It's well known by anyone who follows the Yankees that Carlos Beltran has bounced back quite a bit this season. No, he hasn't made himself new robot legs and become a Gold Glover in the outfield (despite the image of Cyborg Beltran being awesome), but he has begun to do the one thing he was brought here to do: hit. This year, as I wrote about a month ago, he's delivered, and since coming back from an oblique injury in mid-July, he's continued to be a solid producer at the plate.
While he began the season in a deep slump, hitting .162/.216/.265 and limping his way to a .206 wOBA and a 22 wRC+, he turned things around in a big way. Since May 1, Beltran has hit .288/.345/.484, good for a terrific .359 wOBA and excellent 129 wRC+. He's become a line drive hitter this year after hitting far too many grounders last season, and he's avoiding soft contact almost entirely (he has made soft contact just 11.3% of the time since May 1, compared to 18.3% during 2014). Not surprisingly, this had made Beltran far more effective from both sides of the plate. But how has made these improvements? Can you really teach an old dog (or baseball player) new tricks after all?
A major factor in Beltran's return to form seems to be his more selective approach at the plate. Take a look at his heat maps from the past two seasons to see how he's become much more careful and precise at the plate. Here is how frequently Beltran has swung at pitches in various locations over the past two seasons as a right-handed hitter:
As you can see, he's swung more and more at pitches up and in the middle of the plate - right in the heart of the zone and in his wheelhouse. He's also been swinging more at pitches up and in, pitches he can pull and hit for power. But perhaps the biggest change in his approach is Beltran's decision to swing less at offerings low and outside, from both sides of the plate. In 2014, he swung at 45% of pitches low and outside in a lot of areas around the strike zone. This year, as you can see, he's swung at 20 or 30 percent of a lot of pitches down and away (especially those off the plate). This newfound selectivity is definitely part of the reason why his numbers are so much better this year - swinging more at pitches in the middle of the plate and up just makes for better results with a swing like Beltran's. More heat maps showing his average per pitch over the last two years further show his improvement (for those interested, here are his results from 2014, and here you'll find what he's done in 2015). Somewhat surprisingly, his average and power have actually increased this season on pitches low and outside. This suggests that, while he's swinging at fewer balls in those spots, he's picking more carefully what pitches in those areas he can hit well - and he's driving them.
Beltran's certainly not what he once was, but after a truly ugly first year in pinstripes, at least the Yankees are getting something solid for their money. He may be injury prone, a defensive liability, and not the slugger he was even just two or three years ago, but he's still a good, patient hitter who is making opposing pitchers sweat once more.