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Jordan Luplow pulling his way to success

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Jordan Luplow has been good, but is he ... good?

Baltimore Orioles v Cleveland Indians Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images

Here are some interesting numbers about Jordan Luplow. He’s seen 330 pitches this season, just under a third of major league total. He’s “barreled” a pitch 5 times, just over a third of the total barrels he’s amassed in his 88 game career which, again, spans three seasons. This season, on 41 batted balls, he’s posting a 92 mph exit velocity, which would rank 25th in baseball if he qualified for their arbitrary cutoff of 50 batted ball events. His 53.7% hard hit rate (batted balls over 95 mph) would rank ninth in baseball.

These are all interesting numbers, and if you wanted to stitch them together you could convince yourself that Jordan Luplow is something resembling an elite power hitter, or at least elite power threat.

But is he? Is Jordan Luplow … good?

It’s a qualified question, with qualified answers. The Indians as a whole aren’t all that “good” offensively this year, ranking 26th in team wRC+ at just 78. All the teams below them are among the worst teams in baseball overall. So being good on the Indians takes a lot less work than being good on, say, the Astros, with their team 131 wRC+, a mark that surpasses any single hitter on Cleveland and would rank 41st in baseball if it were a single hitter.

So Luplow hitting .241/.301/.500, working out to a 105 wRC+, isn’t exactly setting the world on fire type of numbers. But it’s better than most, and certainly better than anything he’s done in the majors so far in his career. That was the issue with Luplow when he was going back and forth in the Pirates system — he’d blow the doors off in the minors, including a .907 OPS with 23 home runs over two levels in 2017, but once he hit the majors that 1.45 K/BB ratio exploded, approaching three strikeouts for each walk. Overall, he was just very ungood.

But now here he is, blasting the ball with the best of them, tops on the team in slugging percentage, and just two home runs behind Carlos Santana for most on the Indians, in less nearly 120 fewer plate appearances. The power is (maybe) real. And by his own admission, it’s by Luplow simply being himself. Evidently, that means pulling the ball all the damn time. Or rather, simply not going opposite field.

The leap from the minors to the show is huge. Sometimes you do have to depart from what you once were. In Luplow’s case,that looks like this:

Jordan Luplow batted ball direction

Season Team Pull% Cent% Oppo%
Season Team Pull% Cent% Oppo%
2014 Pirates (A-) 41.3 % 23.9 % 34.8 %
2015 Pirates (A) 46.0 % 26.4 % 27.6 %
2016 Pirates (A+) 51.2 % 23.3 % 25.4 %
2017 Pirates (AA) 55.2 % 18.6 % 26.2 %
2017 Pirates (AAA) 46.0 % 29.4 % 24.6 %
2017 Pirates 43.9 % 31.6 % 24.6 %
2018 Pirates (AAA) 51.6 % 24.2 % 24.2 %
2018 Pirates 45.9 % 28.4 % 25.7 %
2019 Indians (AAA) 52.2 % 30.4 % 17.4 %
2019 Indians 46.3 % 43.9 % 9.8 %
Total - - - 45.3 % 33.1 % 21.5 %
Baseball Sa

This is admittedly a little odd, and the sample size is a bit small right now of course. It’s hard to figure that he’s doing anything really outsize. But that complete disregard for the opposite field is nothing short of extraordinary. If it were to hold, it would be the lowest opposite field rate in all of baseball, comfortably surpassing Albert Pujols’ 12.7% and massively below last year’s lowest mark, Andrelton Simmons at 15.9%.

So that alone should probably tell us that Luplow will revert somewhat to form. He’s always been pull-heavy in the minors anyway, as we see, so that’s likely to hold. But does that translate to finding his stroke in 2019 with the Indians? That’s the hard part. The good news is, he’s chasing out of the zone less than ever with just a 23.1% O-swing rate, and going after pitches in the zone more than ever at 76.4%. That could be a glimpse of comfort showing itself for the young player. He’s still only 25, and still only has 263 plate appearances under his belt.

He’s going to get chances if only because there’s nobody else to play in the outfield right now. Holding true to this new self would do wonders for his career.