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Plate discipline driving Andrés Giménez’s recent improvement

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The Guardians’ young infielder is seeing the ball better than ever and it’s starting to show

Detroit Tigers v Cleveland Indians Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Andrés Giménez is showing the kind of small adjustments that he needs to be a successful hitter in the majors.

When we look back on the 2021 season, plenty of “what ifs” will come up. What if the entire pitching staff wasn’t injured? What if any outfielder could hit before the trade deadline? What if James Karinchak could pitch without sticky stuff? What if Andrés Giménez didn’t bottom out immediately?

That last one is where I decided to focus some time into today. Giménez has a chance to be another case study in the value of going down to Triple-A to work out the kinks of a struggling player. And boy was he struggling before he was optioned.

You may recall that Giménez was part of a deal for some guys named Carlos Carrasco and Francisco Lindor. He was arguably the biggest piece of that trade, at least at the major-league level. Amed Rosario was seen as the immediate stop-gap at short and might have started the season at shortstop if Giménez didn’t play so well in spring training.

You may also recall that Andrés Giménez was downright terrible in his first stint with Cleveland slashing .179/.226/.308 for a 41 wRC+ and proving just how unimportant spring training stats are. He had two home runs and six doubles as his only extra-base hits and he was striking out a third of the time and drew only a handful of walks. When he was mercifully sent down to Triple-A on May 18 it was clear that he had a lot of work to do.

The Mets made adjustments to Giménez’s swing during the 2019 season that didn’t take well at the time but showed dividends for his rookie campaign in 2020 when he finished with a 104 wRC+. The hope, as Blake Ruane wrote at the time of the trade, was that the changes would continue to be effective and provide Giménez with power in addition to his contact ability and stellar defense at shortstop. Early on, that hope looked misplaced.

Giménez was the future, but he didn’t look like the present.

Fast forward through a couple months of work in Columbus, and suddenly he looks like a more patient hitter at the plate and may have found a new home at second base. That’s not to say that he has surged to be a true offensive threat and cornerstone of the Guardians lineup, but there’s something to build off of now. That’s a lot more than we could say about pre-demotion Giménez.

Since his return to the majors three weeks ago, he has just eight hits and two doubles in his aforementioned 50 plate appearances — that’s still not great. However, he’s done something he struggled to do in the later games of his first stint: he’s being much more selective at the plate.

At his worst Gimenez was swinging at nearly half the pitches out of the zone and his strikeout rate ballooned as a result without the improved power to go along with it. He reemerged in the majors around the 50-game mark of the graph below, right before his outside swing rate tanked and his wRC+ began to rise closer to league average over a 15-game rolling average.

FanGraphs

If I’m the Guardians front office and saw this trend emerging, I would have pulled the ripcord and sent him to Triple-A, too. After his good first couple weeks of the season, he started pressing as pitchers adjusted to him. The pressing resulted in more bad swings and more struggles at the plate until he absolutely tanked in May.

Andrés Giménez isn’t a Nick Madrigal (or what we hope Owen Miller can be) — he’s not going to chase pitches all over the place and make contact. He’s more like a Bradley Zimmer on his good days — he can succeed if he waits for his pitch and doesn’t try and do too much.

Granted, this all doesn’t mean much on its own. It’s roughly a week of better pitch recognition against such venerable pitching staffs as the Twins, Angels, and Rangers. Even in this limited window, he’s still a well-below average hitter with a .220/.340/.250 slash and 74 wRC+. But his walk rate in that span has risen to 14%, his strikeout rate has dropped to 16%, and he’s showing that his time in the minors was well spent. Baby steps.

Besides, he’s only 22. Most of us are preparing to move back in with our parents after failing to find a job with a too-expensive college degree at 22. He’s out here hitting game-tying doubles off of major-league pitchers.