A poor base-runner and fielder who strikes out a lot and also doesn’t walk much needs to have a batting average like Tony Gwynn — or otherwise hit for a ton of power — to be a worthwhile player. This is the plight of Yasmany Tomas. He doesn’t run well and plays poor defense at one of the less challenging positions. He strikes out in a quarter of his plate appearances while walking just once every 20 times up. Expecting a Tony Gwynn batting average is impossible, and, up until a few weeks ago, Tomas wasn’t bringing much power either. The entire package rendered him a replacement-level player at best.
With eight home runs in the last ten games, however — and 12 in the last 19 games — Tomas is providing a glimmer of hope that he will not be a $68.5-million bust since signing with Arizona Diamondbacks before last season.
In 2015, Tomas parlayed an elevated .354 BABIP into just a .273 average, due largely to the strikeouts. The lack of walks led to an on-base percentage of only .305 on the season. He didn’t bring much power either, recording only nine home runs and a .128 ISO. The final product: an 88 wRC+ and -1.3 (that’s negative 1.3) WAR. Tomas got off to a good early start last season by taking the ball the other way. Of course, doing so muted his best tool, which was — and remains — his raw power. Out of the 211 hitters last season who recorded at least 400 plate appearances, Tomas’ 31.7% pull rate was 192nd, just ahead of Alcides Escobar. Outside of great all-around hitters like Ryan Braun and Paul Goldschmidt, the hitters around that range consist mostly of speedy, slap-happy type hitters. Not the type of company Tomas would want to keep, in other words.
Compounding Tomas’ pull problems last season was his inability to get the ball in the air. Tomas’ 54.9% ground-ball rate was 12th highest in MLB last season, and his 23.2% fly-ball rate was 15th lowest. Again, those numbers are more common among slap hitters who lack Tomas’ raw power. His problems last season were evident in his spray chart, seen below.
Note, on the pull side, how there’s roughly one black dot (home run) for every two blue dots (fly balls in the outfield). If he could pull the ball in the air, there was a decent chance — again, with his raw power — that Tomas would be able to hit it out. But the changes were few and far between. Tomas recorded a total of 297 batted balls last season but pulled just 94 of them (31.6%). Of those, only 17 (18.1%) were fly balls. Twenty-four percent of his pulled fly balls left the park, but because he gave himself so few opportunities, his power numbers were weak.
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