Jerry Dipoto is not exactly an executive who makes a lot of “upside” moves. This is by design; taking the helm of a team with a weak farm means you mostly do not have prospects with the upside to turn into superstars, and the Mariners already had his core of elite (broadly speaking) talent in place thanks to the previous regime. There’s also a growing body of evidence—hello, Max Muncy—that “upside” is much more ethereal than we all thought for a long time; as this proves true, stockpiling 45-50 (on the ol’ 80 scale) talent gives you enough variance, with enough prospects accumulated, to get some true breakouts. Marco Gonzales and Mitch Haniger say hello. All of this “lack of upside” talk brings me to our beautiful big first base boy, Ryon Healy.
Healy’s acquisition polarized those of us who spend far too much time on fangraphs. True, the cost was low—Emilio Pagán had a nice year last season, but relievers gonna reliever and true to that bromide, he has put up exactly no value this year with a stint in AAA to work on some things. Healy’s wildly varying two professional seasons meant you could look at him any which way you wanted, a personal saber Rorschach for each of us. Was he the mashing rookie who blasted through AL West pitching in 2016, had an expected sophomore slump, and now is prepared to return to form and terrorize pitchers a little more while hitting in the bottom third of a stacked Mariners lineup? Or was he the hitter of his second year, now that the league had adjusted, and another Mariners first baseman who would have his metaphorical bones buried just south of the foul line at Safeco?
Healy’s profile before this season is a little more complicated; it’s a good day to publish this article on the first anniversary of Healy leaving a game with back spasms, which would hold him out for four days but presumably limit him for a little longer. Here’s his career MLB line on that day.
Ryon Healy, 7/16/2016-7/2/2017
Not so bad. After an episode of back spasms, Healy took a ground ball off the face in late July and missed some more time. Overall, a truly abysmal July held him back in a pretty hefty way, posting a month wRC+ of 44 in 78 PA. That is absolutely part of his player record and counts against him; however, it demonstrates the difficult of sample size in evaluating players like this. Is it the injuries that dragged his 2017 down, and we can expect more going forward? Or is it just coincident timing? Healy’s player profile is always going to be slump-prone; as a power hitter who doesn’t walk much he will be very BABIP and HR/FB% dependent for production, without speed or walks as underlying skills to prop up his statline (hello, Denard Span.)
And that brings us to Spring, 2018. Of course, there was a hearty dose (understandably) of “Same Ol’ Mariners” when the team’s fresh-faced 1B acquisition was forced to spend the winter avoiding bats and balls entirely as a bone spur first sidelined him, then forced him into surgery in mid-February. His return was likely rushed and Healy put up a truly abysmal start to his time in Seattle.
Y I K E S dot excel
Though it was just 23 PA, this is still dragging down Healy’s overall statistical profile for this season. An unfortunate ankle band situation claimed him in April, but after a few weeks off and some time in Arkansas working on his swing as he could have in Spring Training were it not for his bone spur, here’s where Healy stands since that DL return:
Ryon Healy, Post-DL 2018
That overall line looks an awful lot like his first half of 2017, doesn’t it? In fact, there may be even more cause for optimism. Healy’s career BABIP is .316, well above his 2018 post-injury mark of .283. His xwOBA for 2018 is .356, 35 points ahead of his wOBA; his xSLG is 51 points above his SLG. xwOBA and BABIP only measure certain things, and aren’t perfect indicators of what his line will be going forward—he’s a slow runner and a moderate pull hitter—but overall, signs point to Healy having had a lot of poor luck to date on batted balls in 2018.
Batted Ball Data
|Total||- - -||1.08||19.40%||41.90%||38.80%||7.70%||16.60%||8.50%||33.30%||41.40%||35.20%||23.50%||17.20%||48.90%||33.90%|
Despite hitting the ball hard more than ever, and hitting as many line drives and fly balls as ever, Healy is having a decidedly middling season. No one factor I’ve identified here can tell us with finality that Healy is a better hitter than he’s been to date, but considering the total picture of his batted balls, the signs point to a much better hitter than the stat line would initially indicate.
So what if Healy is a 120 or 125 wRC+ hitter? Does that make him good enough at first base? Among all qualified 1B in 2018, this would rank him about 7th.
Top 25 1B of 2018, sorted by wRC+
|Justin Smoak||Blue Jays||76||319||11||15.40%||25.40%||0.346||119||0.7|
|Jose Abreu||White Sox||81||354||12||6.20%||18.10%||0.337||115||0.6|
Paired with his decidedly average (in my view; I do not believe any defensive statistics for 1B and do not @ me about it) defense and the fact that he will hit in the bottom half of our lineup all year, I hereby pronounce Ryon Healy Fine. Or Good. Or pick another pretty nice adjective.