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Elias Díaz has given us reason to believe moving forward

Rockies news and links for Saturday, June 31, 2021

It’s hard to find a major league hitter who was off to a worse start of the season at the plate than Elias Díaz. Through April and May, Díaz had a .125/.193/.188 slash line and a -7(!) wRC+. He appeared lost at the plate and serious rumblings were felt not only about who should get more playing time between him and Dom Nuñez, but about how much jeopardy Díaz’s spot on the roster was in.

Since then, Díaz has popped off and been one of the best catchers offensively in all of baseball. Over 131 plate appearances from June 1st to July 31st, Díaz put together a .271/.344/.568 slash line which was good for a 127 wRC+. That ranked in the top ten among all catchers during that span (minimum 100 PA) and his ten homers in that time were tied for third best in that class.

The underlying statistics also support the quality of Díaz’s production. His BABIP was a modest .237 in that stretch and he had an ISO of .297, showing he was frequently driving the baseball and not just being the beneficiary of batted-ball luck. This resulted in a wOBA of .385 for Díaz, fifth best among catchers during that period.

The difference between Díaz’ last two months compared to his first two has been night-and-day. But how? Well, his ability to cut down on strikeouts appears to be at the root of the change. During his struggles in the first two months of the season, Díaz had a strikeout rate of 26.1%, not egregious but also above the league average of 23.6%. In his next two months, Díaz cut that down all the way to 11.5%, the best rate among all catchers in that span.

An adjustment made by Díaz on breaking pitches seems to be the most obvious answer for the near 15% drop in that category. In April and May, Díaz was swinging at around half of all breaking pitches outside of the zone. He cut that down by over half in June, chasing those pitches only 23.1% of the time. That rate increased a bit in July to 32.3%, but still sat well below his previous standards.

This newfound selectiveness paid off when pitchers challenged him with breaking balls in the zone, too. During the first two months of the season, Díaz’s hard hit percentage (95 mph or harder off the bat) sat around 30%-35% breaking balls. In June, that rate jumped to 50% and in July he maintained that increase from his previous standards at 41.2%.

All of this culminated in Díaz not only being one the best offensive catchers in baseball for the past two months, but also putting together one of the best offensive stretches by a Rockies catcher in the past 15 years.

Rockies catcher production since 2006 (~130 PA)

Name Dates Slash BB% K% HR wOBA wRC+
Name Dates Slash BB% K% HR wOBA wRC+
Miguel Olivo 5/22/10-7/11/10 .370/.411/.571 6.2% 26.2% 3 0.422 150
Chris Ianetta 6/3/08-7/27/08 .290/.415/.551 13.80% 25.4% 7 0.420 148
Yorvit Torealba 6/6/07-8/1/07 .356/.415/.551 7.7% 10.8% 5 0.420 145
Wilin Rosario 7/25/13-9/6/13 .336/.341/.565 0.8% 24.2% 8 0.392 135
Elias Díaz 6/1/21-7/31/21 .274/.346/.573 9.90% 11.5% 10 0.385 127
Nick Hundley 7/1/15-8/22/15 .315/.346/.508 4.6% 16.2% 3 0.365 117

The offensive output has been real, and historic for the franchise, but it is also worth noting that Díaz’s ability as a defensive catcher has stayed formidable. His pop-time sits around the top five of all catchers to both second and third base and he averages 86.1 mph on his throws to the bag, which is the second best in all of baseball. His framing metrics sit around league average as well, with a strike rate of 46.2% on borderline pitches compared to the league average of 47.7%. A fine defensive profile that earned Díaz a starting role in the first place.

But now that defensive profile is producing offensively as well, and it’s no secret that finding consistent offensive production at the catching position has long been an issue for the Colorado Rockies. However, if Elias Díaz can continue to be more like the hitter he has been since the start of June, that could be one less problem the organization has to face heading into 2022.

★ ★ ★

Elias Díaz’s power surge, improvements behind the plate has Rockies encouraged | The Denver Post ($)

Patrick Saunders provides his coverage of Díaz’s recent success. On top of the offensive turn around, Saunders talks with Rockies’ manager Bud Black on the improvements Díaz has made behind the plate and in developing a relationship with the pitching staff.

“There is a comfort level with the pitchers,” Black said. “Elias is taking the pre-game scouting report into the game and then making adjustments as the game goes on. He’s making adjustments on the fly, based on the (pitcher’s) stuff and command, on each and every pitch. That has stood out to me.”

Deadline in rearview, relaxed Story rakes 2 |

It’s been an emotional period for Trevor Story since the trade deadline came and went. After not being moved from Colorado as expected, Story took a game off in San Diego to “reset” and it has paid off. He is 7-19 with two homers and three doubles since his day off, with both bombs coming at Coors on Thursday. The future is still uncertain for Story past this season, but for now he is enjoying being back in rhythm with the only pro organization he’s ever know.

“I think I’m in that mode,” Story said. “It’s a lot easier to do it now that those things have passed. That’s what it’s all about for me, playing this game because I enjoy it. That’s when I’m at my best.”

On the farm

Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes 3, Oklahoma City Dodgers 2

At Kindness Night at the Lab in Albuquerque, Ryan Vilade continued to stay hot, going 2-for-4 with an RBI, and Brian Serven was 2-for-3. The Isotopes scored all of their runs early in the ballgame, with one in the first and two in the third. Starting pitcher Derek Rodriguez had a strong five inning outing, earning his third win of the season on a one run, two hit performance. Rodriguez struck out seven batters and walked three. Zac Rosscup earned his fifth save for the Isotopes this season.

Double-A: New Hampshire Fisher Cats 8, Hartford Yard Goats 5

Despite Elehuris Montero and Jose Gomez doing their best to power the Yard Goat’s offense, it wasn’t enough for the win. Montero went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a home run, while Gomez was 3-for-4 with two RBIs and a home run. Starting pitcher Karl Kauffmann had another difficult outing, lasting just 3 13 innings and giving up four runs on seven hits and three walks. His relief in Matt Dennis didn’t fare much better, going three innings while allowing three runs on four hits. Michael Toglia and Willie MacIver were both hitless.

High-A: Spokane Indians 8, Everett AquaSox 3

Offensively this was the game of the night. The Indians struck early and struck hard by putting up nine runs in the first three innings, including a three run first inning and five run third. Starting shortstop Jack Blomgren went 3-for-3 with two RBIs and scored three times himself. Niko Decolati and Aaron Schunk both had two hits, as did their teammate Isaac Collins, who plated three RBIs. Indians starter Helcris Olivarez struggled with command, lasting just 3 23 innings and giving up three runs on two hits while walking five. Strong bullpen work from Boby Johnson, Alex Moore, and Fineas Del Bonta-Smith kept the Indians out in front with eight combined strikeouts over 5 13 innings of shutout pitching.

Low-A: San Jose Giants 6, Fresno Grizzlies 5

Zac Veen and Drew Romo continue to impress, posting 2-for-5 and 2-for-4 days at the plate respectively. Romo also had two RBIs on the night and a walk. Although the Grizzlies came up short, Blake Goldsberry pitched an excellent four shoutout innings with four strikeouts and just one hit during his second start of the season. The Grizzlies maintained a healthy lead until reliever Robinson Hernandez threw his first real clunker of the season. In the ninth inning Hernandez gave up five runs (four earned) on four hits including two home runs. A fielding error from second baseman Mateo Gil kicked off what would be an ugly final inning. The bats fell silent in the bottom of the ninth and went down in order to cement the Giants’ comeback victory.

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