Zunino's Low-Away Tragedy
Eyes slideways in 2015


The Think Tank is allllll O!-ver Mike Zunino's lunge-fest at those diabolical low and away sliders.  What say you, Dr. D?


Mojo sez,

Career minors & majors whuff rates, all pitches



Career minors & majors whuff rates, OFFSPEED

An open-and-shut case, as they say.  On TV, at least.


Dr's Diagnosis

This is Pitch Sequencing 101:  get an aggressive kid to 2 strikes, and then feed him a fastball away ... whoooooopsie!  Broke off the plate.

Or throw him a BP fastball, center-cut .... whooooopsie!  Spiked down into the dirt, overhand yakker.  The 2-strike nerves make the lunginess all that much more lungie.


You might think that catchers, who CALL for exactly these setups & sequences, would be ready for them offensively.  Nay verily!  Catchers lag other positions by about two years with the bat, because they're focused on defense first.

It's one thing to call slider, get slider, and get your mitt to the right spot, with the whole thing right in front of you and slow-moton.  It's another thing when you're looking at the delivery cross-angle, the pitcher crosses you up, to guess the spin on the ball and .... yerch.


Some other players who flailed away to a fare-thee-well early on:

Season Catcher EYE Remark
2007 Pudge Rodriguez 0.09 Year ... 17 !
1992 Pudge Rodriguez 0.12 ROY
2014 Adam Jones 0.14 .281/.311/.469
2002 Alfonso Soriano 0.15 .300/.332/.547
2008 Carlos Gomez 0.18

Rook season.  Now raking

1997 Jay Buhner 0.17 And 'twas 0.30 for a long time

In fact Adam Jones' career EYE is 0.21, Alfonso Soriano had a number of 0.07's and the like before winding up at 0.28 career.

We well remember Jay Buhner flailing away so embarassingly that Jim Lefebrvre made an example of him early on... then came the day when Buhner simply started checking his swing on low-away sliders.  That was it.  Sum total.


Worst case:  there are guys like Miguel Olivo who never stop lunging at the outside corner.  There's a certain greed involved.  Early on, Jay Buhner certain alarmed you that maybe he'd wind up in that category, but ... he just had a special talent for telling a ball from a strike.

Does Zunino look greedy up there?  Actually he looks less ambitious-than-average to me, keeping good balance, taking a controlled launch .... just looks like a pitch-recog thing.  The Mike Napoli comp makes sense to me.

If it were Dustin Ackley or Michael Saunders and we thought that the batter was un-centered, we'd say so.  But Zunino actually looks much more centered than average to me, age-and-arc adjusted.  Hey, sometimes you just gotta give it some time :- )


Dr's Prognosis

That Zunino, having all of 384 minors and 611 majors AB's, would get fooled by sucker pitches, isn't in it itself such a big tragedy.  Most young players learn to tip their caps on swerveballs.

What you'd like is for Zoooooomball to show some progress in this area of the strike zone, coming 2015.  Or, if not, we'll take the 15-20 zuuumballs that we get on mistake pitches.

Mike Zunino, who probably shouldn't have been in the major leagues after only 1,000 pro AB's, had 20 doubles, 22 homers, 60 RBI and comp'ed to Craig Biggio, Jerry Grote and Joe Garagiola.  Hope to see a few less whuffs on the sucker pitches next year, that's all.


Coast2CoastPrognosis Sez,

Jes' so you'll have something for your second cuppa, here is a scouting report coming into 2013'

A junior at Florida, Zunino has the experience, statistics and leadership potential to warrant a very high selection in 2012. Taken in the 29th round by Oakland in 2009, Zunino instead chose to attend Florida and has developed into one of the best backstops in the nation. Behind the plate, Zunino has a strong combination of leadership ability and a well-developed skill set. Initially lauded as a defense-first catcher, Zunino has a strong, accurate arm and good receiving skills that should translate at the next level. The SEC Player of the year in 2011, Zunino batted a robust .371/.442/.674 with a team-leading 19 home runs, 23 doubles and a 32/52 BB/K. Named to the Freshman All-American team in 2010, Zunino has developed consistently throughout his collegiate career.

His swing reminds us of David Wright in that it has considerable pop, but is occasionally long and could be more consistent. Zunino starts with a load where he raises his heel with a minimal, occasionally non-existant step and generates good bat speed and lift. He struggles occasionally against good off-speed pitches, something that could improved upon with another year in the SEC.

Regardless, he should have above-average power at the next level and he has shown a willingness to use all fields. His ceiling is surprisingly high for a college bat as he has produced results throughout his career playing against top-flight competition. Both his offensive and defensive value project as well above-average and Zunino should easily be off the board in the top 10.

Comparison: Mike Napoli
Projected Draft Position: Top 5 overall pick
Video Footage:Zunino hits a homer against FAU


We might note here that Mike Napoli had 1,756 AB's in the minor leagues.  The fact that Zuuumball would show you his keister onc't in a while at this point, against ML pitching, is something to watch.  Says here it's wayyyy to early to panick-k-kah.

For 2015 .... 30 BB, 130 K, .225/.290/.430.   45-50 extra base hits.

Or not,

Dr D





Sucre as our RH RBI bat!
Or Montero behind the plate.
Something like that.  We would all wake up in the cold sweats!  BTW, Napoli spent 4 years in A ball.  Didn't know that.  A slow slog up for him.  K'ed in 1/3 of his Cal League AB's, too (but did have a .5 Eye).
In the end, Zunino was 1 single way from OPS'ing 90 in his first full season, and doing so with great pitch framing skills, great pitcher-handling skills and a nice arm.  OK, he has work to do, but which 23 year old not named Trout doesn't?
I will offer this:  Would you rather have to replace Zunino or Morrison-Saunders-Ackley-Jackson....take your pick. All of those guys are pretty easily replaceable.  Not so, the kid behind the plate.

tjm's picture

I've never understood why when everybody in the ballpark, everybody with a television, or a computer watching a game five thousand miles away knows that on 0-2 you're going to get something slow and twisty and a guy as smart and skilled as Zunino can't figure it out. But of course he can.
What happens, though, is that pitch recognition like almost all human behavior turns out to be in some way almost automatic. I won't bore you with the details but the brain machinery that controls this employs thousands of proteins concentrated at tens of thousands of synapses and is way too complicated to do what we tell it to. Neural networks are constructed on the fly; the brain categorizes incoming sensory information into hierarchies.It does this on its own without any input from you. So when a baseball is thrown say up and in, the brain constructs a tiny network representing this information. If the next pitch has the same release point and the same initial trajectory, no matter what the hitter knows intellectually, his brain knows better. The brain is wrong, of course, and causes the hitter to misjudge the pitch, to swing and miss and cause Dr. D to write many thousands of words on the subject.
Until a player has enough experience to build more reliable categories and thus more relaible prediction machinery, he'll struggle.The hitter who is able to erase the memory of that prior pitch before the next one comes - to be, as they say, in the moment - is the one who will be able to negate the categorization machinery, to exercise what we would call judgment.
The human learning machine is very much an ungainly contraption. The fact that we can walk down the street most days and not hurt ourselves never ceases to amaze me. That some of us can learn to hit little projectiles coming at us at 100 mph is ridiculously cool.


...I just don't think you can or should confidently project improvement until you see some sign of it. In 2014, Zunino got progressively worse as the year went on with pitch recognition...not progressively better.


Sandy used to always argue that player development was not an inevitable arc, but a series of plateau leaps related to institutional learning within the game, even for hitters. Zunino is a .180-.195 hitter until such time as he proves otherwise by leaping a plateau.


...Pudge Rodriguez in his youth was good at covering pitches...Zunino is not. They are not comparable players. Nor is Adam Jones comparable in any real way.
Also BTW, don't count on 20 bombs and 40+ XBH from Zunino in 2015. His power numbers dropped in the second half...don't forget he had like 10 of his homers in the first two months.


Homers commonly run along an inconsistent per/AB ratio over a full season.  Players get hot and club 'em....and then don't.  But Zunino's were actually pretty flat lined.  His Month/AB/HR's numbers looked like this.
Mar-Apr/78/3    May/77/4    June/86/5      July/70/5     August/63/2    Sept-Oct/69/3
August saw a bit of a decline...the others were dang consistent.
I'm with you Matt:  He has some batting growth that is wanted.  But if he never gets much better or worse than last year, he's still a valueable commodity.
And I don't believe another 300 AB's of AA pitching and 200 more of AAA pitching would have made him any better than he is now.  Baseball is the only major sport that takes 23 and 24 year old men with demonstrated skill-sets and discounts them because they haven't done it yet in Wrigley or Safeco.  At 24, in the NFL or NBA or NHL or MLS, you are no longer a prospect.  But MLB talent evaluators do it all the time.  I'm convinced that a guy like Kivlehan could get his 40 games in Tacoma and step in and help the M's as a RHB COF.  He has consistently shown a skill set that will play up.  If he can help the team, then play him up. 

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