White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo may have started living up to the hype. Viciedo was signed out of Cuba in 2008 as a power-hitting outfielder. While the pop has shown up in spaces, Viciedo’s poor plate discipline and low batting averages limited his upside. Even entering 2014, it appeared Viciedo would platoon to open the season. An injury to Avisail Garcia opened the door, and Viciedo has responded with his finest performance since his rookie call-up.
On the surface, it’s easy to write off Viciedo’s recent surge as small sample size luck. While his 6.6% walk rate is a step forward, Viciedo’s strikeout rate is headed towards his career norm. A strong April made it seem as though Viciedo would strike out less, but he’s seen his rate jump to 24.1% in May, erasing those gains. On top of all of that, his .327 BABIP screams regression.
Despite all that, he’s showing some signs of a breakout, mainly in his batted ball data. Known for his willingness to hack at the plate, Viciedo is currently posting the lowest O-Swing% of his career. After posting close to 39% in the category the last two years, Viciedo has swung at 30.3% of pitches outside the zone according to the PITCHf/x plate discipline figures. That’s just barely above the league average. He’s been more selective with his swings overall, as his Z-Swing% is also down slightly. Overall, he’s still swinging more often that most players, but he’s been able to reign himself in a little more in 2014.
The encouraging part of this new approach is that Viciedo has seen his Z-Contact rate surge above the league-average for the first time in his career. He’s finally making contact with pitches thrown inside the strike-zone at an above average rate. While Viciedo has typically been the type of hitter who will post solid contact rates on pitches outside the strike zone, those figures have gone in the other direction in 2014. Viciedo’s O-Contact% has taken a big tumble, falling to a career-low 49.2%. That’s the fourth lowest figure in the league among players with at least 200 plate appearances. He’s not chasing as many pitches outside the strike zone this year, but he’s also not making contact with them when he does choose to swing.
The altered approach has helped Viciedo cut his swinging strike rate from 12.5% to 11.2% this year. While that improvement hasn’t necessarily shown up in his strikeout rate yet, it could be a sign that he’s made some progress in that area.
Overall, though, the changes in approach won’t lead to significantly better numbers for Viciedo. Improvements have been made, yes, but it’s unclear whether he’s capable of keeping his average above .270. And while the new contact rates have been nice, it’s tough to look at his .327 BABIP and expect more of the same. Even if he doesn’t see any major gains in his stats, it’s does appear Viciedo is finally making strides at the plate. He’s no longer as free a swinger, and is starting to make better contact with pitches he can handle. In his fifth season with the White Sox, Viciedo was still a bit of an unknown commodity. For the first time in his career, he’s showing that he might be able to make adjustments at the big league level.
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