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Miguel Andujar’s hitting is invaluable to the Yankees

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Andujar’s aggressiveness, coupled with his ability to do damage on any pitch in the strike zone, are valuable assets to the Yankees.

New York Yankees v Miami Marlins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Before I begin to sing his praises, I must admit that I was never that big of a Miguel Andujar fan when he was a prospect. Reports about his unpolished defense scared me, as did his minuscule walk rate in the minor leagues. I figured that Andujar’s aggressiveness would be exploited by major league pitching, and that for him to be a big league regular - that is, for him to hit enough to cover his defensive shortcomings - he would have to take a more disciplined approach in the batter’s box.

More than three quarters of the season have passed, and boy, has Andujar proven me wrong. His defense has been suspect, but his hitting has more than made up for whatever he’s cost the Yankees in the field. Andujar’s season line stands at a robust .295/.327/.523, good for a 127 wRC+. That mark ranks 6th among all MLB rookies, and 4th in a star-studded Yankees lineup.

What’s even more impressive is that Andujar has done all of the above while retaining his trademark aggressiveness at the plate. His walk rate of 4.1% is 12th-lowest in the majors, while his overall swing rate of 52.3% is 22nd-highest. For many other hitters, such a profile would spell trouble - seven of the 11 hitters with a lower walk rate than Andujar’s are owners of wRC+s below 100, as are nine of the 21 batters with a higher swing rate. However, Andujar possesses several core skills which allow him to thrive while being trigger-happy at the plate.

First, Andujar has great contact skills. His strikeout rate (17.2%) and swinging strike rate (9.8%) are both markedly better than league average (22.1% and 10.6%, respectively). However, this alone does not explain Andujar’s success. Plenty of slap-hitting speedster types like Dee Gordon or Jose Iglesias make even more contact than Andujar, yet struggle to maintain even league-average batting lines. What sets Andujar apart from such hitters is the quality of contact he makes, which brings me to my next point.

Andujar consistently generates good contact. I don’t necessarily mean that Andujar hits the ball particularly hard; Andujar’s average exit velocity of 89.1 MPH is quite good, yet hardly eye-popping (82nd in MLB). What Andujar truly excels at is doing damage on pitches in and around the strike zone.

Here’s a heatmap showing how much damage MLB right-handed batters did depending on the location of the pitch. Red means good, and blue means bad.

SLG/P by pitch location, right-handed batters, 2018
FanGraphs.com

This makes intuitive sense; hitters do more damage on pitches in the heart of the zone, while they have problems with pitches on the corners and edges, particularly on the outside half of the plate.

With that in mind, here’s Miguel Andujar’s hot zone.

SLG/P by pitch location, Miguel Andujar, 2018
FanGraphs.com

Andujar has basically conquered all but a few scraps of the strike zone, as his red zone far exceeds that of the average right-handed batter’s sweet spot in area covered. Even pitches right on the outside edge of the strike zone are in danger of being hammered when thrown to Andujar.

Andujar’s ridiculous plate coverage is what allows him to thrive with his aggressive approach. In turn, Andujar’s aggressiveness is what makes him particularly valuable to the Yankees’ lineup. The Yankees’ patient approach to hitting as a whole, exemplified in their second-highest team walk rate (9.7%) and sixth-lowest team swing rate (45.2%) in MLB, stands in stark contrast to Andujar’s swinging ways. It’s also generally brought them success, as the Yankees own the second-highest team wRC+ in baseball (111).

However, like all things, patience can be counterproductive when taken too far. Waiting for good pitches to hit is a commendable strategy, but what if you don’t get that many pitches to hit? What if waiting too much gets you quickly into bad counts? What if you focus on waiting so much that the pitcher throws a meatball and you’re just not ready to hit it?

Having an aggressive hitter like Andujar in the lineup keeps the Yankees from falling completely into such traps. Andujar’s willingness to swing at hittable pitches, coupled with the fact that basically everything in the strike zone is hittable for him, puts him perhaps in a better spot to succeed against pitchers on their A game than disciplined hitters. That’s another reason why the Yankees should be thankful for Miguel Andujar, in addition to the fact that, you know, he’s just a plain old good hitter.