Strong, keen-eyed, and large as he is, the famous knock on Yandy Diaz is that batted ball profile. Specifically, his propensity to hit grounders like he’s Dee Gordon chasing infield hits.
Diaz is many things, but fleet of foot he is not. The hope is, he changes that profile and starts lofting more fly balls and turns into Aaron Judge or Nelson Cruz. But that’s not assured. Based on his recent past, it’s a good possibility it won’t happen. He’s laid waste to minor league pitching and is the size of a Studebaker, why should he change how he swings? The evidence is there that it works. So if nothing changes with his swing and we face a worst case scenario, what’s the best case scenario?
Diaz has a rather odd batted ball profile. It’s hard to find anyone who quite replicates his level of power (36.9 percent hard hit rate by FanGraphs) coupled with his 19.1 percent career fly ball rate. In fact, I found only three players whose combined last three and a half seasons have amounted to something resembling that:
Batted ball profiles of hitters similar to Diaz from 2015-18
Like I said, Diaz’s total lack of fly balls despite hitting the ball so hard is an outlier. Of course he’s only had 199 plate appearances in the majors, but even in the minors his peak fly ball rate was 28.6 percent back in 2015, which would rank about 135th this year.
The name I keep tacking to is Yelich. On the above chart he’s the most similar, and several of his individual season look strikingly similar to Diaz:
Yelich batted ball profile by year
Of course it helps to convince me that he’s the best of the three right now. He has a very similar profile and even sprays the ball the opposite way like Diaz has, Yelich at 29.1 percent of the time for his career and Diaz at 34.8 percent. Along with Yelich, Mauer is has gone opposite field pretty prodigiously the last two and a half years, 35.9 percent of the time. So either would be nice, even if Mauer’s MVP years are behind him.
Again, this isn’t about what’s likely. It’s what would be a pleasant development with Diaz based on what he is now. It’s a bit funny to think that he has the batted ball profile of the former Marlins left fielder and the stature of their former right fielder. But if he can’t start swinging it like Stanton, there’s nothing wrong with a guy who posts a 120-130 wRC+ and hits in the low double digits in home runs. That would be the third best hitter on the Indians right now. If you think back to that double of his on Monday night, that screams home run power if the ball came off the bat a bit differently. It doesn’t have to always be an abject uppercut swing to hit it over the fence.
Players through the ages became superstars because they hit the ball very hard, but still took the teachings of swinging down on the ball as gospel. Ted Williams was way ahead of his time, as was Babe Ruth with his big cut. Though I almost suspect Babe was a bit more accidental in his swing development than the genius of Williams. That’s just supposition though. If Diaz doesn’t decide to follow the trends in baseball now, he still has the bones of a great hitter. He hits it all over the park, and hits it hard. Like Yelich you can’t shift on him, which is key for a player that doesn’t hit it over the defense so much. So even if he doesn’t do what we want, he’s still going to be good.
If he could actually get to play.