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Aggressiveness serving Tyler Naquin well at the plate

Tyler Naquin is getting after the ball, and he’s hitting it better than ever

Toronto Blue Jays v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

What more is there to say, to analyze about Tyler Naquin?

Now 250 games into his major league career and seven years in the Indians system, it feels like he’s been around forever. He’s been a face in the crowd as the Indians have been on this division-dominating run of theirs, whether as a rookie phenom, relative developmental failure or injury replacement, and at this point you feel like you know everything about the guy. He’s not having an obviously remarkable season, and the results are unimpressive on a pretty bad offensive team, but at the very least Naquin is making his presence felt when he’s in the batter’s box.

In all comes down to aggression. That is what is separating Naquin from his previous seasons. To be clear, he’s not exactly obliterating the ball out there, though the 93 wRC+ he packed coming into the break is the highest since his smoke-and-mirrors 2016 campaign. Basically, he’s swinging the bat more:

Tyler Naquin swing rates

Season Team O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% Contact% SwStr%
Season Team O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% Contact% SwStr%
2016 Indians 36.0 % 72.7 % 51.2 % 72.0 % 14.2 %
2017 Indians 30.7 % 58.8 % 43.0 % 79.1 % 9.0 %
2018 Indians 38.4 % 69.3 % 52.0 % 82.8 % 8.9 %
2019 Indians 40.4 % 72.9 % 54.1 % 75.5 % 13.1 %
Total - - - 37.2 % 71.2 % 51.6 % 75.6 % 12.5 %

Whether in the zone or out of it, Naquin is simply offering at the ball more. And it’s paying some kind of dividend. The rise in wRC+ isn’t coming from his on-base skills. His 5% walk rate is lower than the 6.9% career mark and in line with his miserable stint in 2017 when he was hurt. What’s working is power. His .462 slugging percentage is its highest since 2016, so is the .195 isolated slugging. More than anything, he’s just making harder contact, noted by a career high 91.1 mph average exit velocity as well as a 39.1% hard hit rate. That’s basically the same as Kris Davis, which is pretty good company.

Not that Naquin is in danger of turning into Davis (whose hard hit rate is down eight points from last year anyway). Not yet, anyway. He’s elevating the ball more, the 12.4 degree average launch angle comfortably a career high, as is the 36.7% fly ball rate. But he could do some damage. What seems to be happening is the opposite of what players do when they adjust. Typically when a player makes any kind of improvement, it’s by mitigating his flaws. Naquin has always had the same flaw -- he can’t hit high fastballs. You’d think he’d just stop swinging at them. Guess what:

Baseball Savant

That’s everything he’s swung and missed at this year. Note all the fastballs at the top of the zone. This is everything we expect. Naquin is a notorious low ball hitter, and just can’t get at balls up. He’s just accepted that as fact, and when he can get a ball in his zoom zone he tries to blast it.

It’s probably not a good long-term strategy, but pitchers for the most part aren’t perfect machines. They’ll make mistakes in places he can hit, and with this wild new approach he’s apt to do damage if and when he does make contact. The ideal would be his not just accepting what he cannot change and instead trying to change it, but if he’s going to be flawed, at least he’s leaning into it. It places a firm ceiling on his ability to help the team,but with the offense being what it is, a flawed but punchy bat is better than nothing.