Despite Miguel Andújar’s defensive shortcomings, any discussion of his abilities within the chalk lines must acknowledge his truly great bat-to-ball skills. In 2018, his success at the plate nearly tripled the level of incompetence he displayed in the field with a 4.9 oWAR per Baseball Reference — good for 18th across all of MLB. The scarcity of Andújar’s offensive ceiling makes him such a tantalizing prospect despite the frustrations of his defense.
Though his 2018 campaign was nothing short of incredible, especially from a rookie, Andújar will be hard pressed to repeat those numbers with an imperfect approach and mechanics. In 2018, his 53.1% swing percentage was the 17th highest in the league. By swinging early and often, Andújar didn’t work many walks, giving him an on base percentage only .031 points higher than his batting average. That’s an approach that can work well for an incredibly dynamic hitter like Freddie Freeman (55.6% in 2018), who can hit pitches in all parts of the strike zone for power to all fields.
However, Freeman’s swing percentage was so high because he swung at nearly every strike, whereas Andújar’s aggressiveness was much less selective. Andújar had the 89th worst out-of-zone swing percentage at 35.9%. Worse, his 65% contact rate on those pitches meant that he was chasing plenty of pitches that he never had a shot on.
Although he was able to get away with his problematic approach in his first full season as a big leaguer by pounding the baseball, Andújar’s reckoning has already begun — he was 1-14 before his demotion and his only hit didn’t leave the infield.
Andújar’s swing-at-everything, pull-heavy approach limits his ability to drive pitches in all parts of the zone with authority, and narrows his margin for error when attacking the ball. This was particularly the case when factoring in where he hit the ball for power in 2018. Of his 27 homers, only 5 were hit right of centerfield. Counterintuitively, Andújar actually handles pitches on the outside part of the strike zone better than he does the inside — he just mostly pulls them.
Though he does a great job of getting a full turn from his lower half through the ball, it’s his penchant for flying open too early during his swing that gets him in trouble — the same mechanic that causes that unique whirl around his head on his finish. His excellent bat-to-ball skills make up for his habit of ‘casting’ his hands away from his body, flattening his bat path out and running it across the zone instead of through it. Although rarely, he would run into some opposite field power, more often Andújar sliced or hooked pitches that he made contact with on imperfect timing because of his problematic bat path.
On this grand slam, Andújar takes a middle-middle fastball into the left field bleachers. He gets the ball out in front of his body and centers it on the barrel perfectly. However, had he been a split second late, he would be more likely to do this:
Here, the ball beats Andújar’s bat to the zone and he slices underneath it. When he’s a beat early, this happens:
Though he possesses a greater overall ability to hit the ball with authority, which improves the result of otherwise imperfect contact, Aaron Judge’s swing provides an example of how a more direct path through the plane of the pitch can improve a hitter’s margin for error.
Even though Judge is a hair behind this fastball, he keeps his bat ‘lagged’ behind his upper body, allowing him to continue turning his shoulders and keep the bat on plane with the pitch as he approaches the ball. Had Andújar been late like Judge on his homer, you’d be able to see his front side open harder as his bat slides across the zone, rather than through it, and he would have popped up instead of hammering the ball the other way.
On their respective aforementioned homers, Judge is able to hold his tilt and prevent his belt-buckle from spinning away from the plate, whereas Andújar’s is already pointed towards the pitcher, and his upper-body tilt over the plate is all but gone as he hits the ball out in front of his body.
Though his excellent timing and hit-tool have made up for his mechanical limitations in the past, this season has been a different story. Some of the rust should erode if he’s able to crack the Yankee lineup with any consistency, but any pitcher that mixes speeds well will have success against Andújar as long as he swings at almost everything, and needs perfect timing to square up the ball. With Stanton out for the foreseeable future, now could be the perfect opportunity to try warming up Andújar’s bat with some reps in the DH slot.