As in, someone informed me that a) DJ has really been slumping, and b) for a player who’s known for being a great contact hitter, it doesn’t seem like his contact is too good anymore either.
Let’s start with the “slump” part. It’s true, DJ has an OBP of .244 with a cringeworthy .195 SLG over his last 45 PA. The key there is 45 PA, which needless to say, is a small sample size – as recently as May 10th his OBP/SLG line on the season was .346/.479, good for a 129 wRC+. (Not far off from his 136 wRC+ in 2019 when he finished fourth in the AL MVP voting.)
Let’s move on to the less contact part. If you’ve read my stuff before, you know I don’t give two Rod Carew model bats about contact. That said, if a hitter who’s always made contact at a high rate suddenly doesn’t anymore, some questions are worth asking.
In DJ’s case, his 80.4% contact rate so far in 2023 is by far the lowest of his career, but most of that is on pitches outside the zone – his contact rate on balls in the zone is only slightly off his career average. Yet his overall whiff rate puts him in the 66th percentile in MLB, which may not sound bad – until you consider each of his first four years in pinstripes, he posted rankings above the 90th percentile.
Confused? Me too. But if like me, you’re thinking contact rate isn’t a big deal if he’s hitting the ball harder, let’s look there.
Good news: He is. His average exit velocity of 92 mph would be a career high for him, and even though exit velocity is up league wide, it still places him in the 88th percentile which is more or less where he’s been as a Yankee when healthy. And with regards to the swings and misses outside the zone, there’s not too much cause for concern there – his chase rate is currently in the 79th percentile in MLB, which is better than it was in his monster 2020 season.
If you’re curious about other batted ball issues, his launch angle has been down a bit so his ground ball rate has been up slightly but not to the extent that red flags should be raised. Also, he’s gone to right field much less often in 2023 than he has previously in his career, but he’s hitting the ball up the middle significantly more often than his career norm. (I don’t think anyone would be concerned with a player hitting the ball hard up the middle.)
This leaves us with good news and bad news. The good news is that 178 PA isn’t an insignificant sample size, but it’s not big enough to draw concern when we’re talking about a player who’s had over 6,000 PA in his career.
The bad news is that if you’re trying to predict what DJ is going to produce offensively, I wish you luck, because people far smarter than I have tried and failed miserably.
DJ has played in the offensive haven of Denver and had a monster season, a garbage season, and some average seasons. He’s played in seasons with a juiced ball and seasons when the league used a hacky sack. He’s been 100% healthy and has also gone through stretches in which he’s clearly been less than 100%. In nine seasons prior to this one, he’s posted a wRC+ of better than 130 three times, and 94 or below four times. That’s really hard to do.
Bottom line? Don’t worry. Even in 2021 when he clearly was injured, he still posted a league average wRC+ and in his current slump his 103 wRC+ is far from awful. And as we know, he can play three infield positions well even when he’s not hitting so there’s no need for consternation even when a slumping DJ is in the lineup. If we get to late July and things haven’t improved, come get my attention.
Did I miss anything? Let me know. Leave a comment below or yell at me @mybaseballpage1 on Twitter and/or the “My Baseball Page” page on Facebook.
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