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The jury is still out on Anthony Volpe’s stepping in the bucket

It’s undetermined whether Volpe’s stride is a feature or a bug.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Every rookie encounters struggles at one point or another. There are only a rare few who come up and tear the league apart and never look back. It’s an unfair expectation to think that is possible for every hitter! Even if you start well, teams will search every which way for the hole in your swing that can be exposed — it’s just the nature of being a big leaguer. After Anthony Volpe’s solid start to the year filled with walk after walk after walk, he has struggled (but last night’s game could suggest he’s turning it around). Instead of letting him take walks, pitchers are challenging him to beat them.

After seeing only 47 percent of fastballs in the zone in April, Volpe was coasting. His plate discipline is impressive. If you don’t want to challenge him, then fine, he’ll just take his base. But pitchers picked up on that, and as a result are filling up the zone at a 62.9 percent clip in May. That’s a drastic change to see as a hitter so quickly. This year, the league average rate of fastballs in the zone is 54.1 percent. Basically, compared to the league average, Volpe is seeing way more heaters in the zone because pitchers are taking on this “prove it” approach.

As Peter Brody noted earlier in the week, this has led to him seeing fewer pitches per plate appearance. It’s not a bad idea either. If you see fastballs in the zone, you should attack them! And the peripherals are actually pretty decent for Volpe there. With a .504 xwOBA and .3456 xBA on fastballs in May, Volpe might have pitchers rethinking their approach. I think this is what Boone was referring to when saying Volpe has been getting pretty unlucky. However, where Volpe has undeniably struggled in the last few weeks is with breaking balls, especially low and away.

He wasn’t good against them in April, but it’s gotten even worse in May. 38.5 percent of the pitches he has seen this month are breaking balls, and the average horizontal location has gone from .42 ft to .11 ft month over month. That means pitchers have shifted towards throwing breaking balls further away from him than they did in the first month of the season. The reason for this is could be due to an potential hole in his swing related to his unorthodox stride. Here is some video evidence to show what I’m talking about.

As a proponent of striding closed, I don’t necessarily love seeing Volpe stride slightly open, or as hitting folks say, stepping in the bucket. If you freeze the clip at the point where Volpe is missing both these pitches, you can see his weight is completely shifted towards the left side of the field. This isn’t necessarily problematic, but for his specific swing, it can sometimes leave a hole on the lower outer third and below the zone on breaking balls. It appears as if he recognizes fastball and opens up his hips to get the pitch the air.

The thing is though, I’m unsure as to if this is bad at all for him. Is it the leg kick itself that leads to his inability to square up breakers in this location, or is it an approach/pitch recognition situation? To be honest, I have no clue. We need more time and at-bats to really see what the effect is. On a positive note, his stride is what allows him to get his bat on plane and hit the high fly balls that he often does. On Friday night, we saw exactly how he can do damage on pitches in the heart of the plate to both fields. On a more pessimistic note, it’s why he hasn’t handled breakers well this year or in his Triple-A stint last year. But to be fair, how many hitters actually handle breaking balls well? So as it currently stands, I’m a bit in-between on how this affects him. I’m not 100 percent comfortable in asserting that this leg kick is the exact reason for his slider struggles. It could be a contributor but I think we need more time to assess the situation.

Volpe showed last year how he adjusts over time, and there is no reason we shouldn’t give him that same benefit of the doubt this year. His home run against Josh Fleming came on a low and away fastball where he stayed closed long enough to get his barrel to the lower-outer third and lift it over the right field wall. He’s a smart hitter who adjusts quickly. With somebody like this, it’s a good idea to be patient and let it all play out.