A stat that we don’t talk about much just hit the stabilization point, meaning it’s offering us more signal than noise. Pull percentage! It only takes about thirty balls in play to stabilize, and so it’s fairly easy to quickly see if a player has changed their approach at the plate in this way. Even opposite field percentage, which takes 65 balls in play, is pretty much stable for most hitters by now.
A player we do talk about a lot is Jorge Soler. Dripping with upside, the slugger hasn’t performed quite to expectations this year, whiffing more and looking a bit lost at the plate sometimes. As a consequence, he keeps showing up in trades, as some look to use the remaining promise to cash in, while others see this as a last chance to buy an emerging slugger.
Let’s look at the player through the lens of the stat.
If you compare this year’s pull percentage to last year’s, and then sort by the players that have shifted their field away from the pull field the most, one name at the top of the list will look familiar.
Amazing to see Ike Davis at the top of the list, though. He’d already cut his pull percentage significantly as he traveled from New York to Pittsburgh, and he continued that work. Maybe when he arrived in Oakland and saw how the ball traveled in games, he decided he’d rather see if his hits could find grass rather than bleachers. He’s maintained league average power so far in the transition, and yet his BABIP is fifty points higher. As a spray hitter (now) without an infield fly problem, his current level of production seems sustainable (if light for a first baseman).
A.J. Pollock was never about the power, so this was a good move for him. With an above-average hard-hit percentage as well, his work looks sustainable. Xander Bogaerts is making a great deal more contact this year, and seems primed for a better BABIP than the league-average work he’s doing right now, especially in this lens, but his hard-hit percentage is below average. He’s an interesting case for now.
Some of the guys that are lower on this list — Evan Gattis, Carlos Santana, and Albert Pujols — may want to rethink the strategy if it costs them power. On the other hand, the ideal hitter probably has power to all fields. As Tony Blengino pointed out today, the most prolific power hitters function this way, and pulling a ton has drawbacks.
So we make it back to Jorge Soler. He’s sporting a .411 BABIP, which isn’t sustainable even if he’s a spray hitter with power. At least not at those contact rates. So his batting average will come down.
But how far will it regress? His projected rest of season BABIPs range from .309 to .318, so it looks like the systems like his power to help his batting average. But Soler made an adjustment from last year. Let’s compare his pull/center/opposite splits to the league by indexing them (100 = average).
So he’s still got the same vertical angle that allowed him so much power last year, but he’s adjusted his pull-happy ways and is now going straight up the middle this year. That will be great for his long-term outcomes, and also goes a long way to supporting his high hard hit and line drive percentages. Dude is hitting the ball hard, and straight up the middle, and that’s great.
Of course, Soler is also missing the ball a lot, and his approach at the plate sometimes seems undisciplined. Watch him just for a game or two even, and he’ll swing at something that will leave you scratching your head.
But Soler has made an adjustment in his plate discipline before. When he arrived, he hadn’t seen many pitchers throw breaking balls with the same velocity and command as they have in the American system, and so the focus was on getting used to the game and the culture and the breaking balls first.
Then they asked him to be more patient, and the results were stark: He had an 8% walk rate in his first two years, scattered among different short-season and A-ball leagues, and then once he hit the higher minors in 2014, his walk rate jumped to 14%. That, along with the general aging of strikeouts-vs-walks for batters, suggests that Soler can make that adjustment again.
Jorge Soler is a 23-year-old beast that has already made two significant adjustments in the three years he’s spent in America. He may be in the top ten in strikeout rate this year, but his ability to control his batted ball mix, and his previous jump in walk rate, suggests that this won’t be the case for very long. This is your last chance to go get Jorge Soler in keeper leagues.
This year, for redraft leagues? Maybe the rest-of-season strikeout rate won’t be great. He’ll still have great power and a good batting average on balls in play.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.