Rowdy Has Had An Excellent 2020 Season At The Plate. Why Is Tellez A Better Hitter This Campaign?
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Rowdy Tellez arrived on the MLB scene in September 2018. In 73 plate appearances, he posted a 0.329 OBP and an eye-popping 151 wRC+. However, his 91 wRC+ and 0.293 OBP in 2019 were disappointing. Before his recent injury, Tellez was enjoying a bounce-back 2020 campaign. This article will highlight the aspects of that improved performance, consider why his posted stats are better, and assess whether he can maintain his excellence in the future.
Unless otherwise indicated, average refers to the performance of the average 2020 MLB first baseman.
The elements of Tellez’s performance to consider are as follows:
- Key hitting metrics
- Batted ball profile
- Expected batting stats organized by pitch type
- Plate discipline
- Results by count (even, ahead, behind, and two strikes)
Key Hitting Metrics
Table 1 summarizes the key metrics from Tellez’s 2020 season. The highpoints are as follows:
- Compared to 2019, Tellez has reduced his K% from 28.4% to 15.8%
- In relative terms, Tellez’s K% is seventh-best among the 40 MLB first basemen (minimum of 100 PAs); he ranked thirty-sixth best of 43 first baseman in 2019 (minimum 300 PAs)
- His BB%-K% (-7.1%), BA (0.283), wOBA (0.369), and wRC+ (135) rank eleventh-best in 2020, which is considerably better than the relevant 2019 mark
Batted Ball Profile
- In terms of GB%, FB%, and LD%, Tellez is MLB-average
- Hernandez’s GB% is almost eleven percentage points lower than that of Tellez
- Tellez’s FB% and LD% is approximately six and eight percentage points lower, respectively than Hernandez’s
- Hernandez’s higher FB% and LD% partially explains why his xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA marks are better than Tellez’s
Expected Batting Stats by Pitch Type
Statcast publishes many expected batting metrics, which are useful to help identify a hitter’s skill. The calculation of these expected stats use exit velocity, launch angle, and sprint speed, which are the factors that a batter can influence.
Table 3 illustrates Tellez’s expected hitting metrics sorted by pitch type. In 2020, the pitch mix for Tellez has been as follows: fastballs – 54.0%; breaking balls – 29%; and off-speed pitches – 16%. Below are the key takeaways.
- In terms of xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA on fastballs, Tellez’s 2020 and 2019 performance levels are also similar to the 2020 average
- On breaking balls, Tellez is much better in 2020 compared to 2019; his xSLG has increased from 0.392 to 0.568
- This mark surpassed the 0.396 average
- Tellez has increased his xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA in 2020 compared to 2019
- Compared to the average, Tellez has produced a higher xBA (0.340 vs 0.271) but a lower xSLG (0.428 vs 0.468)
Ariel Cohen introduced the mPDI concept in 2019. The idea is that a hitter should not swing at pitches out of the strike zone (O-Swings) and only swing at pitches in the zone (Z-Swings). mPDI is a measure of a hitter’s ability to do both.
Table 4 captures the plate discipline record of Tellez.
- Tellez’s plate discipline is slightly better in 2020 than it was in 2019
- However, his mPDI is lower than the median for MLB and that of first basemen
- His O-Swing% is 38.1%, which is higher than the 30.0% median
- Tellez would generate a median mPDI if his O-Swing% were identical to that of the first-basemen median
Results by Count
Table 5 shows Tellez’s expected results when he is either ahead or even in the count. The highlights are as follows:
- When Tellez has an even count, he surpasses the average in terms of xBA (0.376 vs 0.285), xSLG (0.613 vs 0.536), and xwOBA (0.418 vs 0.348)
- If he is ahead in the count, Tellez outclasses his peers when it comes to xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA
For results when behind in the count or with two strikes, Table 6 has the relevant data.
- When behind in the count, Tellez lags the average xBA (0.201 vs 0.212) and xwOBA (0.232 vs 0.247)
- The difference in xSLG is more pronounced: Tellez has produced a 0.317 mark compared to the 0.360 of the average first bagger
- Tellez’s xSLG and xwOBA with two strikes are close but indeed lesser, than the average
- His xBA and xSLG are better than they were in 2019
- The 2020 Tellez has produced a 135 wRC+
- He is better than the median first baseman in BB%-K%, BA, OBP, SLG, wOBA, and wRC+
- His batted-ball profile is league average
- In terms of MLB Statcast percentiles, Tellez is in the Top-25 for exit velocity, Hard Hit%, xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA
- When it comes to pitch types, Tellez’s performance level is average-ish on fastballs and off-speed pitches; he is much better than average on breaking balls
- Plate discipline is an area where Tellez is below-median
- Tellez outperforms when he is ahead or event in the count
- Compared to the average first baseman, he is slightly below-average with two strikes, but Tellez is better than the average MLB player in xBA and xSLG
Why is Tellez Better in 2020?
There are four main reasons why Tellez is a better hitter in 2020 than he was in 2019. Those reasons are as follows:
An Aggressive Approach
Chart 1 and Chart 2 depict Tellez’s progress in terms of swing percentages on pitches in each of the sections within the strike zone. Chart 3 shows the 2020 xBA for Tellez for each segment of the strike zone. Compared to 2019, Tellez’s 2020 swing rate on pitches in many sections of the strike zone that are favourable to the hitter has increased. This more aggressive approach has rewarded Tellez with a higher xBA in 2020 compared to 2019. Note that the 2020 and 2019 distribution of pitches within the strike zone is similar.
Tellez has increased his Z-Swing% from 2019’s mark of 64.9% to 67.4%; his 2020 Z-Contact% is 87.4%, a notable improvement from 2019’s 81.1%. In other words, compared to last season, the 2020 Tellez swings at more pitches in the strike zone and is making more contact on those swings.
While the publicly-available data cannot directly prove that Tellez has better pitch recognition in 2020 compared to 2019, some data points are consistent with that view. First, the previously-noted improvements in xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA on breaking and off-speed pitches may be a sign of better pitch recognition. Second, his Whiff% on fastballs has declined from his 2018-2019 mark of 29.9% to 18.4%. Tellez’s Whiff% on breaking pitches remains league average; his Whiff% on off-speed pitches continues to be below-average. Third, Tellez’s Putaway% (the rate of two-strike pitches that result in a strikeout) has declined for all three pitch types. The improved expected metrics, Whiff% and Putaway%, is consistent with the view that Tellez has better pitch recognition in 2020 compared to 2019.
Tellez has reduced his K% from 2019’s 28.4% to 15.8%. There are two noteworthy aspects of this improvement. First, Tellez’s strikeout-looking rate has declined modestly in 2020 from 6.6% to 5.5%. More importantly, his strikeout-swinging rate was 21.8% in 2019 and is 10.3% this season. Second, as Table 6 illustrated, Tellez’s xBA with two strikes is superior to the average first baseman. However, his xSLG rate lags the average. It is reasonable to conclude that the 2020 Tellez is more focused on making contact with two strikes than he is in hitting for power. Accordingly, Tellez has demonstrated a better two-strike approach in 2020 than he did in 2019.
It is challenging to assess the impact of coaching on a player’s performance. However, Dante Bichette and Guillermo Martinez have received much credit for the improved performance of many Blue Jays hitters, particularly Hernandez and Randal Grichuk. Bichette has received praise for his emphasis on the mental aspects of hitting, including having a sound two-strike approach. As previously noted, Tellez has displayed a better two-strike approach this season. Martinez has garnered plaudits for stressing the need for hitters to have different swing planes for different pitch types and pitch locations. Fittingly, Tellez’s better Contact% on pitches in the strike zone may be due in part to Martinez’s instruction.
Can Tellez Continue to Excel?
Tellez only has 127 plate appearances so far in 2020; this is a small sample size. With that caveat, the indications that he can continue to perform well in the batter’s box are as follows:
- His expected metrics, which are a good predictor of future performance, are very good
- He has not been the beneficiary of good luck or poor opposition defence, as evidenced by the middle-of-the-pack difference between his actual batting metrics and the expected stats
- Furthermore, Tellez’s 2020 BABIP is 0.276, which is similar to 2019’s 0.267; accordingly, his success this season is not BABIP-fueled
- His overall aggressive approach, pitch recognition skills, and his two-strike attitude should continue to work in Tellez’s favour
- The magic wands of Bichette and Martinez will be at-the-ready
The Last Word
Tellez struggled during the 2019 season. Before his recent injury, Tellez performed much better in 2020. His expected batting metrics, an improved batting approach, better pitch recognition, and the possible benefits from coaching have all contributed to a successful 2020 for Tellez. The indications are that he should continue to hit well for the duration of the 2020 campaign and beyond.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Bob was a St. Louis Cardinals fan until the Blue Jays arrived on the baseball scene, although he still has a soft spot for the Cards. Similar to straddling the Greenwich Meridian, as depicted in the avatar, Bob applies sabermetrics when applicable, but his heart tells him that Lou Brock belongs in the Hall of Fame.