I hope you all forgive me for straying out of my lane of low comedy and extraterrestrial feline blaming (with magnets). I've decided to bring up a matter that's been bugging me all season. You see, it's Monday, my first day off after 3 feverish days toiling for salt, and there's no baseball on that I care to watch. So, I'm going to post something about what's been bugging me all season. Even worse, I've decided to employ actual statistics to back up what I think is an explanation.
Yes, I put on my cargo shorts and went looking on The Stats Sites. Yeah. Hold on to your butts.
Anyhow, on to the matter at hand...
What happened to Vlad and did he mean for it to happen?
It's because I’m a touch puzzled. Vlad’s back. But where’s he been most of this season?
I remember 2021 when he hit 48 homers, this after crushing everyone in total homers in the Homerun Derby in 2019, he proclaimed himself "unsatisfied".
This season he went for it in the HR Derby to join his Dad as father/son co-winners, but he'd done nowhere near as much in-game leading up to and after the Derby.
Now suddenly he's back to crushing? Like he can turn it on and off at will?
I wonder if this is all deliberate. Lull everyone into thinking he was "Done" or just didn’t have it this season, all while saving his body from the wear and tear of blasting homers every game? Perhaps by doing this he’d encourage more pitches in the zone as the league took note of this "lack of power" and "weak grounders to SS" chasing-pitches-out-of-the-zone version of Vlad.
What do the numbers look like?
Let’s start with his first real full season where he's not overweight, he's playing 1st, and he's got something to prove:
2021: 48hrs, .311 BA, 86 BB, 110 SO, 167 OPS+. Elite output and a HR% of 6.9%
2022, 32hrs, 58BB, 116 SO, 133 OPS+ (very, very good) 50% more SO to BB and a HR% of 4.5%
2023: 26 HR, 64 BB, 93 SO, 118 OPS+ this is OK, but but now rocking a HR% of 3.9%
His chase % has been 24, then 30, now 28%. He chased more last season than this one, so it’s not like he’s really that much different than in 2021 since he’s chasing ~ 4% more. The funny thing is that his contact has gone up but it’s weak. He’s making outs.
Perhaps if there’s some evidence for a bit of sandbagging it maybe lies in the hard hit %. He went from 55.6% to 50.9 to 50%. So, after 2021 he stopped swinging as hard. This is reflected in average exit velocity dropping from 95.1mph to 92 in the following 2 season. He hit more homers in 2022 because he still used that excellent swing he had in 2021. Reflecting the lower bat speed as been the ground balls and line drives: pretty much at the exact same rate every season but fewer of them got through because he didn’t swing as hard after his 2021 season.
Now, 2023 and more than the swing speed has changed. So too has the timing & swing path. This is not just me, either. None other than that great MLB hitter, Buck Martinez, thinks so, too! (In all fairness, Buck's analysis is pretty good).
To sum it up, where before, in 2021 and 2022, his hands were high, barely lower than the back shoulder as he rocked back, they’re now dropped below the level of the right armpit as he goes back. Is this is deliberate? The results seem to reflect less power and he’s had that previous swing every season but this one. So why change? It’s produced a swing that’s not down and through the ball and he’s swinging with less bat speed, so his power output has dropped. He’s swinging a touch later in his rock back, too. He used to go back as one: front leg goes back and hands bringing the bat into motion at the same time. Now his hands are later. He hits liners and bouncers to right instead: a combo of a slower, later swing, and less downward drive causing that backspin that lifts the ball.
Overall throughout the season he seemed pretty unconcerned about the differences. Then the season became September and the race to the post season began in earnest. And he’s hitting again. He’s at 6 Hrs already this month. He hasn’t hit six homers/month EVER this season. Now he suddenly has. Bear in mind: the month’s not over. He’s cut down on the SOs, too. He’s got 14 BB to 9 strikeouts. He was virtually the exact opposite every month leading up to September. He’s stopped chasing ground ball pitches. Now he’s waiting for the one he likes to drive and forcing pitches in the zone or accepting a walk. The last few homers saw the old swing, too. Hands high, front leg and hands starting as one and a solid contact of the ball with that hard backspin that lifts the ball over the wall.
If he hasn't been saving himself up for this part of the season then he's suddenly reverted to a style that he hasn't really used all season excepting for the Homerun Derby. It makes no sense to me other than this was deliberate.
Or it's cats.