Keith Law: MLB players I was wrong about, from Spencer Strider to Andrés Giménez

At the top of each season, I take a look at players who’ve succeeded within the majors past the expectations I had for them and clarify the place my projections for these players went wrong. Sometimes it is what I noticed (or did not see), generally it is a matter of incomplete info from sources, however whatever the causes, they’re my errors, and it is on me to be taught from them to enhance my projections for different players who may present similarities to these guys sooner or later. Last yr, I wrote about only one participant, Austin Riley, going deeper into the large adjustments he made to his strategy to go from a sub-.300 OBP man to a viable MVP candidate. This yr, I’m returning to my outdated format of figuring out a number of players who made substantial adjustments or in any other case crumpled up what I wrote about them and threw it within the wastebasket. Good for them, if not for me.

The Guardians have returned to competition this yr thanks to a number of huge steps ahead from hitters of their mid-20s who had but to fulfill the expectations laid on them after they have been prospects. Amed Rosario is having his greatest season on the plate and within the area, with a 3.5 WAR complete that is practically double what he was value a yr in the past. (He might stand to take a stroll at times.) Josh Naylor got here into the season with 0.2 profession WAR, and has been value a full win this yr, practically doubling his profession residence run complete and staying wholesome for many of the season. But no one on the roster has been as huge of a shock as Andrés Giménez, who’s now sitting on 6.4 WAR, one yr after he hit .218/.282/.351 and regarded like he may wrestle to maintain a major-league job .

Giménez made my high 100 simply as soon as as a prospect, touchdown at No. 97 earlier than the 2019 season, the place I praised his plus protection at shortstop and very good baserunning, however questioned the bat: “At the plate, nevertheless, he would not venture to have a lot influence — on the very least, he has to get loads stronger, and he would not have the physique or swing to ever be a giant energy man.” That regarded correct till this yr, however Giménez has made a number of small adjustments which have added up to a giant increase in each energy (16 homers) and high quality of contact.

Giménez’s hard-hit price was below-average in 2020 at 26.4 p.c, and crept up to satisfactory final yr at 30.4 p.c, nonetheless nothing to write residence about. (Does one write residence about hard-hit charges? Should I? You by no means name, you by no means write about hard-hit charges.) This yr he is all the best way up to 37.5 p.c, which quantities to 25 extra hard-hit balls this yr primarily based on his batted balls via Sunday’s video games. If I informed you a hitter might convert one gentle or medium-hit ball per week right into a hard-hit one, you’d take it, proper?

Andrés Giménez (David Richard / USA Today)

He’s additionally improved his manufacturing on offspeed stuff, particularly, considerably oddly, on changeups, a pitch he is destroyed this yr, hitting .400 on changeups with a .738 slugging share, with a hard-hit price of 51 p.c on that pitch. He hit .160/.250 on changeups in 2021, for comparability. He’s not hitting them extra usually, however when he hits them, he hits them loads more durable. To be truthful, I by no means noticed a problem with him hitting non-fastballs; I simply noticed a man who by no means hit the ball onerous, and did not have the swing to achieve this.

Chris Valaika, the Guardians’ new hitting coach, spoke in regards to the small adjustments which have made such a giant distinction for Giménez, particularly eliminating his leg kick. “His huge difficulty was getting on to that entrance facet,” says Valaika. “We needed to get him right into a extra constant spot the place he might use the bottom. With the leg kick, he was shedding the bottom early. The outcomes from that restricted him, and he’d get these low high spinning singles.”

By eliminating the leg kick, Giménez now makes use of his decrease half extra to generate extra energy, and likewise comes on the ball from a barely decrease start line, so his angle via contact is best — his common launch angle is up from 8.8 levels final yr to 12.8 this yr, and his charges within the optimum ranges are up barely as effectively (eg, between 26-30 levels, he is up from 5.8 p.c final yr to 6.8 p.c this yr). I assume that is a smaller a part of the equation than the best way he is producing extra energy from his legs, although; the swing is a bit completely different, however he is gone from slapping the ball utilizing simply upper-body power to utilizing his complete physique to drive the ball, particularly to his pull facet. The Guardians get a ton of credit score within the business for the event work they’ve accomplished on the pitching facet, turning a bunch of command right-handers from school into above-average or higher big-league starters, however they’ve a fame for getting much less from their hitting prospects over the identical time span. That could be about to change if their work with Giménez is any indication.

I first noticed Zac Gallen in spring coaching in 2017, 9 months after the Cardinals took him within the third spherical, and wrote: “he is 90-93 with a cross-body supply that most likely makes it very onerous for right-handed batters to see the ball towards him, however there isn’t any plus pitch there and I don’t love cross-body deliveries on potential starters. If he would not tidy that up, he is a reasonably high-risk man for damage.” I guess I bought one half proper, as Gallen has had some arm points, notably a UCL sprain in 2021, however he does have a plus pitch — his fastball.

Gallen is in a category of pitchers that I assume has been a blind spot for me through the years — command right-handers with ordinary-looking fastballs. Some have simply seen their velocity enhance after stepping into professional ball, or with a brand new group. Shane Bieber might be the perfect instance, as he was an average-velocity man in school with elite command for his age, after which Cleveland bumped up his velocity and made him an ace.

Gallen’s four-seamer has been value 14 runs above common this yr, in accordance to Baseball Savant, regardless that he is throwing it about half the time, so hitters actually get their seems to be on the pitch. The pitch spins at a median of 2420 rpm, placing him within the ninetieth percentile amongst four-seamers, and he will get each whiffs and weak contact on the pitch. It most likely would not damage that his velocity on the four-seamer has crept up over 1 mph simply since 2019, though I do not assume that is the key of his success or why I was so gentle on him. Diamondbacks personnel say he is among the many greatest they’ve ever seen at making ready for video games, studying hitters’ tendencies and understanding pitch sequencing and tunneling to greatest make the most of the 4 pitches he has.

Arizona traded their high prospect on the time, shortstop Jazz Chisholm Jr., to get Gallen on the commerce deadline in 2019, a deal I panned as a result of I believed Chisholm can be a star and Gallen would not. Chisholm has performed like a star when wholesome and was on tempo for a 5-plus WAR season this yr when his season ended due to a stress fracture in his again. But Gallen is probably the most worthwhile participant proper now, and this commerce seems to be like a win-win slightly than the straightforward victory for the Marlins that I thought it will be.

Spencer Strider was a part of the 2020 draft class, taken within the fourth spherical by Atlanta as a result of he had an enormous fastball that performed in each approach, with velocity, spin and motion. At the time, his breaking ball was nonetheless a query mark, however I wrote final offseason, when rating him as Atlanta’s Twelfth-best prospect (oops), that the slider might find yourself plus. I additionally mentioned he’d want a 3rd pitch to be a starter, however that hasn’t been the case in any respect this yr, as he is steamrolled via right- and left-handed batters en route to what is going to most likely be a Rookie of the Year-winning season.

Strider’s fastball has very a lot been as marketed; Baseball Savant has it because the third-most worthwhile four-seamer within the majors this yr, value 20 runs saved, behind solely Justin Verlander’s and Carlos Rodón’s. Among starters, he has the seventh-best whiff price on the pitch, forward of Verlander and primarily tied with Rodón. And that each one comes even supposing Strider throws the four-seamer extra usually than another starter in MLB this yr: It accounts for 67 p.c of his pitches thrown, making him certainly one of simply two starters who throws it greater than 62 p.c of the time together with Washington’s Joan Adon (65 p.c), besides Adon’s fastball has been value 17 runs under common, so possibly he ought to attempt the decaf.

Strider’s slider has develop into a plus pitch this yr, and that is a giant a part of his success, however not the place I was wrong on him. I mentioned he would want a 3rd pitch to have the option to flip a lineup over a number of occasions, as a result of most fastball/breaking ball guys find yourself with enormous platoon splits. Strider has a changeup but it surely’s an afterthought; he has solely thrown it 8.4 p.c of the time this yr towards lefties, throwing greater than eight four-seamers for each changeup, even throwing the slider greater than twice as usually to lefties as he does the changeup. It seems that it is the slider that explains his success towards lefties, with a 22 p.c whiff price. Left-handed batters have swung and missed on Strider’s slider 2.4 occasions as usually as they’ve put it into play.

In equity to the business, Strider was largely unknown on the time of the 2020 draft; he’d missed 2019 after Tommy John surgical procedure, then threw simply 12 innings earlier than the pandemic ended the 2020 school season early. At the time, he was largely simply throwing gasoline, and there have been a number of causes to assume he’d find yourself a reliever — the dearth of a transparent second pitch (not to mention a 3rd), the latest damage, a excessive stroll price in his one full season for Clemson. The improvement of his slider right into a pitch that will get right- and left-handed batters out was at the least considerably surprising, and Atlanta execs credit score him with the work he did final offseason to get the pitch to this level.

One extra fast notice on a participant I have not written something about since earlier than the 2019 season: I wrote in my Astros org. report that spring that Framber Valdez had the stuff to be an elite prospect, however not the command or management. It took some time, however he bought there, reducing his stroll price for the third straight yr (not counting the abbreviated 2020 season), getting beneath 10 p.c for the primary time. I do not assume I ever dismissed this as a chance for Valdez, however I actually did not assume it was even remotely doubtless.

(Top photograph of Strider: Dale Zanine / USA Today)

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