2010. What do you think of? Superior vision? A sense of nostalgia? Let’s see, 11 years ago, there was Toy Story 3, the Burj Khalifa opened, Winter Olympics, Spain won the World Cup, the Blackhawks hoisted the Stanley Cup, the Saints celebrated the Super Bowl, the Lakers triumphed to raise the Larry O’Brien, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Haiti killed over 300,000 people, an 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile, the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform exploded, S&P downgraded Greece’s credit rating, the Flash Crash…..ABORT! ABORT!! I want 2021 back. NOOOOOO! Take me back to 2010. AHHHHH! Time is a flat circle. Woo sah. Wooooo saaaaah. What else does 2010 conjure up? 20 home runs and 10 steals. Ahhh, that’s sweet music to my ears. Steamer has 33 players projected for 20 and 10 this upcoming season. Only nine have an ADP past 100. Ramon Laureano is being selected on average with the 142nd pick in NFBC drafts from January 1 to February 16. Trash or treasure?
Laureano is 26 years old, 5′ 11″, and 200 pounds. He was drafted by the Astros in the 16th round of the 2014 MLB draft. In 2016, Laureano put up a combined 15 home runs and 43 stolen bases in 505 plate appearances in Single-A and Double-A. The walk and strikeout rates were in the 14% and 23% range respectively while the ISO was above .200 and the BABIP was north of .400. The slash was above .300/.400/.500.
The following year, the BABIP cratered to .273 and the walk rate was below 10%. He still hit 11 home runs and stole 24 bases in 513 plate appearances, but the slash was .227/.298/.369. The Astros traded him after that season to the Athletics, where he immediately flourished again. In Triple-A, the ISO was .228, BABIP was .358, and the walk and strikeout rates were 10.9% and 24.6% in 284 plate appearances. He slashed .297/.380/.524.
This earned him a cup of coffee with the big club where he hit five home runs and stole seven bases in 176 plate appearances. The walk rate was 9.1% but the strikeout rate was 28.4%. While the number is high, it was his first action against major league pitching so not too surprising. The ISO was .186, though, and the BABIP was .388. The slash was .288/.358/.474.
In his first year as a starter, Laureano had a 5.6% walk rate, 25.6% strikeout rate, .233 ISO, and .342 BABIP in 481 plate appearances. The slash was .288/.340/.521, almost identical to his 2018 numbers.
I usually don’t focus so much on a player’s history, but I thought it was important for Laureano because he has extended periods of maintaining a high BABIP but has now had two seasons in which the BABIP has been low, resulting in a low slash. Last season, in 222 plate appearances, the slash was .213/.338/.366 while the BABIP was .270.
Let’s dig in and see if last year was just bad luck or if it’s the New World Order.
Laureano hit more ground balls and fewer line drives last season compared to 2019. He still was pulling the ball at a 43% clip but the hard-hit rate decreased to 32.8% from 40%. He did go oppo more, though, which is good and, while the soft contact rate ticked up, it was the medium contact rate that saw the biggest increase to balance out the decrease in hard-hit rate. That’s encouraging.
Now for the plate discipline breakdown. The swinging strike rate was a career-low 8.9%. Yippee. He also chased pitches at a career-low 27%. YIPPEE. The contact rates were all at career-highs as well. YIPPEE!!! He did swing at fewer pitches, though. Hmmm, what’s this about. We will come back to this later. I want to check out the Statcast data first.
The barrel rate was slightly down but nothing too egregious. The exit velocity was down by 2 mph, though. The launch angle was at 12.3, down from 14.6 but still a respectable number. The batted ball profile shows that he topped 30.5% and got under 27.3% of pitches. Looking at how pitchers attacked him last year can shed some light on this.
In 2019, pitchers threw 56.5% fastballs and 30.8% breaking balls. Last season, it was 52.1% fastball and 35% breaking balls. This change in pitch mix may explain some of the indecision on Laureano’s part and account for the decrease in swing rate. In addition, when he did swing, the timing may have been a tick off, resulting in toppers or getting under pitches.
Looking at the heat maps, pitchers maintained the same mantra of pitching hard stuff high and tight with sliders low and away. There’s one big difference, though, An increase of two percent was pitched to the upper left and lower right areas off the plate of the batter’s box. So more breaking stuff away with a higher concentration of the fastballs going up and in.
Now, when I look at the strikeout rates and popup percentages by zone, things start to become more clear. Laureano actually decreased his strikeout percentages in both the upper left and lower right areas off the plate. The eye and discipline to lay off those pitches is a positive development. With that said, he was more aggressive with pitches on the inner half of the zone which resulted in more barrels and hard hits for that zone, but also made him more susceptible to weak pop-ups, strikeouts, and dribbles and whiffs to the low and outside stuff.
It seems to me that pitchers adjusted and Laureano was adjusting with them. With a full season, I’m optimistic that he would’ve become more comfortable and gotten his timing down. As a result, I view the low BABIP as bad luck rather than the beginning of a downward trend.
Laureano currently has a career .335 BABIP in 879 plate appearances. In the history of the game, there have been 137 players to sport a career .335 BABIP with at least 800 plate appearances. 42 are active players so maintaining that number isn’t a ludicrous proposition. All the projection systems have Laureano for a .304 to .308 BABIP for this season. Are they overweighting last season’s .270 number in 222 plate appearances? Possibly, which leaves plenty of room for upside because he’s shown to be able to maintain a high BABIP for long stretches.
I wanted to touch on the speed/stolen base aspect of Laureano’s game. The Athletics have been in the bottom five over the last five seasons in stolen base attempts per game. In addition, his sprint speed has declined from 29 to 28.5 to 27.9 feet per second. With that said, the Athletics will allow those with speed to run, as evidenced by Marcus Semien who stole double-digit bases five straight seasons and Rajai Davis stole 26 bases in 2017.
As for Laureano in particular, while the sprint speed may have declined, it’s not horrible, as the 27.9 feet/second would have placed him 123rd in MLB last season. He had the same speed as Javier Baez and Bryce Harper who are projected for 12 and 13 stolen bases respectively. We aren’t looking for Billy Hamilton here, just someone to get past 10 so we can pass go and collect $200.
Grey wrote up a Ramon Laureano sleeper post back in November of 2020. He had an ADP of 136 then. He’s at 143 now!!! TREASURE