able to maintain an on-base percentage of .380 or so in the major leagues, then he should be able to be a productive regular, even at a corner outfield spot, even with sub-.100 isolated power. Back in the 1980's, Mike Hargrove used a similar skill set to have a productive career at first base with the Indians.
I want L.J. Hoes to have a successful major-league career. With the increase in his walk rate, couple with his ability to maintain his .300 batting average, I think he can.