Overbeck is bright spot among struggling offense
One of the emerging story lines of the 2012 season is undoubtedly the inconsistency of the offense.
The IronPig run production has been horrendous as they have only scored 16 total runs in their 11 losses. To make things worse, they have not scored any runs past the fourth inning in 13 of their 24 games.
Lehigh Valley does have 13 wins and that is due to the outstanding pitching and just enough hitting.
The contrasting start to the season can be seen in the play of prospect Cody Overbeck and MLB veteran Kevin Frandsen.
One of the bright spots in the offense is Overbeck. Lehigh Valley's first baseman has been getting work, and now innings, at his former position (3B) and has been the stalwart in the center of the Lehigh Valley lineup.
Overbeck finished up the series with the Yankees over the weekend with three straight multiple-hit games to raise his average to .313. He leads the IronPigs in RBI (14) and is tied for the team lead in doubles and homers.
"He's got a real nice approach to home plate, swinging at strikes and laying off the bad balls," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He's earned the right to be in the five spot, swinging the bat that he is. It's good to see."
In Sunday's loss, Overbeck shifted from his usual position at first to third base, a position he regularly played in Reading
"We've got him over at third base, he's been taking ground balls there," Sandberg said. "I think it's a nice option for him as a right-handed hitter to be able to play first and third. I think it's a nice combo for him. It will add some versatility to his resume."
Sandberg describes Overbeck's swing as fundamentally basic, short and compact. With the mechanics down he now has the time focus on other things at the plate.
"The first two-and-a-half weeks he was driving the ball to right-centerfield," Sandberg said. "Now he's turning on balls and making adjustments. He's doing a nice job."
Frandsen, on the other hand, has struggled from the outset. As a career .243 hitter in his five big league season in San Francisco and Los Angeles, the utility infielder started the season without a hit in his first 20 at-bats.
His start typifies the majority of the team: There has been a great amount of contact with very little to show for it. Offensive struggles usually include poor at-bats with a lot of swings and many misses. Lehigh Valley is leading the league with the fewest strikeouts by batters.
"Guys are making great contact and they are making line-drive outs," Frandsen explains.
During Sunday's 8-2 loss to Scranton/WB, the IronPig bats scorched Yankee pitching with line drives to all fields. Most of them found the netting of Yankee gloves that killed potential IronPig rallies.
Meanwhile the Yanks bled Lehigh Valley slowly with seeing-eye singles, bloops, and broken bat hits.
Is it frustrating?
"Personally, yeah," Frandsen said. "It's not like I'm giving away at-bats. When you see the other team [eek] out a hit or break a bat it's like 'you gotta be kidding me'. But I am a firm believer that I'll battle hard and things will come out right."
At this point last season, the IronPigs hovered at or just below .500. At 13-11, the IronPigs are still better to this point. The problem that looms are the expectations that come with having a successful season like last year.
"It's going to come. We keep saying it's so early, but it is. You can't force things. We are putting up good at-bats," Frandsen said.
Lehigh Valley reliever Raul Valdes is catching the eye of Ryne Sandberg. The lefty had a rough outing early on but has been stellar for the IronPigs since. After his 3.1 scoreless innings pitched last Friday night, Valdes has a 6.2 scoreless innings streak.
"He's been on a steady streak where he's pitched multiple innings. He's been effective," Sandberg said.
If you take away his Pawtucket outing on April 10 where Vades gave up five runs in one inning of work, his ERA is zero through 13.1 innings pitched. In those 13.1 innings he has given up 10 hits and walked none.
"There is something about him that hitters haven't been able to pick up," Sandberg said. "He's a guy who in cold weather, goes out there in short sleeves and establishes a strike zone. I've been impressed with him."