How does hitting .331 with a .390 on-base-percentage sound? Awesome, right? That’s been Yonathan Daza’s world this season. In his 12th season in the Rockies organization, the 28-year-old centerfielder is having the best season of his pro career, with his .331 AVG and his .390 OBP both ranking in the top 12 among batters with at least 130 plate appearances. How is he doing it? Is it sustainable? Is he a regular now? Those are the questions we’re going try to attempt to give an answer to.
Liners, Liners, Liners
Yonathan Daza is hitting the ball phenomenally well right now, although not in the way one might think. We typically associate that with hitting the cover off the ball, and Daza is really not doing that: his average exit velo this season is a paltry 85.5 MPH, way lower than MLB average, and his Hard Hit rate (balls hit 95+ MPH) of 23.5% is actually one of the lowest in the Majors among qualified batters. So how do you manage to hit .331? Line drives, of course. Daza has been tremendous this season at hitting the ball on a line. By Fangraphs’ batted ball metrics, his line drive rate is well above 26%, one of the highest in the big leagues and right around guys like Luis Arráez, Freddie Freeman and Michael Brantley, three of the most premium batting average champs in the game today. This brings up the age-old question, however: “is this all just BABIP-driven?”. Well, yes... but also no. Let’s see why.
BABIP is a Skill
It’s common for statistically inclined fans to see a player on a hot streak that features a high BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) and dismiss it as just “luck”. And while that is true to a certain extent, BABIP is not just luck. BABIP has a lot to do with not only skill, but also with a hitter’s profile. The way a player swings, his batted ball profile, how often he strikes out, the quality of the contact he makes... all those things, among others, play a large part in determining a player’s BABIP skill. So what makes for a good or a bad BABIP hitter?
- Hit line drives!
The line drive is the absolute best type of batted ball for a high average. Groundballs are often outs, and flyballs that aren’t home runs are outs even more often that grounders. Line drives generate extremely high batting averages, as we all know. This means that if you’re a very extreme flyball hitter (think Joey Gallo or José Ramírez), you’re not going to run high BABIP numbers, because a lot of the balls you put in play are flyballs, which rarely land for hits that aren’t homers. The more line drives you hit, the higher your BABIP is going to be. As we’ve seen, Daza is absolutely hitting line drives. One checkmark for the Venezuelan.
- Don’t pop it up!
There is no more useless batted ball than the pop up, especially the infield variety. They are just about never going to fall, and even if they do, it’ll sometimes be because of errors or poor reads. Pop ups are BABIP killers, and another reason why flyball hitters (who tend to pop it up a lot) almost never run elite BABIP numbers. Too many of those balls in play are headed straight up. Is Daza not popping the ball up? Yup! He is, according to Savant, one of only 7 hitters (min. 100 PA) who’s yet to hit a pop up this season. Combine that with a ton of liners, and you start to see how Daza has a .374 BABIP so far.
- Hit to all fields!
You know what kills BABIP on groundballs? The shift does; it’s no accident that MLB-wide BABIP has fallen below .290 for the first time since the early 90’s this season after a years-long downturn starting in the mid 2010’s. The shift plays a big part in that, but teams don’t shift against Yonathan Daza. Why? Well, because he hits the ball equally often to all fields. Daza has been shifted on less than 2% of his MLB at-bats, and it’s for a good reason. For his career, he’s pulled 30.4% of balls, hit 38.1% up the middle and 31.5% the other way. Do that, and there’s no use shifting heavily, if at all.
- Put the ball in play!
Self explanatory, really. If you walk a lot on top of K’ing and homering a bunch, you’re not putting the ball in play very often, so your realistic chances of hitting for a high BABIP are slim. Of Daza’s 136 PAs this season, only 29 have ended without a ball in play. He’s walked 10 times, K’d just 16 times and been hit by three pitches. The rest of the time, that baseball is being put into play. Give yourself enough chances, and if you do the other stuff well, you may be rewarded.
- Be fast!
And the final main component of BABIP: speed. Just beating out a couple of infield hits here and there can have a significant impact on your BABIP. Some of the best BABIP numbers over the past few years belong to guys like Trea Turner and Tim Anderson for a reason, after all. Is Daza fast? Absolutely! His sprint speed has never been below the 80th percentile, and his average time from home to first is around 4.3 seconds. That’s going to steal you a couple of knocks with some well-placed groundballs.
Put all those together, and Daza becomes a BABIP king: his .374 BABIP so far is one of the highest in baseball, but also not crazy high: J.D. Martínez has a .465 BABIP to lead the Majors, and there are quite a few guys (at least 15 or so) who rank higher than the Rockies centerfielder. Daza’s BABIP so far is earned, of course: his expected batting average according to Baseball Savant’s metrics is .335, third highest among qualified hitters and right in line with his actual batting average of .331. And, for what it’s worth, his expected slugging percentage of .450 is way better than his actual slugging percentage of .379. The Venezuelan is making a ton of sweet spot contact (40.8%, just as much as Corey Seager, for example), and that’s going to lead you to some high averages.
But is he doing something differently?
The One Change I’ve Spotted
There are some minor changes I’ve seen, such as Daza performing much better this season against curveballs and changeups in particular after really struggling with them last year, but the one thing that jumps out at me is the following. This is Yonathan Daza’s strikeout rate and whiff rate based on area of the zone the pitch was at last year...
... and this is the same, but for this season:
You see it? He’s swinging and missing far less often at pitches in the zone up and away from him, and also hitting them much harder: his average exit velo on those is in the mid 90’s this season, up from the high 80s last year. It also appears that this has made him ever so slightly more vulnerable against pitches up and in, and I assume that’s where the adjustment will be for pitchers.
Daza will have to respond to it, but he’s already adjusted once and his hand-eye coordination is going to play. As a player without any relevant power to speak of, he walks a tightrope, but he’s currently walking it extremely well and many of the components needed to maintain the Houdini act of being a good hitter without power are in his favor. He was perhaps the least talked about Rockies outfielder coming into the season, and there was talk of him getting DFA’d prior to the start of the 2022 campaign, but Yonathan Daza has been the best Rockies outfielder this year. Here’s to hoping that he can continue to slash and line his way to a productive big league career.
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It’s no secret that the Rockies have been horrific this year at infield defense, something that’s usually a big strength for them. Brendan Rodgers is doing different drills in an effort to fix his issues.
Somewhere around 2017, the frequency of high fastballs started taking off, and pitchers have never looked back. Up in the zone is where the swings and misses are, of course. But this season, finally, hitters are whiffing less at the high heater.
On The Farm
A 3-for-4, two homer, three RBI night from Coco Montes helped carry the Isotopes to their 25th win of the season, putting them at 25-30 after a game that was more or less over after the third inning (the ‘Topes lead 8-0 after three). Albuquerque smashed seven extra-base hits in the ballgame, and it was a big night for the lineup as a whole. Montes, Dom Núñez (3-for-4 with a double, a homer and two RBI) and Sean Bouchard (3-for-5 with a triple and three RBI) were the headliners of a unit that put together twelve hits and five walks and left just six men on base. Starter Dillon Overton wasn’t great (4.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 HR) wasn’t great, but the bullpen was, kind of, allowing just one run in the final five frames despite walking six batters and striking out only two as a unit. Righty Brandon Gold (3-1, 4.25 ERA) will take the ball today for an Isotopes squad that’s won four of their last five.
Make it four wins in a row for the 33-19 Yard Goats, who rallied with a three-run sixth inning to take the first of six from the Sea Dogs. Hartford hit for the cycle in the first four batters of the frame, as Isaac Collins homered, Daniel Montano doubled, Ezequiel Tovar laid down a bunt single (after hitting a two-run homer, his 12th of the season, earlier in the game) and Jimmy Herron drove in both Montano and Tovar with a two-run triple, all before an out was recorded. That gave the team the lead for good, and the Yard Goats bullpen didn’t let it go to waste. After starter Michael Baird (4.0 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 2 K, 0 HR) danced his way through four frames without a ton of damage, the bullpen allowed just one run on two hits across the rest of the game. Special mention to Trent Fennell, who relieved Baird in the fifth and tossed three hitless and scoreless innings, with four strikeouts as the cherry on top. Hartford will send lefty Nick Bush (4-3, 3.93 ERA) to the hill today, looking to extend the winning streak to five games.
Not a pretty game for the now 27-23 Spokane Indians, who were dominated in all areas of play. Starter Mike Ruff (3.0 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 4 BB, 3 K, 2 HR) had his second bad outing in a row, the bats got shut down, managing just five hits, and Julio Carreras had a dismal day, striking out twice and making two separate errors. Only Grant Lavigne (1-for-3 with a walk) and Braiden Ward (2-for-3 with a double) reached base twice, and Ward’s two-bagger was the only extra-base hit of the ballgames for the Indians. Today, they’ll look to bounce back from the defeat with righty Tony Locey (3-1, 3.05 ERA) on the mound.
The 33-19 Grizzlies win in a wild, back-and-forth game that saw two different instances of a team scoring 6+ unanswered runs. Fresno jumped out to a 6-0 lead after a monstrous six-run bottom of the second in which all nine batters came to the plate. The big damage was done by Yanquiel Fernández, who hit a one-out grand slam after two runs had already scored. However, the Rawhide would hit right back with a big inning of their own, putting up five runs on Grizzlies starter Jarrod Cande (5.0 IP, 3 H, 5 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 0 HR) in a frame that saw two walks, an error and every type of hit except a home run. The game remained 6-5 for Fresno until the top of the 7th, when Visalia scored a pair of unearned runs after Warming Bernabel’s second error of the ballgame. The young third baseman would redeem himself in a major way, however, as him and Hunter Goodman hit back-to-back dingers in the bottom of the inning to give Fresno a lead that would hold for good. The Grizzlies will look to take the second game of the series today with young Case Williams (3-1, 3.50 ERA) on the hill. Williams is on a tremendous run; the last time he allowed more than two runs in an outing was April 20th, and he’s pitched 35.2 innings of 2.02 ERA ball in the six starts since.
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