Can Tauchman return to form?

One of the more frustrating aspects of the 2020 season for the Yankees was watching the struggles of Mike Tauchman, who had a breakout 2019. Had Tauchman performed last season the way he did in 2019, the Yankees likely would not have signed Brett Gardner, Derek Dietrich and Jay Bruce – certainly not all of them. But his drop off was such that some big questions remain heading into 2021. When we dig into the numbers a little, a fairly obvious trend jumps out at us.

Can he return to his productive 2019 form and make 2020 a lone bad memory? Let’s take a look…

In 2019, Tauchman posted a 128 wRC+, which is very good. In 2020, his wRC+ dropped to 78 – which (coughs, looks sideways) is not very good. In fact it’s awful. Normally, when players’ performance drops it’s usually due to either bad luck and/or health issues.

Tauchman’s batting average on balls in play (usually a good barometer of luck) was almost exactly the same from ’19 to ’20, so misfortune wasn’t a factor. His walk and strikeout rates and his sprint speed were almost exactly the same from ’19 to ’20 and he remained a plus defender, so there was nothing wrong with his eyes or legs. And his performance versus all types of pitches (fastball, breaking, off speed) dropped so it wasn’t a timing issue on his part or a strategic adjustment from the pitchers he faced.

So what did change?

From 2019 to 2020…

His hard hit % dropped from 38.9% to 24.3%.
His average exit velocity dropped from 88.7 mph to 84.9 mph.
His fly ball % dropped from 33.3% to 28.6%.
His pull % dropped from 29.5% to 20%.
His opposite field % rose from 34.7% to 45.7%.

Quite simply, he stopped hitting the ball in the air hard to right field and started hitting it softly to left on a lower trajectory. And the results were awful.

How awful? Due to his walk and strikeout rates remaining basically the same (technically they both improved slightly from ’19 to ’20) Tauchman’s OBP dropped only marginally despite the weak contact – .361 on ’19 to .342 in ’20.

His SLG, however went from .504 to .305 (…!!!!) That’s basically going from Clint Frazier to Tyler Wade.

One can only assume that this was a misguided philosophical change on Tauchman’s part. As noted, it appears he was 100% healthy and there was no strategic changes from his opponents in terms of how he was pitched to or defended (he actually saw fewer shifts in ’20).

This is disappointing, as one of the reasons I was high man on the Yankee’s acquiring him (as I wrote about here https://mybaseballpage.com/2019/03/26/good-news-nyy-mike-tauchman/ at the time) is that he had improved his plate discipline and ability to elevate it to right field. Those are valuable skills anywhere but especially in Yankee Stadium.

Also let this serve as a reminder, as we’ve covered this here before quite a few times: hitting the ball weakly to the opposite field is a bad strategy, regardless of what John Smoltz and A-Rod tell us ad nauseum. If you can hit the ball on a line the opposite way, great – but most players can’t. Don’t be fooled by the Carews, Gwynns and Boggs of history – they are the exceptions. Most players are not Hall of Famers and are better off driving it with elevation to their strong side.

The good news is that if the issue is indeed that simple, then there’s no reason Tauchman can’t return to the high level of play he showed us in ’19. After all, the Yankees have access to these numbers as well, so I’m assuming someone has had a sit down with Mike. Although the Yankees outfield suddenly looks crowded, there’s always room for a plus defender with a bat.

Did I miss something? Let me know.

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