Where Is Gyorko’s Power?

One of the most popular sleeper picks this spring was San Diego’s Jedd Gyorko. A third baseman by trade, he’s expected to be the Padres’ primary second baseman once Chase Headley returns from the disabled list, so the positional flexibility will benefit fantasy owners.

The primary reason owners have been drawn to Gyorko is his potential to offer plus-power at the second base position. He launched 30 home runs last season between Double-A and Triple-A, culminating in an impressive .413 wOBA with 24 home runs in 92 Triple-A games. Gyorko backed it up with four long balls this spring and the bandwagon had little room room for additional passengers. It was already filled to the brim.

Early this season, however, the 24-year-old rookie has gotten off to a bit of a slow start. He’s hitting .244/.347/.317 in 49 plate appearances, and while his 14.3% walk rate provides value in OBP leagues, his much-hyped power potential has been notably absent. He currently has an .073 ISO and hasn’t hit a home run on the season.

Of course, it’s been two weeks. This isn’t an article that seeks to argue Gyorko will not hit for power in 2013 or even that he’ll turn it around and mash for the final five months. Instead, I wanted to point out an interesting bit of data for why Gyorko might not be hitting for power thus far.

Among all qualified hitters in Major League Baseball this season, only four players have seen fewer fastballs at the plate than Jedd Gyorko:

Player FB%
Pedro Alvarez 35.4%
Josh Hamilton 41.8%
Wilin Rosario 41.9%
Mark Reynolds 42.7%
Jedd Gyorko 43.4%

The league-average fastball percentage for hitters is currently 58.3%, so Gyorko is seeing a much higher diet of offspeed pitches than the average hitter. Again, this isn’t necessarily the reason Gyorko hasn’t hit for much power thus far — because Wilin Rosario and Mark Reynolds have seen fewer fastballs and have already combined for nine home runs this season.

For a young hitter seeing big-league pitching for the first time, though, the paucity of fastballs is likely a contributing factor to his power outage. His 13.2% swinging-strike rate suggests he’s having trouble making consistent contact, too, especially considering his O-Swing% and Zone% numbers are roughly league-average.

Thus, he’s not chasing an inordinate number of pitches out of the zone. He’s shown solid discipline at the plate — as he had throughout his minor-league career — but he still hasn’t made consistent contact over the first two weeks of the season. Furthering that point, his 71.0% Contact% is well below-average, just like his swinging-strike rate, as discussed earlier.

Gyorko remains an intriguing play at second base throughout the season because he’s a high-upside option. ZiPS still sees him hitting 14 home runs in close to 600 plate appearances, and it’s difficult to ignore the .260 ISO he posted in Triple-A just a season ago. The early data suggests, however, he’s struggling to adjust to big-league pitching, as opposing teams have been featuring a heavy dose of offspeed stuff to him, and he’s having trouble making consistent, solid contact.

To get the level of power many expected of him prior to the season, Gyorko will either have to take advantage of those rare fastballs he sees, or he’ll have to learn to prey on the mistake offspeed pitches he will inevitably encounter at the plate. And owners relying on Gyorko as a primary option on their roster need to hope the power comes. A light-hitting second baseman with a high on-base percentage and few stolen bases isn’t very valuable in most fantasy formats.

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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).

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Nice piece. I’m a Gyorko owner in a lot of OBP leagues, and I wasn’t expecting much power from him. I expected 10-15(still am) but the 30 homers in the minors were deceptive. I think he’s going to finish the season as a top 10 producer at 2B in Points/linear weights leagues because he’ll get on base often. He’s a nice 2B to own for cheap in those leagues.