Legend has it that deep within the heart of the baseball universe, there exists a player whose power and grandeur are unmatched by any mortal or deity. For years, baseball fans have whispered stories of his might, dreaming of the day when he would finally unleash his full potential and lead his team to glory. Many have speculated that he is actually a demi-god, descended from the great Hercules himself, sent to save the world of baseball from unfathomable darkness. Season after season, we prayed to Zeus, pleading with him to lift him up on eagles’ wings, that he might finally hit for power and fulfill his destiny. He needed only to hit the ball in the air. This is the story of the one they call… Yandy Diaz.
In 2019, Yandy Diaz gave us the first glimpse of his great potential. In 79 games during his first season with the Tampa Bay Rays, Diaz smacked 14 dongs. He also posted a slugging percentage of .490 which was significantly higher than anything he had shown to that point. He was making better contact with the ball with his first barrel rate above 7 percent. The power though faded after a strong April that year in which he hit 6 HR. It was a tease, a glimpse at the Garden of Eden. It proved to be nothing more than a shadow and a whisper.
The power did not last and in the shortened 2020 season he totaled only 2 HR with little power. He recaptured some degree of form in 2021 but ultimately could not ascent the mountain top and regain the past glory of April in the 19th year after 20. His SLG that season despite the 13 home runs was still below .400 while collecting only 20 doubles. Then, last year in 2022, something happened. The home runs didn’t come, but the extra bases finally did as he compiled 33 doubles. Maybe there was still hope.
So far this season, as of the last edit to this piece, Yandy Diaz has hit 6 HR in the first part of this season. The same total as that fabled season of yore with another week to go. Could we finally be seeing the season that was promised? Is this what the portents are saying? Is it time?
Comparing the 2 thunderous Aprils, there are a lot of similarities. He’s hit for roughly the same slash line and scored the same runs. The main difference in the stats this year is it has come in 25 fewer plate appearances. And despite how similar it is on the surface, what we find under the hood is that much more intriguing. Perhaps this is what we have been looking for all this time.
Yandy is doing something he has never done before, not even in the storied April of 19, his best month to date. This year, Yandy is hitting the ball more consistently in the AIR. So far in 2023, Yandy is getting lift by maintaining a 43.8% flyball rate and keeping his groundball rate below 36%. Back in 2019, it was much more of a mirage as he was still hitting 54%+ ground balls and somehow conjuring a 29% HR/FB rate. But this time around he has been getting the flyballs and hitting the ball harder with much less soft contact, below 10%. All signals point to this being much more sustainable.
Furthermore, there are marked improvements in the statcast data compared to 2019. Yandy has been hitting the ball harder more consistently with a higher max EV and better contact. And the loudest difference is none other than that elusive holy grail, launch angle. For the month of April, he’s got it up nearly to 14 (in the ideal window) for the first time in his career. Has he finally turned the corner with a distinct effort to hit the ball up? So far it looks that way.
So what can we expect the rest of the season? To me, the louder contact and the sustained flyball rate are the main indicators. Yandy Diaz has always hit the ball with great authority. It’s the main reason why we all had hoped he would learn to elevate. Even Eric Hosmer was able to sustain two seasons of 25 home runs with a barrel rate below 9%, a 4-degree LA, and a flyball rate under 25%. He did that twice. So with a much better batted-ball profile, why not Yandy? There’s definitely a chance that he could regress into old Yandy, because also, why not? Entropy commands all things to return to chaos.
The thing is though, this is not noise like the first month in 2019. This time, all the data supports the transformation on top of scraping the toast of statcast launch angle. The flyball data suggests he could settle in around a 17% HR/FB rate with a little regression but with this much elevating that would still put him in line for around 22 more home runs. Is that likely? Probably not, we’ve been burned before; hope crushed under the weight of regression. But, this season, it’s at least in the cards as a possibility… And that’s a dandy if you do.
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