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Ryon Healy Has Grounderitis

Ryon has cut down on his strikeouts lately, but hasn’t been significantly better. What gives?

Chicago White Sox v Seattle Mariners Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

After the departure of lightning rod Marc Rzepczynski at the end of May, several different Mariners have taken the brunt of criticism from the public. Few have been the whipping boy more often than Ryon Healy, whose 96 wRC+ is hardly an improvement over what we’ve seen from first base the past few seasons. Though one can easily make the case that advanced defensive metrics have trouble evaluating first basemen, the fact remains that Healy’s -0.4 fWAR is... not great.

Upon his acquisition from the A’s last winter, some pointed out that his around league-average strikeout rate was magnified by a subpar walk rate of just under 4% during his tenure with Oakland. Though he wasn’t awful at making contact out of the zone, the fact that he swung at so much garbage always held him back from taking ball four. While Healy arrived boasting lightning tower power, his success going into 2018 seemed to hinge on either raising that walk rate or cutting that K-rate.

Unfortunately, his plate discipline marks haven’t changed much over the course of this year, either. Despite seeing fewer pitches in the zone than either of his past two seasons, Healy has swung at balls more often than ever, although his overall contact rate is up a hair from last season. The massive power has been as advertised, but Ryon’s streakiness has been frustrating to watch all season, with nothing worse than a wretched July in which he posted just a 67 wRC+.

We’ve seen some change in August, though. A 98 wRC+ still isn’t great, but Healy has seen his strikeout rate drop almost four full points from July, and a walk rate of an even 4% is in line with his career numbers. He finally managed to snatch some of that BABIP luck back, too, with the .309 mark he’s put up only edged out by May’s .312. On the surface, this looks like a good adjustment.

Unfortunately, Ryon’s ISO of .141 in August is the second-lowest in any month of his Major League career, trailing only an injury-shortened July 2017. Even if it’s nice that he hasn’t been flailing at pitches out of the zone lately, I’m not so much a fan of his replacing those with bouncing an easy play to the shortstop. Therein lies the problem; Healy’s been hitting the ball on the ground at an alarmingly high rate the past couple months. After putting up just a 37.6% GB% in June - his best month of the year by wRC+ - he’s seen that number creep up nearly twenty points in August, and the 48.4% mark he put up in July suggests that it isn’t merely a fluke.

Even more worrisome is that this has been part of a larger trend:

Ryon’s Career GB% and Average Launch Angles

Year GB% Launch Angle (deg)
Year GB% Launch Angle (deg)
2016 41.60% 13.3
2017 42.80% 12.5
2018 44.60% 11.6

Since breaking into the bigs in 2016, Healy has hit the ball into the ground more and more often over the years, and this August has yielded by far the highest monthly rate of his career. While has hit two homers this month, the last one was nearly two weeks ago, with no extra-base hits since. Not exactly what you want to see from a power-first hitter.

Ryon Healy has been a polarizing, bizarre hitter to watch all season. He’ll make up for two weeks of looking completely lost with an absolute monster of a game. As Matthew wrote about a couple weeks back, he’ll dominate during day games (and hey, he had a hit in yesterday’s!) and look hopeless past sundown. This recent trend of him pounding the ball into the ground more than half the time has been concerning, though, and despite his playing time decreasing thanks to the return of Robinson Canó, it’s part of a larger issue that has crept up on him throughout his big league career.

The Mayor of Dongtown has provided us with several fun moments throughout the year. His batted ball luck has started to even out a little bit the past few weeks, but the Mariners can’t afford to keep hoping that will keep swinging back in the midst of a playoff push, however faint those hopes may sound. Healy does have all three of his minor league options remaining, and barring a massive improvement in elevating the ball down the stretch run, first base seems once again an area to consider upgrading in the offseason. Ryon isn’t worth giving up on yet - not in the least - but perhaps both player and team could benefit from giving him some time in Tacoma in 2019 to tinker a bit.