There are two things I am fond of in this world: alliteration and baseball. One Mariner in particular has started to heat up a bit in May. This player posted just a 57 wRC+ in the first month of the season, but has a 151 wRC+ in 15 games since. After watching him put on a show in the past few weeks, I’ve been digging Danny Valencia.
Valencia posted a slash line of .181/.259/.306 in the season’s opening month, coupled with a particularly low .222 BABIP. His BABIP has jumped up to .400 this month, accompanied by a May slash line of .322/.385/.508. His ISO is a fair bit higher in May, but the most significant difference between the season’s first two months is his BABIP.
The driving force behind his BABIP spike has been his quality of contact. Here’s a comparison of his quality of contact in April and May compared to what FanGraphs considers league average:
Danny’s been hitting the ball quite a bit harder, which has yielded more favorable results on balls in play. Yes, a .400 BABIP is high and will likely regress as the season progresses; however, his leap hasn’t been a product of luck.
Valencia’s plate discipline numbers give a closer look at his adjustments at the plate:
His o-swing% (percentage of pitches out of the zone he swings at) stands out. To begin the year, Valencia would chase pitches outside of the zone at a 4.4% higher than league average rate; however, May has seen him lay off of pitches out of the zone more frequently, waiting for pitches in the zone to capitalize on. Let’s take a more detailed look at the types of pitches he’s been swinging at.
Here’s his swing% heat map from April:
And here’s the same chart for May:
Valencia’s shown less of a tendency to chase pitches away. His May heat map highlights an obvious cluster of pitches in the upper inside part of the zone. Historically, that’s where Valencia has had the most success. Over the course of his career, he’s had his highest contact rates on pitches in that portion of the zone:
Additionally, he’s demonstrated solid up-and-in power in the bigs, shown by his ISO/p heat map:
A change in approach at the plate has allowed Valencia to overcome his slow start. Capitalizing on pitches in his wheelhouse, while laying off pitches low and away, has gotten him more bang for his buck on balls in play. As a result, his wRC+ has sprung up to 99 for the season.
With Dan Vogelbach in AAA, Valencia is locked in as the everyday first baseman. A 99 wRC+ isn’t quite what you’re looking for from that spot, but his 151 wRC+ in May is a sign of good things to come. It will be hard for him to continue to produce at that high of a rate, but a slight regression should still render him a valuable hitter. Valencia posted a 118 wRC+ last season; his improvements in May could be the initial steps towards that form, and that’s exciting.