Arguably the biggest disappointment in the Orioles system in 2011 has been infielder Mychal Givens. His problem is very simple: he hasn’t hit, posting a dreadful .209 wOBA. He’s been moved off of shortstop, though this is less due to talent and more due to the presence of Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop at Delmarva. Still, the fact that Schoop, not Givens, has been playing short with Machado injured for the past few weeks is a clear indication that Givens has been passed on the depth chart.
What makes Givens’ abysmal performance to date a problem is how much hope people had for him coming into the season. He was taken in the second round out of high school in 2009, and signed right at the deadline. He was highly regarded right away, coming in at #9 in the ON top prospect list before 2010, and despite just 102 PA in 2010, he jumped up to #5 for 2011.
One of Givens’ best qualities was his plate discipline. Jordan Tuwiner, in Givens’ preseason prospect writeup, took note of this, calling him “A fairly selective hitter… [with] a sharp eye and a knack for waiting for his pitch.” Yet that discipline has all but disappeared this year.
In 102 PA in 2010, Givens drew 11 walks, a rate of 10.7%. In 189 PA this year, he still hasn’t reached that number, with just nine walks and a 4.8% rate. Clearly this rate, like the rest of Givens’ offensive stats, will need to improve if he is to have any chance of regaining some prospect status.
One thing that would help evaluate Givens from a statistical perspective that we don’t have access to is pitches per plate appearance data. This would tell us if Givens has changed his approach from what was successful last year, or whether he is simply unable to hit the ball consistently.
The closest thing to a bright spot in Givens’ 2011 so far is his .223 BABIP. His line drive rate is 13.8%, which is significantly below major league average, and places him firmly in the bottom half of the SAL in that respect. Still, 13.8 is not as disastrous as the rest of his offensive line, so maybe there’s some hope still.
Another semi-positive thing about Givens’ season is that he’s not striking out a lot. His 18.9% rate, while not outstanding, still places him in the bottom third of qualifying hitters in the SAL. He’s not striking out looking or swinging at an abnormally high rate, around league average in both respects. So he’s not really being overpowered by the pitching in the league, he’s just not hitting it. Maybe some element of it is luck, maybe some of it is pressing. My guess is that it has something to do with Givens’ 58.6% ground ball rate. This indicates that he is likely having trouble making solid contact, and, when coupled with his low LD and FB rates, explains his lack of power (.030 ISO).
Another possible explanation is that there is something wrong with Givens’ swing. Maybe it has gotten away from being a level plane and may have more of a downward plane, or he maybe is not using his lower body to drive the ball efficiently. His fly ball rate is among the lowest in the SAL, so it may be possible that when he makes solid contact, the ball doesn’t lift much, resulting in lots of ground balls and very few fly balls, but he is getting a good deal of infield popups when he gets under the ball (his 8.3% is above major league average).
I can’t find any recent video of Givens, and even if I could, I’m far from an expert on swing mechanics, so the above paragraph is just me looking at stats and trying to explain them. Essentially, I’m just guessing. But at this point in the season, it is, in my opinion, possible that the Orioles’ coaches might want to give Givens’ swing a look to see if there is some way he can generate more drive. The lack of discipline may be him pressing at the plate to get more hits, and he’s not striking out a whole lot, so it appears he still has solid pitch recognition skills. I’m not in the “make Givens a pitcher” camp just yet, though I certainly see the potential in letting his mid-90s arm loose in a bullpen role, I think there is still a possibility that he has a future as an infielder. But it looks like it’s time to try something new at the plate, because what he’s been doing is simply not working.