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The evolution of George Springer as a hitter

Springer has taken not one, but two major steps forward at the plate in his career

League Championship - Tampa Bay Rays v Houston Astros - Game Four Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

In the couple of days since the Blue Jays signed George Springer, I’ve been focussed on his bat. It’s nice that he’s a decent defender in the middle of the diamond position, or at least has been thus far in his career. But already 31, it’s unlikely that remains the case over the entirety of the contract, or even the majority of it. Rather, it’s the offensive production and ability to stay on the field that is likely to be determinative of how the signing works out for the Jays in time.

Avoiding injuries is the harder thing to predict, but the good news is Springer has been relatively durable, posting 3,567 plate appearances in what effectively amounts to a little over six full seasons. He missed a couple months in each of his first two years, the latter a broken wrist, but since then has only had three short IL stints for minor issues. The past is an imperfect predictor, but at least there’s no red flags.

Digging into the offensive numbers, two things stuck out to me at the higher level. First, he’s been very consistent from year to year over his career, with a career low of 118 wRC+ and high of 154 wRC+ centred around his career mark of 134. He’s never really had a true down year.

Second, Springer’s batting profile is very well-rounded when looking at the different components as there’s no element that is below average. He walks, doesn’t strike out excessively, hits for good power, and makes quality contact consistently to post a solid BABIP. Here’s what that looks like:

I knew he was a very good hitter, but if anything, I’m probably guilty of underappreciating how good the overall package as, as he ranks 24 in MLB among qualified hitters since his debut. But perhaps even more significantly, he’s been been even better over time:

Though he’s been quite consistent at the plate, there have actually been three distinct phases to Springer’s career, and below I dig into that evolution.

In his first three seasons from 2014-16, he was immediate an offensive force, with a wRC+ of 129 which ranked 27th among MLB players. Breaking it down, he walked a lot (almost 50% more than average), but also has his share of swing and miss, with a strikeout rate about 30% above MLB average at 26%. He posted good power (.200 ISO), and made good contact to post a well above average .321 ISO.

2017 marked a step change, with a significant skill change in that Springer significantly reduced his strikeout rate, driven by more contact in the strike zone. In the four seasons since, his strikeout rate has been 19% despite an upward trend league wide, and he’s now better than league average.

Interestingly, despite this improvement, in the short term it didn’t translate to improved overall production. From 2017-18, Springer posted the same 129 wRC, ranking 26th. The much better K% was offset by walking less (though still a very robust clip), flat power production that was relatively less given the MLB-wide surge, and BABIP falling back to .300.

Finally, in 2019, there was another significant improvement, this time in the power department as he socked 39 home runs in just 556 plate appearances for a .299 ISO. That carried over into 2020, with another 14 long balls in the abbreviated season for a .275 ISO. This, along with a slight tick up in his walk rate, moved him into elite offensive territory. His 154 wRC+ over the past two seasons ranks 7th in MLB.

At this point, the strikeout has been been maintained for four seasons and 2,000 PA, and reflective of true talent. The power surge is more of an open question, given that it represents a much smaller sample at only eight months or play, and against the broader backdrop of ongoing changes to the ball. But it represents an intriguing possibility for upside. If the Blue Jays “only” got the 2017-18 Springer, with relative power increased only to the level of his first two years, they’re getting a top 25 MLB bat. If the elite power production is real, they certainly won’t regret going to six years to land Springer.