In one of the most statistically improbable turnarounds in recent memory, Dodgers 1B/2B/3B/OF Max Muncy, he of the .195/.290/.321 line across 245 plate appearances in parts of two seasons for Oakland, broke out in the biggest of ways for Los Angeles this season, slamming 35 home runs in just 395 AB and posting a .263/.391/.582 mark that stood as one of the National League’s best. Yankees 1B Luke Voit, a footnote trade deadline acquisition in ’18, posted an even more impressive (albeit in a much smaller sample) 187 wRC+ in 161 PA down the stretch for the Bombers this season. And Royals 1B Ryan O’Hearn, who’d slumped badly in parts of two seasons at Triple-A Omaha before his promotion this summer, shocked the organization by dropping a .262/.353/.597 mark across 170 PA for Kansas City in the second half. In a fascinating look at their respective backgrounds, Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper (subscription required) revisits the trio’s unheralded prospect days, when the three seemed to register only mildly on the wide-ranging radar of professional scouts. All three, it appears, were hampered by the 2011 NCAA-mandated switch from aluminum bats to composite, with Voit in particular banging just 19 career HR across four seasons at Missouri State (a school which, notably, has produced a glut of big leaguers, including Ryan Howard, over the last two decades). Though none of the three were highly regarded in their respective organizations prior to the breakouts, and sustained production at their 2018 levels seems virtually impossible, it should be noted that a number of players have shown immediate power spikes upon their promotion to MLB of late, and both Muncy (.392) and Voit (.440, best in the league among players with at least 150 PA) rate quite favorably in Statcast’s xWOBA metric.
In other bits of interest from around the league . . .
- FiveThirtyEight’s Travis Sawchik launches far into the spin-rate galaxy in a delightfully data-heavy piece packed with informative bits. Though the spin-rate data is still young, and ever-conservative analysts caution against drawing too heavily from its many layers, certain teams appear to be drilling in earnest: Sawchik cites the Astros, Yankees, and Dodgers as teams who’ve seen significant jumps in the four-seam fastball version of the metric since the advent of the data, taking particular care to address the case of Gerrit Cole, whose resurgent season coincided with a jump of over 200 rpms in his four-seamer from 2017. Still, traditional analytic bastions Oakland and Tampa Bay have each seen a decrease in overall spin-rate on the fastball over the same frame, so perhaps the aforementioned uptick is little more than coincidence. The article, which also features a good deal of commentary and speculation from outspoken Indians hurler Trevor Bauer, is well worth a full read for all.
- The Astros, who revamped their organization with a heavy emphasis on raw data and wall-to-wall granularity, also care deeply about the team’s culture, writes Jayson Stark of The Athletic. GM Jeff Luhnow came to Houston from St. Louis, which Stark describes as ’obsessed’ with the culture of the team, and has apparently taken great strides to ensure the Astros “operate as a cohesive unit.” “We spend a lot of time,” Luhnow said. “Clubbies [clubhouse men] talk to clubbies. Trainers talk to trainers. Front offices talk to front offices. Players talk to players. You can always find a player who was with that team last year who is no longer with them, who somebody with the organization knows. Information crosses boundaries very rapidly.” The piece is rife with further quotes from Luhnow and analysis from Stark, who cites Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann as players who were acquired for more than just their on-field abilities.