Jays From the Couch look sat the numbers and the Toronto Blue Jays may be the recipients of a better Aledmys Diaz
When Aledmys Diaz was acquired, Blue Jays fans all had a similar question on their minds: was the team getting 2016 Diaz (an All Star), 2017 Diaz (two months in AAA) or some version in between? Nearing the halfway mark of the 2018 season, the question essentially remains unanswered.
There are a number of stats one could point to which suggest that little has changed for Diaz from his disappointing 2017 season. His triple slash numbers are the same or worse than 2017 and no match for his 2016 totals. He’s striking out and walking at about the same rates as 2017, both worse marks than in 2016. While his power is up from last year, it’s well below 2016. Overall, his production (in terms of wRC+) is about the same as last season and much worse than 2016.
There’s a hint in the data above as to where I’m going with this post—Diaz’s 2018 BABIP is unsustainably low. Among 309 batters with 100+ PA this season, Diaz’s BABIP ranks 279th. Here’s the thing, Diaz’s xBABIP (derived from Statcast data the exit velocity-launch angle combos he has generated) is comfortably better than ever. While Diaz’s BABIP ran ahead of his xBABIP in his first two big league seasons (implying that he was benefiting from batted ball luck), his BABIP is lagging well behind his xBABIP this season (implying bad batted ball luck). In fact, he has posted the 19th highest xBABIP-BABIP so far in 2018.
A similar story is evident for pretty much all of his x-stats. His expected batting average (xBA) is currently a career-high mark, ranking 118th in the majors and 11th among shortstops. While his OBP is currently 96 points worse than it was in 2016, his xOBP is only 14 points worse—his improved xBA didn’t completely make up for his decreased walk rate.
There’s been a clear jump in his ability to generate extra base hit-inducing contact, with his xSLG and xISO both comfortably at career highs and among the top third of batters league-wide—he ranks 114th in the majors in xSLG and 8th among his fellow shortstops. When we bring together his ability to get walks, avoid strikeouts and generate effective contact, it’s clear that Diaz is fundamentally having a career year at the plate—his .338 xwOBA is a career-high and better than the average shortstop (.330). Again, unfortunately for Diaz, his solid season at the plate appears to have been marred by bad batted ball luck so far—he owns the 35th highest xwOBA-wOBA in the majors.
Diaz’s improvements at the plate are even more evident when we focus on how often he’s generated different types of batted balls. In short, Diaz is generating more barrels, solid contact, flares/burners, hard hit fly balls and hard hit liners than he did in 2016. He’s also generating less weak contact than he did during his All Star season.
Having taken an in-depth look at Diaz’s plate appearances during his big league career, the key differences between 2016 and 2018 are evident. He has essentially traded plate discipline for contact quality. He’s walked in 4.2% fewer PA and struck out in 1.7% more PA, but has generated good contact in 5.6% more PA. Given that his xwOBA is meaningfully higher this season, this has been a good trade off for him. The one caveat is that he was lucky in 2016 and has been unlucky this season, leading to a massive gap in plate outcomes.
This trade off is evident in his more granular plate discipline data. Compared to 2016, Diaz has been a lot more aggressive at the plate, swinging at more pitches (whether inside or outside the strike zone). He’s made contact more often on the swings at outside pitches, but less contact on the swings at strikes. So, while he is whiffing more often, he’s also made more contact than ever at pitches inside and outside the strike zone.
Nearly as big a question mark as his hitting was Diaz’s fielding at shortstop. 32 major leaguers saw 1000+ innings at shortstop over the 2016-17 seasons. Diaz ranked 29th in DRS (-13) and 27th in UZR/150 (-8.0). Fortunately, Diaz’s fielding has been solid, with few misplays of note coming to mind. Plus, he’s producing slightly above-average marks in both advanced fielding stats (a DRS of 1 and a UZR/150 of 0.9).
So, what have the Jays had with Diaz thus far? Well, it depends on how you look at his season. On the one hand, production is what pays the bills. In that regard, Diaz’s below-average hitting (.291 wOBA) and average defence at a premium position have put him on pace to generate only 0.8 fWAR per 600 PA.
On the other hand, accounting for bad luck in the past is relevant when looking ahead to the future. His xwOBA implies that he’s actually been a slightly above-average performer at the plate this season. Even if we only “assign” him an average wOBA mark for the season (.313), his fWAR would jump up to about 0.5 and his full-season pace would increase to 2 fWAR. That is a solid (albeit hypothetical) mark for a player earning $2 million this season who came to Toronto in exchange for a lottery ticket prospect.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.