Ryan McMahon has always had fairly high upside since coming out of Southern California’s powerhouse Mater Dei High School in 2013. With his balanced swing and athletic six-foot-two-inch frame, there wasn’t much the youngster couldn’t do. Although, there was always the question of his plate discipline as he continued to face better pitching.
Fast forward to 2020, and McMahon’s high strikeout rate of 34.2% led to a disappointing shortened third year. To be successful, McMahon would need to drastically cut down on the strikeouts and whiffs and regain his ability to hit a breaking pitch. Would he be able to make those adjustments in 2021?
So far, the answer is yes. McMahon has done every single one of those things, the most notable being his strikeout rate which is down to 22.9%. This is in part because of his improved approach against breaking pitches, which was often how pitchers would put away McMahon last season. Yes, breaking pitches are typically the hardest to hit, but McMahon was completely overwhelmed by them last year, hitting .109 against them with a 49.5% whiff rate. This year he’s hitting .154 against them but only whiffing 35.7% of the time. Ideally, he’d be fouling them off to see a fastball or off speed pitch which he’s hitting .311 and .263 against respectively. Both are improvements from last year.
Something McMahon has always done is hit the ball hard. Year after year, McMahon has been near the top of the league in average exit velocities, hard hit percentage and balls barreled. But an interesting change to McMahon’s game has been a huge increase in his average launch angle. It’s obviously still early but McMahon has gone from an average launch angle of 9.2 degrees in 2020 to 19.1 degrees this season. For reference, a line drive is typically in the 10-25 degree area which is where the best hitters in the league like Mike Trout and Trevor Story live.
By doing all of this, he’s in the midst of making a huge leap this season. He’s gone from missing pitches to squaring them up and driving them like he’s never done before. His patience in the box has led to him pulling balls at a career low rate of 27%.
He’s been hot to start the year, but it hasn’t been to a level that he cannot maintain. As long as he keeps his strikeout rate low and continues to improve against off-speed and breaking pitches, pitchers will have less options against McMahon. Combine that with his improved ability to drive the ball off his bat and the Rockies have got themselves a dangerous hitter.
Not to mention his spectacular defense across both second and third base—that has him near the top of the league with 3 DRS and 3 OAA.
His next step will be to increase his walk rate, but make no mistake: Ryan McMahon has been balling, ladies and gentleman. He’s arguably been the Rockies best all-around player through the first month of the season and his team-high 0.6 fWAR shows that.
Only time will tell if he’ll fall back to last year’s tendencies or if this is the real RyMac.
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Sick of McMahon yet? Well, here’s more. Patrick Saunders dives deep into McMahon’s upbringing at Mater Dei High School. As we’ve heard often, McMahon was a starting high school quarterback. What we didn’t know was that McMahon played football with a broken wrist for six weeks.
If you missed it last Saturday, Bud Black mentioned that he and the staff have had conversations about moving Blackmon down in the lineup. The slumping 34-year-old is slashing .153/.275/.271 in the clean up spot.
Lone left-hander Ben Bowden has had a lot on plate early on as a rookie. He’s only thrown six innings but has already squared off against the likes of Cody Bellinger and Bryce Harper. He and Bud Black share what they’ve taken away from the rookie’s first month. Also included in the story are notes from the alternate site. Black addresses Connor Joe, Ryan Vilade, Colton Welker, Ryan Rolison, Lucas Gilbreath and Justin Lawrence as standouts.
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