On February 18, the Reds signed outfielder Tyler Naquin to a minor league contract with a non-roster invitation to main league spring coaching. It’s not the type of transaction that usually generates evaluation right here at FanGraphs. It was simply a typical depth transfer on the time, the type of signing each group makes multiples of each low season. Flash ahead almost three months later, and after a formidable spring coaching, Naquin is among the many prime 15 in wRC+ within the Nationwide League and a part of the very best offense within the senior circuit. The Reds make the most of a every day technique of making an attempt to outslug their opponent to make up for what has been a depressing pitching workers, and the outcomes to date have them hovering round .500.
Sizzling stars occur on a regular basis, and whereas one week ought to be readily dismissed as a small pattern undeserving of any type of actual scrutiny, a month deserves trying into. The place did the participant come from? Has something modified? Is that this sustainable? In Naquin’s case, the solutions are a bit murky.
Naquin’s background is exclusive. The 2012 draft was weak when it comes to school place gamers, however Naquin was nonetheless the second chosen at fifteenth total. And whereas there was a lot debate over his skill to remain in heart area, in addition to his final energy ceiling, scouts have been common of their reward for the Texas A&M product’s hit instrument after he led the Huge 12 convention in batting common throughout every of his remaining two years as an Aggie.
His minor league profession was full of good-but-not-great seasons as he moved up the ladder (most likely extra slowly than Cleveland anticipated), however he acquired the decision in 2016 and confirmed surprising energy on his method to 2.1 WAR in 116 video games. It’s a determine he’s but to match, as the next years have been outlined by accidents and inconsistent efficiency that noticed him waver between fourth outfielder and Quad-A standing. Out of time, and out of persistence, Naquin was abruptly a six-year free agent in search of work this winter. The Reds supplied him the very best deal when it comes to the mixture of cash and alternative, and he’s definitely taken benefit of it.
When 29 video games of efficiency, the primary query to ask is has the participant been fortunate? In Naquin’s case, the reply is sure, however not within the methods one would possibly anticipate. His .279 BABIP is definitely under his profession price, and his HR/FB% ranks sixth within the NL. A lot of that could be a perform of Naquin’s extraordinarily pleasant dwelling park; whereas his exit velocities are up a tick, they’ve merely returned to the degrees they have been at when he was final good (learn: 2016 and ’19). As well as, there are Naquin’s opponents, or extra particularly, the Pittsburgh Pirates, who’ve been on the flawed finish of half of his eight dwelling runs. In 5 video games in opposition to the black and gold, Naquin is slugging 1.314; in 24 video games in opposition to different groups, he’s all the way down to .446. He’s hitting dangerous pitching, which is one thing all good hitters do. And he’s profiting from his ballpark, which can also be one thing all good hitters do. However nothing says he’s been overly lucky in a approach that makes his efficiency deceptive.
Issues get a bit extra attention-grabbing whenever you have a look at his strategy. Throughout his rookie marketing campaign breakout, Naquin was removed from a strolling machine, however he drew free passes at a suitable price of just below 10%. From 2017-20, that price dropped to an unacceptable 4.1%. This yr, he’s near a double digit share once more, however the change in strategy just isn’t merely one in every of taking extra pitches, it’s one in every of higher swing choices, and there’s a delicate distinction within the two. Sure, he’s chasing a bit much less and swinging within the zone a bit extra, however what we’re seeing is extra swings early and fewer swings late.
First, let’s have a look at his first-pitch swing share:
Tyler Naquin First Pitch Swing%
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That’s early aggression, which is an efficient technique in in the present day’s baseball. With a lot energy stuff (and the related loss in command due to it) and nice hitter persistence, first-pitch strike stealing is turning into a extra frequent strategy. There are many auto-takers in baseball and pitchers will steadily simply groove a primary pitch fastball to be able to get forward within the depend and widen their future choices when it comes to utilization and placement. However as said earlier than, Naquin just isn’t swinging extra total. The decline in his walks was largely the results of one thing evaluators consult with as “two-strike panic”: as soon as a hitter is one strike away from ending his at-bat, his zone expands and he’s vulnerable to swinging at dangerous pitches. This yr, even with two strikes, Naquin is sustaining his zone.
Tyler Naquin After Two Strikes
It’s delicate science and a little bit of newbie psychology to make certain, however this mixture simply makes you’re feeling like Naquin is extra comfy within the field. He’s relaxed and assured whatever the depend, and that mixture steadily results in higher manufacturing.
Along with the strategy modifications, Naquin has made some delicate alterations to his precise swing mechanics. The info says he’s pulling the ball extra and hitting extra balls within the air, and plainly he has made some slight bodily changes. Let’s have a look at a house run from 2018 and one from Monday evening. First, have a look at the set-up:
Discover the variations. Two years in the past, Naquin is a bit hunched, however discover how his higher half is coiled (you may learn the quantity and title on the again of his jersey), whereas his decrease half is barely open. When it comes to the 2 halves, he’s disconnected earlier than his swing has even began, which limits the power to make in-pitch changes when it comes to location for some gamers. This yr with the Reds, it’s a special story. He’s relaxed, arrange immediately and his higher and decrease halves are properly aligned. The one knock right here is that I’d wish to see the bat itself again within the 2018 place; because it’s already within the swing airplane, he doesn’t want an extra transfer to get it there. Now let’s see what occurs at swing initiation, as outlined by what the physique appears to be like like at entrance foot strike.
Once more, the variations are clear to see. With Cleveland, Naquin was what scouts consult with as an open-to-closed hitter, as he lands in a closed place after the marginally open set-up. That is going to result in extra heart/oppo contact, whereas this yr he retains his immediately stance after foot strike, thus simplifying the complete operation and permitting him to activate extra balls.
The factor that bothers me probably the most about Naquin’s surge is how a lot pitchers are taking part in into his recreation, and the way which may change going ahead because the advance scouts begin to do their work. Like most hitters, Naquin has actual hassle with breaking stuff, and he’s abruptly seeing fewer breaking pitches for causes which might be troublesome to determine. In a world the place pitchers deviate from the heater greater than ever, Naquin has been seeing greater than 70% fastballs in 2021. That’s virtually sure to drop from right here on out and he’ll have to proceed to work the depend in a approach that lessens the possibility of seeing such pitches. As well as, his new tendency to enter first-pitch ambush mode ought to be recognized rapidly, inspiring groups to get a bit extra artistic with him early in counts.
Naquin’s breakout is a mix of some luck created by his dwelling park and a few weak opponents, however there are additionally some actual modifications when it comes to his strategy on the plate, in addition to his strategy to the swing itself that time to actual enchancment. It feels greater than a bit aggressive to say he’ll end the yr as a prime 10 offensive performer within the Nationwide League, however ending the yr as an above-average producer definitely feels properly inside the vary of most probably prospects.