Tyler Wade was outspoken when he was unexpectedly sent to Triple-A days before the regular season. “I did everything they asked me to do this spring and I played well and now my defense isn’t good enough,” Wade said shortly after his demotion.
It’s hard to blame a player for being upset in those circumstances, but his offensive track record against MLB pitching had done very little to instill confidence in the Yankees’ decision-makers to that point. Luckily for Wade, opportunity knocked almost immediately, and now he’s receiving regular playing time for the first time in his MLB career. The question is, can Wade do enough at the plate to become a dependable player for the Yankees?
No matter how you slice it, Wade was a poor offensive player in his 133 plate appearances at the major league level the past two seasons. Wade entered 2019 as a career .161 hitter, and it’s hard to find any underlying numbers to suggest that was a fluke. Nobody expected Wade to be Aaron Judge, but he did show some potential to hit for average by batting .310 in Triple-A before getting the call in 2017. In his sporadic MLB at-bats, Wade posted a .231 BABIP in 2017, and a .238 BABIP in 2018. This could be a bit of bad luck, but a closer look suggests Wade simply hasn’t made enough hard contact. His 18.6% hard contact rate and 32.9% strikeout rate (FanGraphs) were a recipe for disaster in 2018, and his plate discipline left a lot to be desired.
However, Wade’s defense and versatility (not to mention durability) has kept him on the field this season, and it looks like the 24-year-old is making changes to his approach that will allow him to use his elite speed more effectively. Wade’s sprint speed ranks in the 92nd percentile according to Statcast, and he’s hitting the ball on the ground more than ever. With the advantage of the short porch in right field, the Yankees are used to squeezing every ounce of power out of left-handed hitters like Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner, but Wade’s hitting the ball on the ground and forcing the defense to make plays this season.
Among players with a minimum of 30 plate appearances, Wade leads MLB with a 16.0 GB/FB rate, a jaw-dropping departure from his 2.18 GB/FB rate last season. For comparison, Wilson Ramos ranks second with a 5.0 GB/FB rate. In an era that places an emphasis on higher launch angles, Wade’s -9.2-degree launch angle is the lowest in the MLB among players with at least 20 batted ball events. It will take a larger sample to declare just how dedicated Wade is to this new trend, but the change in his approach is hard to ignore.
Wade is bunting for hits at a 50% success rate, albeit in a small sample size, and he’s recorded six walks already in 2019. That’s more walks than he posted all last season in twice as many at-bats, proving he’s placed an emphasis on controlling the zone at a higher level.
Wade knows that his value comes from his ability to play all over the diamond, but he’s also starting to discover new ways to impact the game offensively by putting the ball on the ground and letting his legs do the work. Wade’s not a proven commodity by any means, but he appears to be in the beginning stages of establishing a clear offensive game plan to make the most of his skill set.