Will the real Mike Ford stand?

Similar to Mike Tauchman who we discussed in our last piece, Mike Ford had a great 2019 for the Yankees and a…well, umm…horrible 2020. There’s really no other way to say it.

Ford posted a .350/.559 OBP/SLG line with an OPS+ of 136 in 2019 (Judge was the only Yankee with a better OPS+). He then followed that up with a .226/.270 OBP/SLG and 37 OPS+ in 2020. (For some perspective, only five Yankees this century have had a lower OPS+ with at least 80 PA.)

So which is the real Mike Ford? Let’s see if a dive into the behind the scenes numbers tells us anything…

Ford’s production dropped in every manner measurable in 2020, so there’s not one thing to single out that may give us a clue. His chase rate was almost exactly the same in ’20 as it was in ’19 so there was nothing wrong with his eyes and his sprint speed was almost identical as well, indicating he wasn’t pushing through an injury. And yes, when I say his sprint speed was the same, I mean it started at glacially slow and stayed at glacially slow.

And although I can’t imagine teams having too many pre-game meetings discussing how to stop Mike Ford given the other names in the Yankee lineup, it is worth checking to see if pitchers changed their approach with him. Turns out they did – Ford saw 7% more fastballs in ’20 than he did in ’19 and 8% fewer breaking balls. Pitchers also were less likely to throw a first pitch strike to him in ’20 than they were in ’19 – 8% less to be exact.

But here’s the thing: None of those adjustments seemed to matter. His performance against all pitches dropped, and he swung at fewer first pitches and saw more pitches per at bat in ’20, so it wasn’t like he was getting fooled and chasing 1st pitches or was adjusting to one pitch but not the other. He simply just wasn’t hitting the ball.

More specifically, he wasn’t hitting the ball in the air.

Ford’s launch angle dropped from 15.6 to 8.4 from ’19 to ’20, his fly ball percentage dropped from 44.3% to 30.5% and his ground ball percentage rose from 37.4% to 50.8%. Those are not insignificant drops. And as we know, unless you’re prime Ichiro, Willie Wilson or Cool Papa Bell, hitting the ball on the ground at those rates usually doesn’t end well.

Now, I’m not a swing coach, but I’m sure the Yankees have some good ones who are addressing this. I’m also of the mind that this is simply a case of 2020 being too small of a sample size. My money says Ford just had a bad stretch of 84 PA in which he just wasn’t hitting the ball – it happens. Remember folks, I say it all the time: Baseball is hard – very, very hard. Even the best of the best are going to go through tough stretches.

Another thing to consider when discussing Mike Ford, is that not only was his 2019 performance great, but he obliterated minor league pitching before making the show. Before being called up in 2019, Ford led the International League in wRC+ and was 2nd in SLG and 8th in OBP. Prior to that, he played across five minor league levels and posted a great OPS+ at every level.

Does this mean he’s the next Giambino in waiting? Probably not. He may not be as good as his 2019 numbers suggest, but he’s a hell of a lot better than he was last season – don’t count him out.

That said, given that both Jay Bruce and Derek Dietrich have played first base before, Ford needs an impressive spring training if he wants to be in the Bronx on April 1st.

Did I miss something? Let me know.

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