Note on the artwork: Cleveland born yasmeen1114 is obviously a big fan of the Tribe. She draws many things, but has taken a particular interest in drawing the Indians last year and now has 22 individual pieces. She enjoys portraits in particular to capture the emotion, expression, and personality of the subject. She is starting at the Cleveland Institute of Art in August. Follow @yasmeen1114 on both twitter and instagram (original photograph taken May 17 2016 at batting practice by @).
Three True Outcome Baseball
Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal noted in a recent article how more MLB teams have gone to the Three True Outcome style of batting. BAbip is at the mercy of the level (and placement) of the defense, which is getting more sophisticated. So, increasing strikeouts are OK as long as the player is hitting enough home runs and walking enough. The 2015 Houston Astros became a surprise team by following this approach (alongside some solid pitching and defense), and the Indians are among the teams following this approach in 2016 (#PartyAtNapolis). It is almost the natural progression to pitchers giving hitters less time to react given the increases in fastball velocity over the years. The hitters, in turn, are saying that they will speed up their swings and might miss sometimes. But, when they hit the ball the cover is going to have trouble staying on.
And, the Indians offense has been dominating baseball with this approach over the last 30 days (well, longer, but fangraphs makes it easiest to do team rankings by 30 days). The Tribe leads all of MLB over the last 30 days in home runs (42), runs (145), ISO (.211), SLG (.484), wRC (142), and fWAR (6.5).
Naquin and Afraid (h/t WFNY's Clayman)
From April 5 2016 to June 2 2016, Naquin had 69 plate appearances. He finished with two walks and zero homeruns despite a nice enough .313/.333/.403 slash line. Then, Tyler Napalm arrived. Apparently, the home run lid just had to be blown off because since hitting his first on June 3, Naquin has made pitchers very, very afraid to face him. How good has he been? Well, the names of Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire can be invoked when talking about his current home run rate. I hear they were sort of good power hitters back in their day.
Getting Fully Naquin
The obvious question becomes what has Tyler Naquin changed since June 2 to have transformed his batting profile. The scouting reports out of college and during most of his time in MiLB have stated that he has fantastic bat-to-ball skills, but a limited power profile. Basically, he has always been considered an Ichiro-style hitter by most. A potentially valuable bat but limited when placed in a corner outfield position.
And, when looking at his overall profile per month of 2016 (warning: small sample size alerts!), the first thing that sticks out is how bad his May went. He was basically hitting weak grounders every time he went up to the plate, which is not who Naquin is.
E`rybody gonna be a pull hitta
However, when he returned to the Indians in June after being optioned to Columbus in mid-May, Naquin returned with an entirely different purpose. He did not hit line drives at a different rate, but he did trade in a whole bunch of ground balls for fly balls. While his hard-hit rate didn't tick up much (and his soft-hit rate actually did go up), what Naquin was doing differently is that he was waiting on pitches he could pull.
So, instead of just utilizing his great bat-to-ball skills to poke a pitch to whatever field he could (but without much power), Naquin was being more patient, giving a better launch angle from his swing, and driving the ball. All of a sudden, he is the AL ROY Award leader and people are raving about him.
Remember, back when Jason Kipnis was struggling as a mere average MLB hitter, it was noticed that he was pulling the ball a ton more. Well, taking a look at the Cleveland Indians fangraphs page it appears hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo has given a team-wide edict on it as only Jose Ramirez has less than a 39% pull rate among all of the regular starters.
And, the new pull fad is not limited to just the Indians.
Heat Map is LIT
Brooksbaseball.net gives a fantastic visual representation of the difference Tyler Naquin has been demonstrating in his Isolated Power. The chart on the left shows his ISO before June 2. The chart on the right shows his ISO after June 2.
Naquin is taking far greater advantage of balls lower in the zone compared with his pre-June 2 numbers. I have not done a swing analysis, but changing the swing plane to have more of an upward trajectory (which would explain the FB% increase) would allow for more power on balls lower in the zone, while sacrificing some ability to make contact with pitches up in the zone. With MLB umpires currently giving more strikes on lower pitches, the adjustment is an intelligent one, and seeing Naquin's chart makes me wonder if this was a player-specific change or a team-wide edict.
Not shown (though implicitly demonstrated in hard% above), but his exit velocity has not increased. It is a matter of how Naquin is now driving the ball, which brings to question if there is a particular type of pitch he is looking to drive. And, lo and behold, brooksbaseball has a chart for it.
The answer is, yes, Tyler Naquin is sitting on low offspeed pitches and he is hitting the stuffing out of them. While Naquin is pulling hard thrown pitches and breaking pitches at about the same rate, he is absolutely driving any offspeed offerings into right field (as a left-hander).
Tyler Naquin has a BAbip of .417 this season. While hitters have far more control of their BAbip than pitchers (who tend to regress back to .300), having that mark stay above .400 is unlikely. And, Naquin is also unlikely to continue hitting home runs better than the career averages of Bonds and McGuire. However, there are real adjustments to his batting profile and there is nothing that indicates he is not becoming a truly dangerous hitter in the lineup. So, enjoy the incredible hot streak he is currently riding and realize that Naquin is demanding to be included with Clint Frazier and Bradley Zimmer when Indians fans talk about their outfield of the future. Except, Naquin is also a huge part of the outfield of the present too.