My first memory of Chris Taylor is of him serving as the third part of the illustrious Nick Franklin – Brad Miller – Taylor line in Seattle. He was the third to come up and the third to stumble. There were some who were of a mind that Franklin and Miller would turn into long-term assets for the Mariners, and that Taylor could be the sort of everyday regular who doesn’t make headlines but steadfastly contributes.
Now, a few years later, none of them play for Seattle. Franklin is struggling for the Brewers, and Miller is on the DL after an unexpected 30-homer campaign in Tampa. Taylor is a Dodger following a midseason trade last year.
He’s amassed 1.4 WAR in 29 games so far this year, and he’s slugging .583. Just as precisely nobody expected.
Some of the old reports on Taylor said that he would be a decent enough hitter, but that he’d make his money with his glove. Nobody ever looked at Taylor and saw a serious power threat, or a player who would prove to offer real value on both sides of the ball like this year. It’s just 29 games, and indeed, just 101 plate appearances. And when you go to his stats page, that .411 BABIP stands out like a sore thumb that just suffered a paper cut and was doused in lemon juice. But there’s so much more than dumb luck going on here.
Taylor is just 26, which is still young enough for a breakout to represent a real improvement in true talent. And it seems that Taylor has, in fact, made some strong adjustments. He’s posting by far the lowest swing rate of his career, at 39.4%, and he’s using that newfound selectivity to drive the ball all over the field.
It’s also allowing him to walk a lot more. Taylor’s taken a free pass in an impressive 16.8% of his plate appearances, which happens to be the exact same rate at which Joey Votto’s walking this season. So, to recap: Taylor is hitting for high average, hitting for power, walking at a high rate, and fielding well. He’s doing all that in some snappy stirrups, too. The Dodgers may have a hell of a find on their hands, even when the regression dragons decide to work their magic.
He’s going to keep getting a chance to play, too. Taylor had been filling in at second base for the injured Logan Forsythe, but an injury to Justin Turner means that he’ll stay in the lineup once Forsythe completes his ongoing minor-league rehab assignment. That gives Taylor more time to prove that he can hit. If he does that, the Dodgers have a very happy problem on their hands once their infield is back to full steam.
If Taylor reverts back to something more like old self, then the problem solves itself. Turner and Forsythe are better options than Chris Taylor 1.0. If Taylor 2.0 is still kicking around when Turner and Forsythe are back, however, things get very interesting. Perhaps there’s another opportunity that’s opened up, and Taylor can be plugged in there. Perhaps Adrian Gonzalez gets banged up again, which forces Cody Bellinger to first base and an outfielder’s mitt into Taylor’s hands. These things have a habit of resolving themselves.
Every season brings us moments like this. More often than not, they end with the red-hot player cooling back into his usual self, or something slightly more than that. Precious are the times when a new above-average performer suddenly emerges from nothingness. We don’t yet know if Taylor’s newfound patience at the plate will translate into long-term success. Pitchers are factors in this game, too, after all, and they will have a say in the matter before it’s decided.
We do this dance every year, trying to figure out which of the pop-up players are real and which are simply riding the lightning. Ultimately, a larger sample is required to reach something like a conclusion, which is why you may notice no strict verdict has been given here. But there’s always a group of guys whose performances require further monitoring. Taylor is part of that group right now. He’s outplaying even the most generous of projections, and damn if it isn’t fun.
Nick is a columnist at FanGraphs, and has written previously for Baseball Prospectus and Beyond the Box Score. Yes, he hates your favorite team, just like Joe Buck. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets, and can contact him at stellinin1 at gmail.