The San Diego Padres offense is off to a slow start, but could they have more success relying less on the long ball? For Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer, that just might work.
Hit the ball hard, and you will find success. Pretty simple concept, right? It is, and the numbers largely back it up. In 2021, the top 10 players in exit velocity averaged a 141 wRC+ (wRC+ is a weighted stat that measures a player’s performance, and 100 represents the average MLB batter). In other words, good players hit the ball hard.
Machado, in his Padres tenure, has built a reputation for consistently mashing the ball. He even contributed to the stat above, owning the 9th highest average exit velocity and a 122 wRC+ in 2021. It’s no surprise that he is once again one of the best hitters in the MLB.
Hosmer, on the other hand, famously has a launch angle problem. He hits the ball very hard, owning a 90.2 MPH career average exit velocity. He just hits the ball into the ground, which mitigates all that power.
Both these players have done something shocking. They have dropped their average exit velocities and seen a massive improvement. We are not talking about a slight decrease. Hosmer’s exit velocity has dropped 3.1 MPH from last season to a career-low of 87.4. Machado’s dropped 4.1 MPH from last season to a career-low of 89 MPH.
On the season, Machado owns a 196 wRC+, and Hosmer has a 172 wRC+. That’s good enough for 12th and 28th in the MLB, respectively. So despite the decreases in exit velocity, both are off to incredibly hot starts.
Why is this happening?
It might come down to the old adage of “hit it where they ain’t.” Something Padre fans know very well after watching Tony Gwynn.
In today’s age, the shift is part of the game. Aligning your defense is now a science that varies based on the batter. That plan comes from collecting batted ball data from every at-bat in a player’s career.
Both Machado and Hosmer are pulling the baseball more than ever. This season Machado has a 50% pull rate. Up dramatically from a career pull rate of 37.1%. Hosmer is on the same boat, increasing his pull rate from a career average of 30.4% to 41% this year.
This change has obviously fooled opposing defenses. Hosmer and Machado have the 2nd and 15th highest BAPIPs in the MLB, respectively. BAPIP stands for batting average on balls in play, boiling down to are you “hitting it where they ain’t”?
Another theory to their success? Both players are doing great against breaking balls.
Compared to fastballs or off-speed pitches. Over his career, he owns a .260 xwOBA against breaking balls (wOBA is similar to OPS but weights each result on the current run expectancy based on that result). This season Hosmer has a whopping .522 xwOBA.
While Machado hasn’t struggled against breaking pitches, he is hitting them better than ever. He owns a career .298 xwOBA against breaking balls compared to a .389 xwOBA this season.
This new success against breaking balls in part explains the dip in exit velocity. They are hitting more breaking balls than ever. Naturally, the exit velocity on these hits is typically lower than hits off a fastball. Their exit velocities are being pushed down by more hits against slower pitches.
So, are we witnessing the two biggest free-agent signings in franchise history step up their game in the middle of their contracts? Yes and no.
For Eric Hosmer, these changes can be more impactful than Manny Machado’s. In Hosmer’s career, his launch angle has been tied to his pull rate. His next two highest pull rate seasons occurred in 2020 and 2016. Both seasons saw an increase in launch angle and better barrel percentages and expected statistics.
Padres fans maybe ask Hosmer to pull the ball more instead of increasing his launch angle? Food for thought.
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Manny Machado’s changes are a bit more concerning. He is barreling balls at a career-low, his launch angle has tanked, and he is finding the sweet spot only 25% of the time compared to a career average of 32.3%. He has also seen his strikeout percentage above 20% for the first time in his career.
Both these players will come back to Earth as the season progresses. I have greater reason to believe that Hosmer’s changes will last. Changes to other aspects of his hitting can cover for lack of exit velocity.
On the other hand, I would consider Machado to simply be lucky this season. A snapshot of his current baseball savant rankings shows he is closer to his 2019 season than his excellent 2020 and 2021 seasons.
Evan is a student finishing up a degree in Finance from Northern Arizona University. The ability to break down numbers and find the story behind them has lead to his first of writing for East Village times. He covers baseball which is the sport he grew up playing and has followed even after his playing years.