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Anthony Volpe is steadily improving his process

Not much is going right in the present for the team, but Anthony Volpe may be about to level up.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Volpe has two hits in his 25 plate appearances since the All-Star break. His stance adjustments a few weeks ago had many Yankees fans ready to sing his praises again: by closing his hips off, Volpe went back to the stance he came up with. Many hoped it’d be the spark he needed to hit consistently and take the first steps to being the shortstop of the future. After promising results for about 75 at-bats, Volpe has plateaued again and more questions arise almost 100 games into his major league career.

The 2-for-25 is probably an anomaly; Volpe saw markedly better results using his changed stance in the weeks before the All-Star break, and even with his cold spell recently, he has a 109 wRC+ since June 14th. Staying above league average would be a fair goal for Volpe in his rookie season and, should he reach it, give him some confidence to build on after a rocky first year in the Bronx.

With the Yankees hemorrhaging losses, things aren’t going according to plan for anyone, Volpe included. There’s hardly a silver lining, but if you squint (really squint) there may be. If the Yankees fall out of the race, the pressure to win decreases significantly on the rookie shortstop, making way for pure development and improvement of his diverse and raw skill set. The Orioles showed us the potency of player development in their rebuild, and the Yankees need Volpe to keep improving with all other AL East teams putting together strong seasons and bright outlooks. It’s clear he’s not a hare as of now like Adley Rutschman, but compounding, small improvements in the process can make him a tortoise and get him there all the same.

Outside pitches from right-handers in particular have flummoxed Volpe to no end. It’s not an uncommon problem — countless young hitters chase too many outside pitches and/or pull off the ones in the strike zone. No fancy Statcast numbers needed: he’s hitting a dreadful .147 on breaking stuff this season. Josh considered this about a month ago, so let’s hop back into it and see what we can find since then.

Raw swing percentage gives the big picture in larger sample sizes. here’s his Swing% in the first 68 games of the season as noted by Josh. It shows a dead-pull hitter who sees the ball well on the inside half. The problem is, covering half the plate isn’t enough against big-league pitching:

Here’s the same graphic for Volpe in the month since then. He’s made a real effort to extend his hands and get solid swings off on outside pitches, and is seeing more pitches in general. Even if the results aren’t there quite yet, this is a promising adjustment from the rookie shortstop.

Swing decisions and quality are getting better, and that’s the important part. Aaron Boone might call it “some good at-bats mixed in there,” but unlike others, they’re actually good at-bats. Adjustments don’t create results by themselves — it’s been frustrating to see him covering the zone better to only marginally better outcomes, but such is life and such is baseball. Another red flag is his strikeout and walk rates, from June 14th to now 26.3 percent and 8.8 percent respectively, not usually a mark that lends itself to 162-game sustainability. What is sustainable, though, is the balanced control over the strike zone.

Let’s now juxtapose two swings from Volpe on similar pitches. The first one is a Tanner Houck sinker down and away:

Volpe’s hips are open long before his bat reaches the hitting zone and a rollover is inevitable with that swing. This swing on July 5th is drastically better on a similar pitch by a top-flight reliever:

This swing is the best I’ve seen from Volpe on the outer third this year. Even the witchcraft of Yennier Canó couldn’t throw his bat path off. Trying to pull this pitch is, at best, going to result in a hard ground ball. Volpe recognizes the pitch is a little higher than Canó intended, and instead of trying to pull it, he lets it travel and bangs it into the short porch.

With the Yankees in free fall, there’s not a lot more to say about the team at the moment, but looking under the hood at Volpe’s progression stirs optimism for the future. By all indications, this year may go awry more than it already has. Volpe could use some positive results before a critical offseason to avoid the sophomore slump. If he keeps taking balanced swings spanning the 18 inches he needs to cover, the results will come.