Ryan Goins Is the New Reason We’ll Never Understand Baseball by Jeff Sullivan September 2, 2015 So, I’m browsing around Twitter. I’m not looking for anything in particular, but then something catches my eye. It isn’t a tweet — it’s a trend, based on a series of tweets, happening somewhere outside of my circle. You know how trends work. The thing I saw Tuesday evening: I’m not unaccustomed to seeing baseball topics pop up over there. They tend to mirror the ongoing action, and sometimes the trends are accompanied by featured links to stories. This one linked to an article from Jeff Blair. The teaser is something made just for me: It suggests a change in performance, following a change in approach. I’m a total sucker for that genre. I’m fascinated by stories of baseball players who work hard to make themselves better. What was throwing me in this case was the name. I consider myself prepared for most players to improve. This is about Ryan Goins. This won’t include random ball-in-play nonsense. Goins hasn’t been riding a wave of singles like that first time Willie Bloomquist played. Those streaks are easy enough to dismiss. But let me frame this for you. Let’s look at the highest individual walk rates since the All-Star break. First: Joey Votto. Totally normal. He’s actually first by a landslide. Have you looked at his numbers? Look at his numbers. They’re silly. That should be a separate post. Anyhow, in second: Bryce Harper. Yeah, why not? Then third, Dexter Fowler. He’s always drawn a bunch of walks. Good eye. Fowler is followed by the expected, unsurprising Joc Pederson. Pederson is followed by the expected, unsurprising Paul Goldschmidt. Then you get to Ryan Goins. More than 16% walks, none of which, of course, have been intentional. As I wrote this paragraph, Goins drew another walk, this time against the Indians. Said walk: Maybe this doesn’t quite sing to you. Maybe you don’t know much about Goins. That wouldn’t be your fault. Goins was never that remarkable. Wasn’t even anything in this season’s first half. He was a totally forgettable, relatively unhelpful utility guy. He was the guy behind Devon Travis. Travis got hurt, then Travis got re-hurt. Enter Goins. Enter the walks. Let me tell you a little about what Ryan Goins was. Between 2013 and 2014, there were 442 players who batted at least 250 times. Goins ranked 436th in wRC+. Goins ranked 439th in walk rate. Dreadful numbers. In this year’s preseason projections, Goins ranked in the lowest 3% in projected wOBA, and in the lowest 10% in projected walk rate. Offensive ability wasn’t present. It hadn’t been present in the high minors. Even this year, Goins didn’t do a lot early. Now for an excerpt from the Blair post: Turns out the key to this change is nothing – or, more precisely, doing nothing with the bat other than resting it on his shoulders. Seriously … that’s it? “That’s really it,” Goins said Sunday […] `The change was made because the hitting coaches (Brook Jacoby and Eric Owens) knew I wasn’t going to be playing a lot when everybody was healthy – that I was going to be a utility guy – so the idea was to make myself as simple as possible at the plate so I wouldn’t get blown away by velocity.’” Visuals would probably help. Goins from a couple months ago: Goins, more recently: You wouldn’t think much of it. It seems so simple, and it’s not entirely clear how this helps, mechanically. But hitting is complicated, and the mechanical analysis can follow the numerical analysis. Here’s a table of numbers. Goins made his adjustment in the vicinity of the All-Star break. So, look at Goins’ career up to the break, and what he’s done since: Ryan Goins’ Transformation Time O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% PA BB OBP wRC+ Through 2015 ASB 36% 54% 45% 525 19 0.248 49 Since 2015 ASB 26% 46% 35% 105 17 0.400 128 The thought is that Goins is a little quicker to the ball. By removing time from his swing, he buys a little extra time to look at the pitch, which can be beneficial for plate discipline. Discipline is part about eyes, and part about hitting mechanics. The argument now is the mechanics let Goins exercise better control of the zone. It’s hard to swing that much less often by accident. Goins has clearly been more patient, nearly equaling his previous walk total in a fifth of the plate appearances. I didn’t know pitchers were throwing Ryan Goins that many balls, but, here we are. It reminds me, a little bit, of Reggie Willits. Willits sticks out in my memory for his high walk rate, despite his relative talentlessness. But Willits never hit a home run. His career ISO was .044. Goins isn’t strong, but he is strong enough to do this: Your browser does not support iframes. Again, that’s a hard thing to fake. So Goins has a little more capability to punish. So then he has a slightly higher ceiling — a slightly better chance of keeping pitchers out of the zone more regularly. Please don’t mistake this as now declaring Goins to be a good hitter. I don’t yet buy him as a good hitter, specifically because of his record of being such a bad hitter. That takes a while to forget, and pitchers deserve a chance to adjust. They deserve a chance to try to pound Goins with more strikes, so he can’t sit back and take his base. But Goins recently has been doing something he’s never done in the major leagues. For a whole calendar month, he produced like a hitter more than 50% better than average. He hit some baseballs hard, and he drew walks more often than almost anyone else in the game. Over recent weeks, Ryan Goins has resembled a legitimate, quality middle infielder. Yeah, he’s been about as good as he could ever dream of being. He’s going to walk less often than this. But, this is Ryan Goins. Consider what used to be Ryan Goins. It really is a small miracle. I don’t know who’s next, but if it can be Goins, it can be anyone.