Dayan Viciedo's Good Start

The Catbird Seat staff is often skeptical or pessimistic when it comes to the White Sox, slow to trust positive developments. Even in that company, my cynicism when it comes to Dayan Viciedo is considered a bit extreme. With that in mind, I will do what I can to be even-handed about Mr. Viciedo and his strong April. 

While Avisail Garcia's injury was a heavy blow to the big picture of the 2014 White Sox and beyond, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to Dayan Viciedo. Prior to the injury, Viciedo had been replaced as Cornerstone Project Bat of the Future, a role he had occupied in extremely disappointing fashion for several years. After hitting .265/.304/.426 in 2013, Viciedo was being pushed to the periphery as new arrivals Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia suddenly had 2/3s of the outfield completely locked down. 

Meanwhile, Viciedo couldn't move to 1B/DH as the White Sox had added Jose Abreu and retained Paul Konerko for 2014, creating another logjam there as well. Indeed, 2014 looked to be a year where Tank was the small half of a platoon with Alejandro de Aza and a pinch hitter until such point as one of them got traded. 

Then Avisail kept diving onto his right shoulder until it broke, and Viciedo has been the starting right fielder ever since.

So far this season, Viciedo is hitting .341/.406/.506. And although James pointed out that he has had short stretches of success before only to revert into helplessness at the plate, there are some indicators that the process here has improved and not just the results. On his career, Viciedo has swung at 37.5% of pitches out of the zone, whereas so far this year that number is down to a much more reasonable 29.3%. This approach has yielded by far the best K:BB mark of his career as he currently sits at 14:10 as opposed to 266:63 for his career coming into the season.

In defense of my skepticism, which I still possess healthy amounts of when it comes to Viciedo, there are limits as to how good he can be, and his track record is probably worse than people realize. People point to his 2012 and say, "Well, 2013 was an aberration, after all he hit 25 home runs in 2012!" The problem is that in 2012 that's about all he did. Even with those 25 home runs, while playing in a strong hitters park, his OBP was .300 and his composite line was good for an OPS+ of 98 -- i.e. below league average while playing bad defense in left field.

Indeed, Viciedo's 2013 - which has been blamed on injury or bad luck or whatever - is a dead ringer for his career numbers as a whole.

2013 Viciedo: .265/.304/.426

Career Viciedo: .264/.306/.432

Given the positions he plays - and how badly he plays them defensively - Viciedo has to really, really hit to be worth anything at all. And no matter how excited we were about him as a prospect, guys with this profile fail a lot -- remember how pumped people were about Jeff Francoeur and Delmon Young? Like Viciedo, they had big power, flashed it at very young ages, and in the case of Francoeur and Viciedo, had big throwing arms in the outfield. Young and Francoeur managed to hang around, but more often than not they were killing the teams who played them hoping they would translate their talent into baseball skill. Instead, Francoeur is currently the subject of funny videos in the minor leagues, and Delmon Young is a bench player because both of them swing at everything and neither could figure out how to hit something that was thrown by a right-handed individual.

That's not to say Viciedo can't succeed - after all, he is 25, and he has shown tangible changes to his approach so far this year, which was the biggest obstacle to his success. The second problem - his extreme vulnerability to right-handed pitching - has also reversed tack this year, as he is hitting .379/.438/.569 against them so far in this brief season.

Last night was a good microcosm for the good and the bad of Viciedo, and why I have not ruled out the possibility that he becomes a plus bat and a guy worth having around, but why I'm also still scared he's just going to be Delmon Young without the awful personality. 

His first at bat against Justin Verlander, he got ahead 2-0, and swung at only one pitch, and worked a full count walk. All of those pitches were either in the zone or very close to it. This is a very promising at bat. At the same time, his one swing in the count came on 2-0 and it was a slider low and away. Obviously, Verlander is one of the best in the business, but if Viciedo has just decided to swing no matter what on 2-0 it may squander the advantage he holds in that count. Still - overall, great! He even adjusted in the at bat, and when Verlander threw that slider on 2-2 and 3-2, Viciedo laid off it and was rewarded with a walk.

His second at bat against Verlander, Viciedo again took the first pitch, this time way outside. He then grounded out on the second. It was a 1-0 fastball that was technically in the zone, but it was low and pretty much on the outer black. This could still be considered a good approach - you can't just put your bat on your shoulder all the time and hope they walk you. A hitter needs to have an idea of what they are looking for, and if he was looking for a fastball over the plate this technically matches that description. It just didn't work out. I am all for good process even if it doesn't yield the best results - but he's going to have to be more careful when there aren't any strikes on him yet. It's not really a great pitch to hit.

Viciedo's third time up against Verlander was in a key spot, as the Tigers had rallied to tie the game 3-3. Viciedo came up with 1 on and 1 out, as Adam Dunn had just worked a brilliant walk. Viciedo would ground into a double play on the first pitch of the at bat. Now, the location of the pitch was a great one to swing at  - almost thigh-high and pretty solidly over the plate. The problem is it was a change up and Viciedo got in front of it. Being able to identify offspeed pitches - particularly from right-handers - is something that has held Viciedo back. This may simply be a case of getting beaten by an elite pitcher, which happens to everybody. Maybe, after taking the first pitch in his first two appearances, he figured he would get something to hit and he got something that deceptively looked very hittable. You don't want to give up free strikes, after all. The result was disastrous, and might be a sign of Old Bad Viciedo, but it could just be bad luck.

The fourth at bat was arguably his best of the night, coming against Joba Chamberlain. Again, he took to get ahead -- this time 3-0. He then fouled off an excellent pitch to hit. I'm totally fine with trying to club a 3-0 meatball every now and then. The one real mistake he made came on the next pitch, as Chamberlain threw a slider low and away that was on the absolute outside edge of the zone. Not a great pitch to hit, and on 3-1, you can afford to take it. Viciedo fouled it off. Then on 3-2, Viciedo took a ball that was probably outside, and unfortunately the umpire made a mistake and called it strike three. This is a case of great process - that 3-1 slider notwithstanding, although it may have been a strike anyway -- bad result. I hope Viciedo isn't discouraged by this, as it was really cool to see him take that 3-2 pitch. 

Oh, and then in the 9th inning Viciedo made an error which cost them the game - his fourth error in the outfield in only 24 games. And it's not like he has a ton of range.

So - has Viciedo changed? Is he finally going to leverage his very good batspeed and power into results with his improved approach? Or is the approach just a mirage from small sample noise? The one thing that we can be sure of, it would seem, is that the guy cannot play defense. But Viciedo's approach - what he swings at, what he doesn't, what he wants to attack, and what kind of read he is getting on the pitch - is absolutely something to keep an eye on, and frankly it can be fascinating pretty much every single at bat moving forward, particularly given the shift of organizational focus on offense under the Hahn Regime.