The Yandy Diaz Era has been less than stellar in the early goings, now ending in his being sent back to Columbus. Despite some flashy plays defensively, an ebullient attitude and some of the biggest biceps you've ever seen, the offensive output is not what many hoped.
Rather than coming out of the gates blasting his way through unsuspecting pitching, Diaz currently hit .236/.295/.255 with the Cleveland Indians. As someone who said he could be the next Edgar Martinez, I do feel a bit silly, but that's not to say the whole Diaz project is a bust. It just needs some more work.
In rooting around his numbers the other day, I discovered Diaz has hit four fly balls so far this season, at least one of those was a pop-up on the infield. Overall his groundball rate is 61.9 percent, the fourth highest in the majors. He's simply not getting elevation on the ball. Here's a map of ground balls per pitch percentage, based on zone percentage:
The biggest thing that stands out to me Is this amazing ability to turn high fastballs into ground balls. Typically these are thrown there for the purpose of getting fly balls. Yandy just drives them into the dirt. For comparison, here’s Jose Ramirez’s ground ball-per-pitch map:
Ramirez has a 24.5 percente ground ball rate and is hitting for many extra bases.It’s not as though Diaz isn’t hitting the ball hard though. He’s hitting it considerably harder than Ramirez. In fact, according to StatCast, he records the 11th highest average exit velocity at 92.8 mph, right between Mitch Moreland and Eric Hosmer and ahead of such powerhouses as Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber. Ramirez, for your information, has an 89.3 mph average exit velocity. Exit velocity, it seems, isn't everything. By the way, Francisco Lindor is second in average exit velocity at this point in the season in all of baseball. Which is neat.
No, the real problem is Diaz’s launch angle. To this point in the season, here is StatCast’s record of his average Launch Angle:
Straight out, basically no elevation at all. Actually it’s literally a negative angle on average, -1.63 degrees. Those guys he’s ahead of on the average exit velocity list don’t have that problem. For instance, here’s Harper from back in 2015, when he turned into a god:
For consistency’s sake, here’s Ramirez from this year:
Elevation means ball in the air, which may mean a lower BABIP but it also means extra base hits and big time damage. A tweak like this turned Daniel Murphy into a superstar. His fly ball rate the last two years has been six to seven percent higher than his career 36%, and his grounder rate has taken a similar dip. Diaz is roughly twice the size of Ramirez, with biceps the size of Ramirez’s head. He could do well to trade launch angles with his sometime teammate.
If this information has been communicated to Diaz, hopefully he can make the adjustments and struggle for a bit in the minors, before eventually (hopefully) turning it into big time dividends in the majors. The power is there, he’s just not directing it properly. It makes you wonder a bit whether other players in the past could have been great if not for poor schooling as a child, but that’s a wondering for another day. For a guy as polished as he is, Diaz is still raw material in the tough world of Major League Baseball, but one adjustment could turn him into Edgar Mk. 2. Or at least a viable offensive option for the Indians. All it takes is a few degrees.