The Yankees received terrible news toward the end of spring training when they found out that Greg Bird would require surgery and be out for at least two months. With no one else to turn to at first base, Tyler Austin became the easy replacement option, but the question was how well could he actually hit at the major league level, especially over a longer period of time. It’s only been 16 games so far, but right now he’s giving them exactly what they need.
In 47 plate appearances, the righty is hitting .289/.386/.553 with two home runs, which is a far cry from what he has produced in the big leagues to date. He may have started his career off with a bang as part of the back-to-back home run show with Aaron Judge in 2016, but the results have not been there. Austin has dealt with injuries, ineffectiveness, and roster crunches, but now he has nothing in his way. How is he doing it?
He’s Crushing the Fastball
The reason Tyler Austin has gotten as far as he has is because he can hit the fastball rather well. He’s always had good numbers against the pitch, but in 2018 FanGraphs has him being worth 2.63 runs above average per 100 pitches against the fastball. As a pull hitter, Austin also has a 407 wRC+ when he yanks a pitch, which is great to see. Considering he’s pretty much garbage against all other pitch types, it’s good that he can get around and crush those fastballs.
A fastball slugger might not sound too exciting, but many players have made a career out of clobbering the pitch without having to worry about anything else. They aren’t the best players, but they have their uses. If Austin can keep this up, the Yankees will have a role for him somewhere, even after Greg Bird comes back.
His Balanced Approach
Right-handed hitters are typically effective against left-handed pitching, but Tyler Austin is doing just fine against everyone. His 163 wRC+ on the season breaks down as being just as effective against righties as he is against lefties. In the past he has struggled against right-handed pitching, so if this is a signal of things to come or simply a blip on the radar of the early season has yet to be seen. Either way, he’s killing it right now.
As you can see by the above heatmap, Austin is loving the ball on the inside of the plate and middle-low, which allows him to scoop the ball off the plate and pull it for some damage. Breaking it down even further, he likes it in against righties and away against lefties, showing how his approach changes when faced with different pitchers. Hopefully he can keep that going for a few more weeks.
What He Needs to Improve On
In the early goings of the season, Austin has certainly found his success against the fastball, but it wouldn’t hurt him to be a little more effective against offspeed and breaking stuff. Pitchers know what his weakness is at this point, so they are throwing him more sliders and changeups this year than they did last year. He is already seeing each pitch 7% more frequently, but that could rise as more teams catch on to just how ineffective he is against those pitches.
As a result, he is now striking out at a 32% clip, which is completely unacceptable for a major league player. Especially when he’s not the kind of slugger Giancarlo Stanton is. He has never had a strikeout rate in the majors below 30%, but his minor league track record says that he should be able to lower it by another 5-10%, that is if he can cut down on that 17% swinging strike rate. He will need to be more selective when he decides to pull the trigger, which will hopefully help him decrease his ugly 37.5% ground ball rate and improve his minuscule 29% fly ball rate.
Overall Tyler Austin is holding down the fort just fine. We will have to see if he can sustain these good numbers, or if he’s due to fall back to earth. No matter what, the Yankees will need Greg Bird to get healthy and return before too long. It just hasn’t been as bad as it could have been.