When we last checked in on Ryon Healy, we found that the big first baseman was suffering from a severe case of grounderitis. Despite noticeably dropping his strikeout rate - and posting the best single month of his season by wRC+ - Ryon’s August was marred by an ugly ground-ball rate of around 55%. While he was able to cash in on some BABIP luck that eluded him earlier, his power numbers suffered, and the sharp rise in grounders only fueled his year-by-year launch angle dropping.
Through fifteen September games, though, Healy’s peripherals look very encouraging at a glance. Ground balls down eight points from August! Line drives up by eleven! A soft-hit rate in the single digits! And what’s this?
Ryon Healy BB% by Month
After working a walk against the Astros last night, Healy has now drawn more free passes in September than in July and August combined. For the first time in his big league career, he has as many walks as home runs. Ryon has also continued to keep his strikeouts in check, with less than a percentage point separating August and September, and the underlying plate discipline numbers suggest that there’s been legitimate improvement (do keep in mind that these do not include last night’s results - so Healy’s swinging strikeout isn’t factored in):
Ryon’s Plate Discipline
Right away, some points jump out, none more so than the five-and-a-half point drop in O-Swing%. When the club acquired Healy, some pointed out that his contact ability, though not spectacular, wasn’t the main reason behind his walk allergy, instead blaming his bad habit of swinging at far too many balls that just can’t be squared up. Such a drastic change has been a welcome sight, and it’s directly contributed to a drop in swings-and-misses despite him seeing a similar amount of pitches in the zone. After last night’s contest, Ryon’s overall walk rate sits at 4.8% - still not very good, but a big improvement over last season. He’s likely to finish the year with a career-best mark there, and his K-rate is right in line with his sparkling 2016 season.
There’s just one issue with Healy’s bat these past few weeks. It’s a big one.
Monthly wRC+ and ISO (through 9/18)
Yeeeeeesh. Through 61 turns at bat in September, Healy’s notched just one extra-base hit, a double in Anaheim on the 15th. Despite the giant leap in walks, his OBP on the month sits at just .281. The BABIP gods have forsaken him once again, as well, dropping over eighty points from August. While he’s still scorching the ball - I saw a groundout from him the other day was hit at 105 MPH - at some point it doesn’t matter how hard he hits it. The steady decline in his overall launch angle from 2016 has been alarming, and from a purely id standpoint, it is maddening to see a guy whose nickname is The Mayor of Dongtown not smack a single one in almost three weeks.
Ryon Healy absolutely deserves some credit for the improved plate discipline he’s shown recently. Last night’s performance continued the trend - I noticed him lay off of several Dallas Keuchel breaking pitches that dove out of the strike zone. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been nearly enough to save an overall wretched month, and walks alone can’t make up for a punchless swing. Unless the team fully commits to a rebuild - which doesn’t feel likely - I wouldn’t feel comfortable handing him the starting job next year, even if he fires a barrage of elevated contact in the last week. He likely isn’t as bad as his WAR says (shakes fist at BsR), but the bat just hasn’t been there consistently enough.
While the free agent market for first basemen is thin and Daniel Vogelbach isn’t a sure thing, the Mariners cannot afford to give another 500 or so plate appearances to this version of Healy if they plan on contending in 2019. All three of his minor league options remain intact, and should the M’s jump in again, one of them should be burned. Extended time in Tacoma could benefit Ryon, who saw action in just 49 Triple-A games before getting the call to the bigs in 2016. It isn’t worth firing him into the sun or anything, but counting on him to be a key producer is a risk the team shouldn’t take with as thin of a margin as they have.