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What can help Brenton Doyle’s bat develop for the Rockies?

Since his arrival at the end of April earlier this season, stellar defense has been the calling card for Colorado Rockies rookie Brenton Doyle. In fact, he has positioned himself as one of, if not the best, outfielders in all of baseball this season. Entering Tuesday, Doyle trailed only Kevin Kiermaier of the Toronto Blue Jays in terms of Defensive Runs Saved for center fielders with 11. Among all outfielders, he places sixth in DRS and trails only Fernando Tatis Jr. in the National League.

Doyle not only leads all centerfielders in Ultimate Zone Rating, but he leads all outfielders with a 15.0 UZR while also sporting one of the strongest outfield arms in baseball with a 7.9 rating according to FanGraphs. He is second in all of baseball in Outs Above Average and is tied for first with Patrick Bailey of the San Francisco Giants in Fielding Run Value which is a stat that combines Statcast’s individual defensive metrics into a single metric. You can learn more about his defensive traits in this article by Renee Dechert over at Purple Row.

His defense is elite which makes his offensive results this season so disappointing and worrisome because there is so much potential for him if he can develop the bat.

Which brings us to the topic of this article: What can help Brenton Doyle’s bat develop?

College and Minor League Success

Doyle played college ball at Shepherd University in West Virginia. For three seasons he was a menace in the Mountain East Conference batting .380/.438/.647 with 32 home runs, 149 RBI, and 52 stolen bases. His stellar college career led the Rockies to draft Doyle in the fourth round of the 2019 MLB draft. An intriguing mix of elite defense and speed with added offensive potential made him an intriguing pick.

During the 2019 season in the rookie ball Pioneer League with the Grand Junction Rockies, Doyle continued his success. In 51 games that season, he batted .383/.477/.611 with eight home runs, 33 RBI, and another 17 stolen bases. Unfortunately, like many others, Doyle’s progression was halted due to the loss of the 2020 minor league season because of COVID-19. While it likely had some detrimental effects to his overall progression, 2021 was still a strong year for Doyle.

Playing with the High-A Spokane Indians, Doyle again batted .280/.336/.454 and managed to steal 21 bases. More notable was the fact that he had uncorked his power stroke again, belting 16 long balls in 97 games and driving in 47 RBI. His defensive efforts also netted him a Minor League Gold Glove award.

Doyle spent the majority of the 2022 in Double-A with the Hartford Yard Goats where he struggled a little bit more. He still batted a respectable .246/.287/.450 with 23 home runs and 23 stolen bases and earned a promotion to Triple-A to close the season where he batted over .300 in just nine games there. 2022 highlighted an obvious weakness for Doyle that had crept up slowly over the past few seasons. Strikeouts are a part of the game of baseball, but it’s a problem that has grown exponentially for Doyle and has followed him to the big leagues.

Big League Struggles

Entering August 23, Doyle has produced a total of 0.0 rWAR. As one could gather from the beginning of this article, he has produced a 1.3 defensive WAR and an offensive WAR of about -1.1 over the course of 91 games. Over the course of the season, he is batting a paltry .189/.248/.314 with eight home runs and 28 RBI. He has a total of 111 strikeouts to just 19 walks in 303 plate appearances.

So, plate discipline has been a huge problem, as has the entire concept of getting on base evidenced by his 45 OPS+. The obvious glaring factor has been the increasing amount of strikeouts for Doyle, causing his batting average to sink lower and lower. Among qualified rookies in MLB, Doyle leads the pack with a 36.2 K% while ranking in the third percentile in whiff rate. While he’s managed a 78% contract rate inside the strike zone, he has chased pitches at a 35% rate and has an 18.3% swinging strike rate.

Breaking pitches have proven to be quite a problem for Doyle. He has 421 breaking balls this season and has a hit on just 14 of them. His whiff rate on such pitches is nearly 48% and has resulted in 48 strikeouts. Sure, fastballs have also resulted in the same amount of strikeouts and he sees them over 50% of the time, but he has still managed some amount of success against them. A tendency to chase and/or fail to make contact has resulted in a lack of offensive production that negates one of his greatest tools; his speed.

Doyle is one of the fastest players in the league. His sprint speed ranks in the 98th percentile and he leads the Rockies with 17 stolen bases. For context, the Rockies have just 49 stolen bases as a team, one of the lowest totals in baseball this season, and the next highest total for the team is Nolan Jones with eight. That total for Doyle could and should be higher, but he has to be able to get on base.

This brings us to his batted ball profile. When Doyle does manage to put the ball in play, it isn’t doing much. Removing his strikeouts and home runs, Doyle has a .274 BABIP which measures his batting average strictly on balls in the field of play. It’s below the league average .300 but it’s still a respectable number for Doyle’s makeup. However, it’s the types of batted balls that are entering the field of play that are a problem. Doyle has maintained a 45.5% ground ball rate, a 37% fly ball rate, and a 17.6% line drive rate.

Despite a decent knack for hard-hit balls due to his strength, Doyle hasn’t yet managed to translate that power and bat speed into base hits. He’s topping the baseball 33% of the time while also dropping flares/burners 17% of the time. This proves that there is perhaps something in his swing plane or stance that needs adjustment so that he can get back to square up the baseball, even if that means sacrificing home run power.

Moving Forward

The best case for Brenton Doyle is to somehow develop a passing resemblance to Kevin Kiermaier. Kiermaier has always had a reputation for his stellar glove work in center field, while generally contributing supplementary and helpful offense. Over the course of his 11-year career, Kiermaier has a career line of .250/.310/.409 with 88 home runs, 154 doubles, and 123 career stolen bases. Additionally, he has a 21.9% career strikeout rate along with a 7.1% walk rate.  Add that production on top of his three career Gold Glove awards and you’ve got a valuable piece that is worth replicating if you can.

Doyle’s defense is going to enable him to stick around in the big leagues, but the bat has to come around sooner rather than later. By working on improving his plate discipline and contact profile, Doyle can prove he is worthy to continue to be a staple for the Rockies young core moving forward.

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