Are these MLB attackers real? Behind the numbers are the three biggest baseball surprises

The regular season of Major League Baseball is now over a month old. Each team played at least 23 games, or 14 percent of its schedule. In other words, it’s the time of year when people start wondering, is their team’s seemingly really better player? After all, the most satisfying are the breakthroughs that come from unexpected sources.

For example, take first Seattle Mariners player Ty France. He never made a list of the 100 best potential customers, and instead profiled himself as an auxiliary infielder. When he was involved in the Austin Nola trade in 2020, it was subsequent. Still, France has since emerged as Seattle’s big win, scoring 0.297 / .371 / .452 (132 OPS +) with 25 home runs and a 6.1 win over substitution in 203 games.

This week we’ll be questioning six players – three strikers today and three pitchers in a few days – who are starting this season surprisingly well. Anyway, we tried to answer the question: are they real? Let’s start with three stoppers.

1. Taylor Ward, Angels

image in the head

Mike Trout came in on Sunday lagging behind his team-mate for wRC + major league leadership, FanGraphs ’comprehensive offensive metric that adapts to pitch and other variables. Trout was not behind Shohei Ohtani, or even Anthony Rendon; he looked into the backlight of Taylor Ward, a 28-year-old who has entered this season with a slash .230 / .305 / .388 in more than 500 major league appearances in his career.

Ward will not continue to attack this one rate, but there are basic indications that he is a better hitter compared to when he produced the top line.

For starters, Ward shows a more disciplined approach, swinging and running less often than before. He also pulls the ball more often, with 45 percent of his strikers aimed at the left field, up from just 36 percent last season. You would usually expect this shift to be accompanied by better numbers of power; that is not the case here. Ward’s raw output speeds aren’t overly impressive, as he’s in the 46th percentile for balls that have hit at least 95 mph. He redeems this by ranking in the 90th percentile for balls launched between 10 and 30 degrees. That combination matches those like Bryan Reynolds, George Springer, Nolan Arenad and Freddie Freeman. That’s good company.

Again, we don’t expect Ward to continue to outdo Trout. His increased selectivity and his sense of hitting the ball at a good angle give credence to the idea that he should remain an above-average hitter in progress, which may even make him this year’s version of Jared Walsh.

2. Sheldon Neuse, Athletics

image in the head

Sheldon Neuse (pronounced “noisy”) has bounced back quite a bit in his career. He was originally drafted by the Washington Nationals before being sent to Oakland Athletics to trade Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson. (That deal also hit Athletics Blake Treinen and Jesús Luzard.) Neuse was then changed again in February 2021, this time to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He played in 33 games with the Dodgers, scoring 0.505 OPS and a 26-on-1 ratio.

Neuse found himself at Atletico again this spring after being sacked in March, and has since joined the regular squad, albeit while playing between first and third base.

Neuse kept hitting the ball hard all the time, with his percentage of shots coming at 95 mph or more compared to top strikers such as Juan Soto, Paul Goldschmidt and Michael Brantley. The catch is that Neuse’s game is not optimized to turn that power into big numbers of power. His average launch angle is about 5 degrees, and only Wil Myers hit a higher percentage of his balls into the opposite field.

Transferring the ball to the right field has worked well for Neuse so far, but it’s not a game plan you’d imagine from someone whose carrying tool as perspective was his raw power. We would love to see it work for a while before we buy.

3. Santiago Espinal, Blue Jays

image in the head

We will conclude with Santiago Espinal, who took over the second base job as his own in Toronto. Along the way, he confirmed the pre-season pomp about his extra strength.

Espinal’s average exit speed is far higher, from 84.4 mph to 88.8 mph, and he nearly doubled the percentage of impact balls he hit 95 mph or harder (up 41.7 percent).

Espinsal also lifts the ball more, leading to a higher average launch angle and a higher proportion of balls hit between 10 and 30 degrees. He achieved all this without radically influencing his approach. He swings less often and breathes more, though not enough to cause any concern about his ejection rate.

So, there is enough reason to think that Espinal will continue with a good clip.

Leave a Comment