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Good eye! The AL Central's best batter's eyes

@alysonfooter
May 1, 2020

See the ball, hit the ball. It sounds simple enough, right? Major League Baseball players tend to make this game look a lot easier than it actually is. There is a reason why hitting a big league pitch requires a skill set bequeathed to only the tiniest fraction of the

See the ball, hit the ball. It sounds simple enough, right?

Major League Baseball players tend to make this game look a lot easier than it actually is. There is a reason why hitting a big league pitch requires a skill set bequeathed to only the tiniest fraction of the world population. Hitting a pitch coming at a batter at 95 mph gives him less than a split second to decipher the pitch, decide what he wants to do with it, then swing or not. There's a reason why hitting is considered the toughest thing to do across all professional sports, given the precision, timing and judgment required, without the advantage of time to make decisions.

In this week's American League Central notebook, we answer the question: Who has the best batter's eye? Who is best at identifying pitches? Who can lay off the close 3-2 pitch and draw a walk? Who has the lowest chase rate?

Let’s examine:

Indians: Carlos Santana

At the Indians’ Tribe Fest event in January 2019, Santana took the stage in front of fans to answer a few questions about his game. One of the first he was asked was how he’s been able to develop one of the best set of eyes in baseball, and his answer was quite simple.

"I see the ball," Santana said. “If it’s a strike, it’s a strike. If it’s a ball, it’s a ball. … A lot of players, they ask me how. I say, ‘I don’t know.’ I mean, there are no secrets. I follow the ball. If it’s a strike, I’ll swing. If it’s not, no.”

In 1,274 games with the Indians, Santana has walked 834 times, which ranks third in club history behind Jim Thome (1,008) and Tris Speaker (857). Including his one year with the Phillies, Santana's 944 career walks are fourth most among active players. On the Tribe’s active roster, Santana has the lowest chase rate, or percentage of swings at pitches outside the strike zone. -- Mandy Bell

Royals: Jorge Soler

Who has the best batting eye on the Royals? None other than slugger Jorge Soler, who led the American League and set a franchise record with 48 homers in 2019.

Soler also led the Royals with 73 walks last season (only three were intentional) and while he struck out an AL-high 178 times, those punchouts come with the territory for power hitters in today’s game.

What’s unique about Soler is that he's selective. His chase rate on out-of-zone pitches in 2019, per Statcast, was 24%, well below the MLB average of 28.3%. One area the Royals wanted him to improve the past two seasons was attacking, and that is likely what led him to a career-high 49.9% hard-hit rate.

Interestingly, too, is that the Royals often feel that Soler is the victim of poor balls-and-strikes calls.

“No one knows the strike zone better than Jorge," former Royals manager Ned Yost said. "I can’t tell you how many times he will question a call, and then we go back and look at it on the video, and sure enough, Jorge was right -- the pitch was a ball. He has a great eye and feel for the strike zone.”

Soler's teammates agree.

“If he is complaining about a call, he’s right,” Royals first baseman Ryan O’Hearn said. -- Jeffrey Flanagan

Tigers: Isaac Paredes

The Tigers last year became the first team in Major League history to strike out more than 1,550 times while drawing less than 400 walks. Their best batting eye is likely in the Minor Leagues, at least for now.

Paredes drew nearly as walks (57) as strikeouts (61) in 552 plate appearances last year at Double-A Erie while boasting one of the Minors' lowest chase rates, highlighting a disciplined approach that the 21-year-old has carried for much of his pro career and into Winter Leagues last offseason. He has enough extra-base power to be a productive bat in the Majors, and he could get his chance at third base soon if Jeimer Candelario and Dawel Lugo struggle. -- Jason Beck

Twins: Max Kepler

Hey, he bats leadoff in manager Rocco Baldelli's lineup for a reason. Kepler didn't come close to the best on-base percentage on the Bomba Squad last season, but the Twins liked having the outfielder atop their lineup because they were sold on his ability to consistently give them "quality at-bats." Kepler showcased a strong batting eye through his ability to lay off the bad pitches and in his willingness to swing at good ones and make solid contact in those opportunities.

What exactly did that look like? Kepler's 10.1% walk rate and 16.6% strikeout rate made him the only Twins starter from last season to outperform the league aggregate marks in both categories (meaning a higher walk rate and lower strikeout rate). Unsurprisingly, Statcast's plate discipline metrics showed Kepler to be better than league average in both swing rate in the strike zone and chase rate, and that selectivity paid off for a career-high 36 homers and .519 slugging percentage last season. Kepler wasn't necessarily outstanding in any of those metrics, but his strong balance across the board earns him the nod here. -- Do-Hyoung Park

White Sox: Yasmani Grandal

The full skill set of Grandal has been on limited display during this early stage of his White Sox tenure, partially due to a left calf strain slightly slowing him during Spring Training and then the coronavirus pandemic delaying the regular season. But among that vast array of talents, the switch-hitting catcher has the team’s best batting eye. Grandal features a career .348 on-base percentage, coming off of a 2019 season with the Brewers in which he had a .380 OBP and walked 109 times, giving him 181 free passes for the past two seasons.

Yoán Moncada would be another excellent choice. His sharp eye at the plate actually hampered him at times during his first full season in 2018, when he basically took too many pitches. He was hitting too frequently in pitchers' counts or waited too deep into counts too often and struck out 217 times. Moncada maintained that strong eye in ’19, but he was much more aggressive attacking early in the count. Minor League catcher Zack Collins and second baseman Nick Madrigal are two players to watch who could help the White Sox in the future in this area. -- Scott Merkin

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.