We all know the highlights of Miguel Andujar’s 2018 campaign. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, broke a seventy-year-old rookie doubles record, and went from a possible everyday starter out of spring training to one of the most solid bats in the lineup by September. While the offseason is a time to look back on some of the highlights of 2018, I find it far more entertaining to look ahead to 2019, and Andujar’s sophomore season is one of the more fascinating questions about next year.
Miggy’s best tool is his basic bat-to-ball skills. His ability to make above-average contact throughout the zone elevates the floor of his performance, but there’s a real question about the sustainability of that trait, or even its wisdom going forward.
Like most rookies, Andujar saw a lot of pitches in the strike zone. Even in an era of information, it seems pitchers are still willing to just chuck the ball over the plate the first time they see a hitter. Perhaps this is due to confidence in their own ability, skepticism in the data, or an old-school “try and hit this, kid” attitude – maybe even a combination of all these factors. Regardless, Andujar wasn’t the only rookie to see a higher-than-expected rate of pitches in the strike zone.
Ronald Acuña Jr., the NL Rookie of the Year, also saw more pitches within the strike zone than you’d think. This is perhaps even more surprising than Miggy, as Acuña Jr. was the consensus top prospect in baseball at the time of his debut. The fact that two rookies, in different leagues, with different skill sets and levels of hype, were pitched to in very similar ways underscores that aforementioned attitude in pitchers.
Where we start to see divergence between Andujar and the rest of the field is his coverage outside of the zone. He’s become famous in Yankee circles for the ability to make contact with pitches out of the zone, and the data bears that out to a certain extent, especially when compared to his contemporaries. Take Acuña Jr. for example again:
There’s a real edge in Miggy’s favor as he’s able to make more contact with pitches outside the strike zone, helped a lot by both an unorthodox swing and a certain lack of focus on taking pitches. This is an interesting dichotomy, Andujar has the plate discipline of a bench player but the contact and power skills of a regular.
The thing that’s interesting to me about Andujar’s upcoming season is how he decides to change his overall approach. This is the hardest thing about young major league players, especially ones who have early success; they have played the game a specific way for their entire lives and it’s been enough to make them a starter on the New York Yankees. Even though there is a real case that Andujar should be more selective, it’s hard to convince a player whose been the opposite his whole life to change now.
This is why it may suit Andujar better to work on his selectiveness. Acuña Jr. doesn’t make the contact outside the zone that Andujar does, but his production on pitches he does make contact with is significantly better. This selectivity led to Acuña Jr. posting an OBP almost 40 points higher than Andujar despite a lower batting average, and why Ronald’s wRC+ was 15 percentage points higher as well.
Andujar’s plate discipline and propensity to take pitches might get better on its own. He’ll spend another full season with Aaron Judge and Brett Gardner, two of the most selective hitters in baseball, and their discipline might rub off. It also might not, and Andujar could spend the entirety of the rest of his career being such a free swinger.
It’s not the end of the world if that happens, especially since Miggy’s just 23 and raw contact skills don’t start declining for a while. Great contact hitters like Joey Votto have been able to keep up the bat-to-ball profile even as power and bat speed begin to sap. Still, the contradiction exists and is fascinating. Andujar got to the majors and played well by selling out his discipline to maximize contact, but in doing so, he may be leaving runs on the table.