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Is it too early in the 2019 MLB season to start predicting who will have a big year, and who needs to make adjustments? Absolutely. Am I still going to do it? Absolutely. While we may just be a couple of weeks into the season we are already hearing about how poor Chris Davis and his $161,000,000 contract started 0-49. Once dominate reliever Trevor Rosenthal can’t seem to buy an out. Christian Yelich looks poised to make a run at his second straight MVP. Mike Trout, well he just keeps being Mike Trout. Despite being so early in the season, it’s never too early for a couple of bold predictions. This article takes a look at a couple players that seem to be going in two different directions and what they can do to sustain/change their performance.
Former 1st Round pick by the Tampa Bay Rays, Tim Beckham has had his ups and downs since draft day. However, through the first three weeks of the season, the Seattle Mariners are seeing the kind of production the Rays envisioned back in 2008. Through the first 11 games of the season, Beckham has a batting average of .400 with four home runs, five doubles and amassed a 1.314 OPS (on base % plus slugging %). Beckham has always had star potential. The question is, can he sustain it? Let's find out.
Ability and tools (hit for average/power, speed, fielding, strong arm) were never an issue. The only problem is that he has never produced at the level of his talents. So why now, through eleven games does Beckham look like he has broken through the wall and began performing like the athlete that he is? First, we have to look at why the production didn’t match the ability.
As you can see above through the first five years of Beckham’s career he seemed a bit too aggressive at the plate (yellow box). Averaging roughly a 6.3% walk rate and a 29% strikeout rate doesn’t quite seem like the talent level of a former first overall pick.
Because of these struggles, Beckham never collected an on-base percentage higher than .348 in a season (red box). Even that was a season in which he only appeared in fifty games.
But it’s not just about the walks and K’s. He’s also driving the ball more than ever leading to his nine extra-base hits and 1.314 OPS in eleven games. So how does a guy with strikeout issues and a career .720 OPS make these drastic changes? Even though it is a small sample size, check out the major differences to Beckham's stat line this year compared to his career.
The graphic below shows that not only is Beckham swinging at fewer pitches outside of the zone, but he’s also swinging less in general. Many of the concerns swirling around Beckhams trade to the Mariners was his lack of plate discipline. Beckham is doing his best to put those questions to bed. Not only is his newfound selectiveness at the plate leading to more walks and fewer strikeouts, but he’s also driving the ball more than ever in his career.
Career highs in average exit velocity, average launch angle, and barrel % (balls hit that have an expected batting average of .500 and slugging % of 1.500) can all be positively correlated to his increased patience at the plate.
Beckham is no longer chasing the borderline pitch. He is waiting to get the pitch he can do damage with and making it count. With all this said there is a long way to go and in baseball, anything can happen. I’m sure the Mariners are happy with the hot start and hopefully with the continued patience and intent to do damage, Beckham will continue performing like the star he was projected to be.
While some players are having the start to the year they dreamed of all off-season, some players aren’t so lucky. If you’ve played baseball for long enough, you have been through a slump or twelve. Less than a month into a new season is no reason to go throwing away the game plan you spend all off-season putting together.
However, I am noticing a scary trend from one player who was once considered a top three player in all of baseball. Buster Posey has been one of the most productive catchers the game has ever seen. However, the problem with being a catcher is the wear and tear that comes along with squatting behind the plate for nine innings every night.
The once perennial MVP candidate may be facing a harsh reality. Through Posey’s first nine games this year he has put together a whopping .581 OPS with just three extra-base hits (all doubles). Not only is Posey’s lack of pop obvious, but his lowered BB% and increased K% should be alarming for fans in San Francisco.
I’m not in the business of bashing a future Hall of Famer for the slow start nine games into a season, but let's take a look at why this is happening and how it can be fixed.
Buster Posey has been one of baseball’s most elite catchers since his debut in 2010. Those days may need to come to an end. That is if the Giants want the offensive production they’ve grown accustomed to. The toll playing catcher takes on the body is far greater than any other position on the field. A toll that wears and deteriorates a players strength and bat speed rapidly. It seems as if this is occurring with Posey right in front of our eyes.
Not only do the numbers show that Posey is facing more Fastballs than ever before, the fastballs being thrown are up in the zone. Posey is struggling to catch up to the fastball as well as in the past. The bat speed doesn’t seem to be what it used to be and pitchers seem to be attacking that.
Posey seems to be attempting to make up for the deteriorating bat speed by cheating to the fastball. The graph below shows Posey currently owns the highest chase rate of his career. Meaning that he is swinging at more balls outside of the strike zone than ever before.
We’ve have seen this kind of deterioration before from one of the games elite catchers. From 2005-2013 Joe Mauer was one of the most dominating catchers in baseball. However, his offensive production began rapidly regressing as the 7,221 innings behind the plate had finally caught up to him. If that amount of innings took a toll of Mauer, when does it start for Posey? That’s right ladies and gentleman, the next inning Buster Posey catches will be inning 7,552. The wear and tear have finally caught up to Buster. This isn’t the end of the world for the Giants. They appear to see the writing on the wall after drafting Joey Bart in the first round of last years draft. With the next great Giants catcher in line and ready, it’s time for Posey to turn in his catcher's gear and grab that first base mitt. Or maybe even try out the hot corner at third (Posey was a shortstop in his college days at FSU). If the Giants want the power associated with Buster Posey in the batter's box, they need to make the switch and get him out from behind the plate.
As I said in the beginning, it is far too early to predict who will have a big year and who will spend the rest of the season in frustration. But I gave it my best shot. Questions? Concerns? Want to tell me I'm crazy for saying Buster Posey is struggling? Feel free to comment and keep the conversation rolling.