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Under the Hood: Mike Tauchman may be benefiting from good luck

The outfielder has been extremely valuable to the Yankees, but are his numbers sustainable?

New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Mike Tauchman has been a fantastic find for the Yankees, especially considering that he came to the team on a trade involving a fringe left-handed pitching prospect. From a value standpoint, it doesn’t matter if he has been somewhat lucky to this point: The Bombers have received 1.8 fWAR so far from the outfielder, and that makes the transaction worthwhile.

For the sake of trying to predict future performance, however, the legitimacy of Tauchman’s performance so far merits consideration, especially at a time in which injuries continue to pile up.

xwOBA isn’t as kind as wOBA

Again, Tauchman has been an amazing find by the Yankees’ analytics department and front office, but this exercise is about trying to use exit velocity (EV,) launch angles (LA) and plate discipline information to determine “expected outcomes.”

For the season as a whole, Tauchman’s wOBA is a healthy .380, which would rank him 32nd among 394 qualifiers, minimum 100 plate appearances. But wOBA takes into account the actual outcomes of a play, such as single, double, triple or home run, and it weights each of them in proportion to their run value. After all, a home run should be more valuable than a single, for example.

The expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA), however, removes defense and ballpark from the equation. Instead, it focuses on exit velocity and launch angle while also adding walks and strikeouts. The idea is to help mitigate the luck factor that may be included in the outcome of a play. For example, the scoreboard may show a hit, but the “hit probability” of a ball in play, calculated with EV and LA, provides a more accurate glimpse for future performance.

Unfortunately, Tauchman’s xwOBA isn’t as kind: his .306 mark ranks him 250th among the 394 qualifiers. This implies that the luck gods have been smiling upon him in 2019. After all, he has a below-average strikeout rate (26.8%), a high BABIP (.373), and his average exit velocity is slightly below average (his 88.1 mph puts him 233rd out of 421 qualifiers.)

It should be noted, however, that since July 5th, Tauchman has been on fire. He has a .283/.360/.500 triple-slash for the season, but in the last month, he has raked to the tune of .443./493/.820 with five homers and two stolen bases. Has he suddenly morphed into a power hitter with a nearly .300 ISO?

Is there a power binge lurking? Not exactly

Tauchman has nine home runs in 190 plate appearances, which doesn’t scream “lucky” by any means. The circumstances under which he has hit them, however, are worth reviewing in an attempt to predict future performance.

The 28-year-old has been a groundball hitter in 2019, with 48.3% of his batted balls going for grounders, compared against 31.4% fly-ball rate. According to Baseball Savant, he has a 35.7% hard-hit rate, which ranks him 244th out of 421 batter—not exactly bad, but also not special. He has a .500 slugging percentage, but a paltry .379 xSLG%, per Statcast. In other words, the team shouldn’t expect too many homers in the future.

He has a high 24.3% HR/FB mark, which goes up to 35.7% in his recent hot streak. For the season, he has 1.54 grounders for every fly ball, and from July 5th, he has a very similar mark of 1.43. In short, he hasn’t been able to consistently lift the ball in his recent surge, and that being the case, it would be hard for him to maintain a higher HR/FB percentage than J.D. Martinez, Anthony Rizzo, Max Kepler, Trevor Story, Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, and other notable sluggers.

He has, however, upped his line-drive rate (LD%) to 29.2% in the last month, which is considerably higher than his 20.3% mark for the year. That represents a promising development and indicates that his performance isn’t just a fluke. He just isn’t one of the game’s most feared power hitters.

All in all, Tauchman has been a positive addition for the Yankees. Per FanGraphs, he has made positive contributions in baserunning (0.3,) defense (0.7,) and offense (6.5,) which has resulted in the aforementioned 1.3 WAR. He has been highly valuable in a time of need, and he has earned more at-bats in the wake of his recent performance and the health issues on the team as a whole.

Overall, the Yankees will gladly take his 137 wRC+ up to this point. Expecting superstar-level production in the long run, however, may set some fans up for disappointment.