The resurgence of Padres’ outfielder Tommy Pham: A victory for the stats nerds

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Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The resurgence of Tommy Pham is big for the San Diego Padres. It took some time, but Pham is showing his capabilities now. 

Tommy Pham endured an injury-riddled and somewhat underwhelming first season with the San Diego Padres, hitting a career-worst .211.

However, he missed half a season with a broken hamate bone, which made a big difference in the 60-game schedule.

Unfortunately for Pham and the Padres, his fortunes worsened in 2021, and he suffered a dreadful start to the season, hitting just .179 and slugging a dismal .194 in April. Pham quickly found himself upstaged by Jake Cronenworth, who was acquired with Pham from Tampa Bay before the 2020 season. Pham was also in danger of losing his everyday spot in left field to Jurickson Profar

The Padres lost MLB Gold Glove-winning center fielder Trent Grisham to a heel injury for three weeks, which thrust Pham back into the outfield every day when Profar shifted over to center. Pham was very unlucky in April, having a .231 BABIP, and his luck finally began to shift. He recorded a .317 BABIP in May, which is about where it had been for his entire career. In addition, the plate discipline improved, walking nearly as much as he struck out, which pushed his OBP up to .383 for the month. His power managed to improve also, going from just a single extra-base hit in April to having six in May, including three long balls. While Grisham returned in June, a slump from Profar and Pham’s improvements meant he retained the everyday spot in left.

June has been by far Pham’s best month in 2021, and he’s seen his fortunes completely shift again, getting an absolutely ridiculous .439 BABIP, which is sixth-best in baseball since June 1.

In addition, he’s nearly earned an OPS of over 1.000, is getting on base 43% of the time. He also has seven doubles in just 23 games.

His ten extra-base hits in June is more than he got in April and May combined. While many Padres slumped in the 4-12 game stretch that started off June, Pham got hot and again found himself in the leadoff spot where he began the season. 

As a whole, Pham is doing a lot of things very well. He’s seventh in terms of WAR for the Padres and has a 121 OPS+, which puts him only three points behind Manny Machado.  Pham also has the highest OBP on the entire team, and his walk rate is the highest it has ever been. His line-drive rate is also the best it’s been since 2018.

Pham has also dropped his ground ball rate to the lowest since 2016, and that was an injury-shortened campaign. Line drives are the best for BABIP, while ground balls are the worst, which helps explain his BABIP luck this season. 

However, there are still some issues for Pham. He’s still striking out about 23% of the time, and his home run rate is the worst that it’s ever been. Pham’s average exit velocity is the second-worst that it’s been for his career. Fly balls are not a lot more likely to drop in than ground balls, and he’s hitting fly balls more than 3.5% more than ever before. His isolated power is just .141, which is far worse than both league and his career average. 

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Overall, Pham has seen the two extremes of the role that luck plays in baseball. His May numbers are probably the most realistic in terms of what can be expected out of Pham for the rest of the season.

Over the three-season stretch, before Pham joined the Padres, he recorded 13.6 WAR, and while his average in 2021 is slightly lower than during that three-year stretch, his on-base percentage is higher than in any of those three years. Tommy Pham looks like he may finally be turning into the player that the Padres thought they would be getting when they traded with the Rays.

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