By all accounts, Nomar Mazara had a successful major league debut. He spent most of the season as a 21-year-old, and his youth showed at times. Overall, he slashed .266/.320/.419 with 20 home runs in 516 plate appearances. He usually batted first, second, or third, although he did finish the season hitting eighth most days.
Some young players swing out of their shoes with no regard to making contact (ahem, Byron Buxton, Joey Gallo). Others, like Mazara, have a more adjustable swing. No matter which type of swing a player possesses, they’re probably prone to being fooled early in their career. As Mazara, Buxton, and others age, they’ll recognize pitches and take better swings. That’s the theory at least – some players simply are what they are.
Anyway, this is easier to explain if I show you. Here are Mazara’s first three hits, all coming on April 10. The pitcher is Jered Weaver.
Yuck. Ideally, one does not take excuse me swings like that against Jered friggin’ Weaver. He stuck his butt out and reached one-handed, somehow pulling an extremely outside pitch. The end result was a soft grounder through the middle for a hit. At least he didn’t strike out. Buxton would have missed the pitch by a foot.
This one doesn’t look as bad at first glance. Keep an eye on his legs and torso. Actually, look at this freeze frame instead.
There’s the classic excuse me pose. He reached out for a pitch below the zone by sticking his butt out, muting his legs, and disengaging his upper hand. In one sense, it’s a good piece of contact hitting with two strikes. This time, he lobbed a single to center field. Preferably, he’d take a real swing at actual strikes.
Ah, there it is. There’s nothing excused about that swing. This is what we want to see from Mazara on a regular basis. The result was a home run to right-center.
Here at FanGraphs, we’ve developed a bit of an obsession with hard hit rates. We have our reasons. Producing high exit velocities is highly correlated with positive outcomes, especially extra base hits.
Mazara is capable of making exceedingly hard contact. However, his penchant to disengage his mechanics in order to make contact hides some of his talent. His 28.7 percent hard hit rate is fairly typical for an outfielder. We usually don’t get out of bed for anything below 35 percent hard contact from a power hitter. Soft and medium contact are general undesirable due to low BABIPs. When the alternative is a strikeout, a ball in play is almost always preferable (some double play situations notwithstanding).
The young lefty slugger also posted a high 48.9 percent ground ball rate. While I’m not going to go through and count the number of excuse me swings he put in play, I’ll note that I saw enough of them spread over about 40 games to say “he does this a lot.” Most of them dribble along the ground. A goodly number of his grounders were simply outside pitches he pulled. This is a different type of fooled. He took a full swing but tried to do too much with it.
Assuming he’s the type of prospect who is fooled less and less over time, we should see a natural increase in fly balls and hard contact. You know that means, right?
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