Never make the first or third out at third base. Starting pitching wins championships. X came to spring training in the best shape of his life. There are certain platitudes which every baseball fan can recite but which may ultimately be closer to vapid than universal truth.
In modernity, one which is particularly popular with increasing shifts and spiking strikeouts is that hitters often fail to “use the whole field” and refuse to “go the other way”.
This is, for some hitters profound advice as those who are without power should not become pull obsessed fanatics. Alas, for many hitters it simply dilutes their ability to create runs.
In discussing Jose Ramirez’ early season struggles Terry Pluto suggested that this wasn’t an aberration:
This is not a slump. This is a hitter who is doing something wrong.
The problem for Ramirez in Pluto’s mind? He won’t stop pulling the baseball.
It’s not a matter of coaching. The same coaches who helped Santana make adjustments are working with Ramirez. He just has to get out of the power/pull mindset and return to the Ramirez who batted a combined .318 from the start of the 2016 season until August 1, 2018.
There it is, the Indians 2018 MVP candidate and 8 WAR third baseman was doing something wrong, pulling the ball. In the midst of Ramirez’ lackluster start there were a few discernible changes, one of them? The hitter who posted 38 home runs had stopped pulling the ball.
Below is Ramirez PULL%: by season and his ISO:
2015: 44.2% .121 ISO
2016: 39%. .150 ISO
2017: 46.3% .265 ISO
2018: 50% .289 ISO
2019: 36.5% .098 ISO
I would agree with Terry Pluto that Ramirez is doing something wrong, but I would disagree substantially with what that is. Based on the data, Ramirez is not pulling the ball enough.
You see due to the physics of spin and contact authority a ball pulled in the air simply carries better; further, it takes less distance to leave the park to one’s pull side than center field; and adverse spin hurts the flight to the opposite field. While I have keyed in on Ramirez having his power sapped because he will not pull the ball as often, the problem is broader.
In 2019, the Indians are using the whole field with just 38.6% of balls to pull field (26th), 35.2% to center field (9th), and 26.2% to the opposite field (8th). Hat tip to Adam Burke, a good friend and better writer who highlighted this data in a DM.
This differs significantly from 2018 where the Indians were 28th in baseball in using the opposite field and 12th in pull field frequency.
Now the distribution outcomes:
Opposite field: 114 wRC+ (16th) .321 BABIP (7th) .152 ISO
Center field: 83 wRC+ (28th) .299 BABIP (15th), .089 ISO
Pull Field: 106 wRC+ (30th) .217 BABIP (30th), .269 ISO
With an unsustainable BABIP to the opposite field and and middling BABIP up the middle the Indians have a wRC+ under 100 when they do not pull the ball.
When the Indians pull the ball, with an unsustainably low BABIP the Indians have a wRC+ of 106.
Since the start of 2018, the lowest team BABIP to the pull field in baseball is .291, 74 points above the Indians current state.
The reality for the Indians is that Jose Ramirez, Jake Bauers, Carlos Santana, Francisco Lindor, and really anyone with above average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives are best served by pulling the ball at an elevated rate and not using the entire field.
Jose Ramirez, Jake Bauers, and Carlos Santana are running the lowest pull rates of their careers by a considerable margin, with all being below 40%. They also are hitting for the least power of their careers; the highest being Bauers’ paltry .143.
Whether this was a team distributed message or a confluence of events, if it does not change the Indians offense is in trouble. By taking the ball the other way the Indians best hitters have essentially hit the mute button on their most valuable skill, power.
For the Indians offense, their stars need to ignore the whole field and just pull the damn baseball.