Harrison Bader is legitimately the most effective defensive outfielders in baseball. By whichever superior defensive metric you like, he ranks within the high 10 amongst all outfielders since his debut in 2017. However whereas his elite capacity with the glove is evident, the worth of his bat has been a much bigger query mark. Getting into this season, in simply over 1,000 profession plate appearances, he had posted a league- and park-adjusted offensive line 5 p.c under league common, which isn’t too dangerous contemplating his fame as a glove-first middle fielder. This yr, although, his wRC+ is as much as 108 in 70 plate appearances, and his method on the plate is totally completely different.
Bader had proven some promise with the bat within the minors and in his earlier 4 seasons within the majors, peaking because the No. 8 prospect within the Cardinals’ group again in 2018 with a tantalizing energy/velocity profile. However the concern for him, as he rapidly labored by the minor leagues, was a propensity to swing and miss that led to excessive strikeout charges. That lack of ability to make constant contact didn’t get resolved as soon as he obtained to the majors: Previous to this yr, his profession strikeout fee was 29.1%, and final yr, he struck out a career-high 32.0% of the time.
Bader missed all of April after struggling a forearm harm throughout spring coaching. However since getting again on the sector initially of this month, he’s offered some stunning manufacturing for the Cardinals as their on a regular basis centerfielder, already matching his house run complete from final yr in virtually half the plate appearances. The largest change has are available his method on the plate. His strikeout fee has tumbled from that career-worst 32.0% final yr all the way in which right down to 12.9%; amongst batters with a minimum of 100 plate appearances in 2020 and a minimum of 70 plate appearances in ’21, his large lower in strikeout fee is by far the biggest in baseball. He’s additionally struck out in precisely as many plate appearances as he’s drawn a stroll thus far this season.
Again in his debut season in 2017, Bader had the same stretch the place his strikeout fee fell near this degree, however he ended up ending that yr at 26.1%.
This stretch to open this yr has been almost unprecedented in his main league profession. Simply taking a look at his granular plate self-discipline stats exhibits an method that’s almost unrecognizable from his earlier profession norms. He’s swinging at pitches within the zone extra usually and he’s chasing pitches out of the zone far much less usually. And when he does chase, he’s making extra contact with these out-of-zone pitches.
Harrison Bader, plate self-discipline
That’s a drastically completely different plate self-discipline profile. The web result’s fewer swinging strikes and fewer referred to as strikes, which naturally results in a decrease strikeout fee.
Bader’s plate self-discipline metrics get even higher when he has two strikes on him. His swing fee in two-strike counts sat round 60% for his profession, however he’s upped that fee to 77.4% this yr. With so many further swings in these conditions, he’s sure to swing at a number of extra out of the zone pitches; his chase fee in two-strike counts is 52.2%, up from 14.8% in all different counts. However as a result of he’s making contact with pitches off the plate extra usually, these two-strike chases haven’t changed into strikeouts on the identical fee as earlier than.
In the event you break down his method by pitch kind, he’s barely improved his chase fee in opposition to breaking balls, however the largest distinction has been on fastballs, as he’s swinging on the exhausting stuff he’s seeing within the zone and leaving it alone when it’s off the plate. He has chased fastballs at an alarming fee when he has two strikes on him, however that seemingly explains how he’s been capable of make common contact with these out-of-zone pitches this yr. His swing fee heatmaps showcase this new method properly.
On the left is his profession swing fee, and on the appropriate is what he’s executed this yr. He’s executed properly to put off pitches down and away from him whereas swinging at inside pitches way more usually.
Attacking inside pitches extra usually has led to an enormous bounce in Bader’s pull fee: He’s pulled half of the balls he’s put in play this yr, an eight-point improve over what he was doing final yr. Throughout his minor league profession, he was pulling the ball round 50% of the time and exhibiting spectacular energy whereas doing it, and he lastly appeared like he was capable of get to that energy final yr with a profession excessive .217 ISO. His energy output this season has been precisely the identical, and together with his new refined method on the plate, he ought to have the ability to enhance it even additional.
What’s much more spectacular concerning the 4 house runs Bader has already hit this yr is that three of them got here off of a breaking ball. He’s at all times struggled in opposition to breaking stuff all through his profession, together with his profession wOBA in opposition to sliders and curveballs sitting at .213, and had hit simply seven house runs off a breaking ball in simply over 1,000 plate appearances heading into this yr. He’s now added three to that complete in solely 70 plate appearances, and his wOBA in opposition to them is as much as .427.
With such a small pattern, it’s exhausting to take something away from Bader’s batted ball knowledge that could possibly be seen as dependable. In spite of everything, his BABIP is an abnormally low .229, properly under his profession fee. Along with his elite velocity and unchanged batted ball knowledge, we should always anticipate to see a bunch extra hits fall in shifting ahead. However he’s on the level in a season the place his plate self-discipline metrics are gaining stability. Previously, he’s needed to depend on excessive BABIPs to offset all of the strikeouts in his profile. Along with his strikeout fee reduce by 19 factors, he has so many extra alternatives for his balls in play to do harm. The adjustments Bader has made to his method on the plate appear like they’re sticky. If that’s the case, it will be a significant enchancment to his offensive ceiling.