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Ryon Healy, Mitch Haniger, and their swings

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Ryon Healy can crush a fastball. Ryon Healy can’t hit bendy pitches.

Oakland Athletics v Texas Rangers Photo by Richard W. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Around this time last year, Jerry Dipoto acquired an outfielder without much of a prospect pedigree who had recently made some significant changes to his swing. Those changes unlocked a new level of offensive production for Mitch Haniger and only injuries held him back from having an outstanding rookie year. With the acquisition of Ryon Healy a few days ago, Dipoto is returning to the same well; acquiring a first baseman without a prospect pedigree who recently made some significant changes to his swing. Haniger and Healy aren’t exactly alike, but their path to the majors and their strengths and weaknesses are similar enough that a comparison can easily be made.

Smarter minds than mine have already written about the changes Healy made to his swing last year. Eno Sarris expertly detailed these adjustments in September of 2016. In short, Healy dropped his hands during his load and added an uppercut to his swing path. If that reminds you of the changes Haniger made to his swing in 2015, well remembered. Neither Healy nor Haniger are making these changes in a vacuum, they’re both listening to the advice of coaches and teammates who are promoting these kinds of adjustments throughout the game.

The result for both of these hitters has been more line drives and fly balls. In fact, their batted ball profiles in the majors are basically mirror images of each other.

Batted Ball Stats (MLB)

Player LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB Pull% Center% Oppo%
Player LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB Pull% Center% Oppo%
Mitch Haniger 19.0% 42.7% 38.3% 7.3% 15.3% 44.2% 33.6% 22.2%
Ryon Healy 19.3% 42.4% 38.4% 7.3% 15.4% 41.3% 35.4% 23.2%

I don’t think the similarities between these two players is a coincidence. Dipoto saw something he liked in the batted ball profile of both players and went after it. Of course, Haniger has a much more discerning eye at the plate leading to a much better walk rate than Healy. That difference alone makes Haniger stand out even more so as an offensive contributor.

I want to hone in on Healy’s pitch recognition a bit. It’s a skill that’s helped Haniger stand out but it’s a point of weakness for Healy. Marc from USS Mariner briefly touched on it in his article after the trade went down. Healy crushes fastballs—four-seamers in particular—but struggles against all other pitch types. Below is a table showing a few key Statcast metrics from 2016 and 2017, broken down by pitch type categories.

Statcast Metrics per Pitch Type

2016 Avg Exit Velo Ave Launch Angle wOBA
2016 Avg Exit Velo Ave Launch Angle wOBA
Fastballs 90.2 14.0 0.371
Breaking Balls 84.6 11.7 0.277
Offspeed 89.0 12.6 0.431
2017 Avg Exit Velo Ave Launch Angle wOBA
Fastballs 90.7 13.7 0.384
Breaking Balls 85.5 10.4 0.238
Offspeed 86.3 13.2 0.290

During his rookie year, Healy was able to do some significant damage against offspeed pitches but lost that ability in 2017. It’s hidden a little in the average launch angle listed in the table because he continued to hit fly balls but his ground ball rate against offspeed pitches rose to 51% in 2017, at the expense of some line drives. That certainly could explain the drop in performance against that bucket of pitch types.

Healy’s true weakness is the weak contact he generates against breaking pitches. He just cannot square these pitches up and it leads to weakly hit fly balls and line drives. Those types of batted balls rarely fall in for hits. And it’s not one particular type of breaking ball either, he’s producing weak contact against sliders and curveballs alike.

The good thing is that pitchers haven’t adjusted their plan of attack against Healy yet. He saw his fair share of breaking balls this season but it stayed fairly steady throughout the year. But you can bet that the book will soon be written against Healy, and I’d expect to see far more breaking balls thrown his way in 2018.

Haniger has struggled against breaking balls as well but he’s been able to make some adjustments to recognize pitches he can hit and pitches he can’t. Healy will need to make the same kinds of adjustments if he wants to get back to the offensive level he showed off in his rookie year. Dipoto and the Mariners are hoping that Edgar Martinez and the coaching staff can impart those pitch recognition skills. Maybe sharing a clubhouse with a player so similar will help Healy too.