The Rockies have been playing very good baseball this year and to no one's surprise the offense has thrived with Tulowitzki carrying the load. Carlos Gonzalez has been great, although recently struggling, Dexter Fowler has built off of last years' breakout campaign and Wilin Rosario can flat out crush baseballs. Something I feel that maybe hasn't gotten enough attention is Michael Cuddyer's hot start.
When Cuddyer was acquired during the off-season in 2012 there where fairly high expectations amongst Rockies fans for him, myself included. After all, Cuddyer was a guy that hit 20-30 HRs and drove in 70-100 runs most of his career in Minnesota. Most figured that in Coors Field those numbers would elevate and it was fair to expect 25-30 HRs with 80-100 RBIs. However, 2012 wrote a different story for Cuddyer as he struggled to a .260 average with 16 HRs and 53 RBIs before his season was cut short due to an oblique injury.
Fast forward to 2013, Cuddyer is off to a blistering start. Thomas Harding notes that Cuddyer is more at ease during his second year in the NL and that likely plays a large factor in his early success.Through 23 games he already has 5 HRs and 17 RBIs. He's got a .325/.393/.600 slash line.
It's hard to quantify what a hitting coach can do for a player, because there are so many variables that go in to hitting. For a veteran like Cuddyer, Bichette likely didn't tell him anything he didn't already know. What a hitting coach can do is provide a new mindset or refresh an old one and I believe that is the case so far this year.
When comparing 2012 to this year and the rest of Cuddyer's career I believe that an increase in plate discipline has been the main cause for his early success. In 2012 Cuddyer had an O-Swing% of 36.2%, that means he swung at pitches outside of the strike zone 36.2% of the time. This year that number is 30.4% and his career O-Swing% is 32.6%. Cuddyer also has been more agreesive swinging at strikes this year with a Z-Swing% of 66.9% compared to 59.1% last year and his career average of 58.8%.
I would assert that not only is Cuddyer swinging at better pitches this year, but that he is swinging harder which might have to do with the new aggressive approach Bichette and Weiss have been going for. There isn't a stat that I'm aware of that measures swing speed, but I can take make some assertions based on his contact rates. His line drive rates are actually down this year and his ground ball rates are up, but his HR/FB ratio is at 29.4% compared to 18.2% last year and a 13% career average.
That leads me to believe that he has been swinging for the fences a bit more this year. His line drives are likely down because when a batter swings harder it's easier to roll over and hit a GB versus a LD, but it's also easier to hit a HR if contact is made. The other stats that lead me to believe he is swinging harder this year is that he's making less contact overall this year. His O-Contact% is down 11% this year and 13% compared to his career. That means he's making less contact when swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone then he has in years past, and his overall Contact% is down 4% from last year and 7% from his career Contact%.
A good guess as to why his contact rates are down is simple; he's swinging harder. I think the reason he's making less contact on balls out of the zone is because the harder you swing the less likely you are to hit the ball...generally speaking. During the broadcast Saturday night Drew Goodman pointed out that Cuddyer had said "I'm just trying to hit the ball hard somewhere". Sure, every baseball player says that, but I really think Cuddyer might be in more of a see-the-ball hit-the-ball-hard approach this year versus last year where he may have been feeling out the National League.
Bichette's influence and Cuddyer's increased comfort level in the NL are both factors for this mindset I believe.
Hopefully, it wasn't to hard to stick with those numbers and you can see that increased plate discipline as well as swinging harder may be the reasons for Cuddyer's early success. Also, Bichette and Weiss' impact should be taking into consideration and Cuddyer's continued familiarity with the National League.