The Potential New J.D. Martinez

As far as health is concerned, the Orioles have had something of a middle-infield catastrophe, with injuries to J.J. Hardy, Ryan Flaherty, and Jonathan Schoop. Injuries sometimes force teams to do creative things, and what we saw Buck Showalter do was push Steve Pearce to second base on the fly. Pearce had never played the position before, but Showalter liked his potential over the somewhat defensively-challenged Jimmy Paredes, even though Paredes had experience. That wasn’t the whole story, though: Paredes remained at DH. Showalter said he still wanted to keep that bat in the lineup.

Which is a funny thing to say about a guy who’s been a terrible hitter for most of his big-league career. Granted, it’s not like Paredes has a decade-long track record, but through his first four years, when he batted almost 500 times, his wRC+ ranked right between Yuniesky Betancourt and Freddy Galvis. There are reasons why Paredes was dumped by the Astros, when the Astros couldn’t afford to be liberal with their dumps. Showalter, though, has been a believer. You could say he’s seen some things. And right now, if you sort by wRC+, with at least 100 trips to the plate, Paredes finds himself sandwiched by Paul Goldschmidt and Miguel Cabrera. What those players have in common with Betancourt and Galvis is that they’re players in major-league baseball.

You know how these posts work. There’s a player off to a hot start. A player who’s been unusually productive, so he catches your attention. Author digs in, trying to find whatever changes he can, to try to explain what’s happening. Author speculates about the player’s immediate future. Author ultimately doesn’t know what said future will look like. I don’t know what Jimmy Paredes is going to do. I bet Jimmy Paredes doesn’t know what he’s going to do. Baseball’s no less mysterious to those who get to play it.

But what I’m struck by are the similarities between this case and last year’s case of J.D. Martinez. Martinez, this year, has kept up his power hitting, after last season’s breakthrough. Paredes has also come out of the Astros organization, and he’s showing more strength, including strength to the opposite field. As with Martinez, Paredes likes to swing, and he’s not the most disciplined hitter in the world, but now he’s tapping into enough power to make the whole package worthwhile.

A table of what you need to know:

Season(s) GB% IFFB% Oppo% Hard% K% ISO
2011 – 2014 55% 16% 20% 29% 28% 0.088
2015 45% 0% 30% 36% 21% 0.269

GB%: groundball rate. Paredes is hitting more balls in the air.

IFFB%: infield fly-ball rate. Paredes has yet to pop up this season, implying better and more consistent contact.

Oppo%: Paredes, this year, is more comfortable going the other way.

Hard%: a boost in hard-hit rate! That’s good.

K%: while Paredes hasn’t necessarily improved his overall contact rate, he has cut down on his strikeouts. He still swings and misses, but he also swings and hits early in counts when he can.

ISO: isolated power. Before, there was none. Now there is some. In the upper minors, Paredes ran an ISO of about .157.

Everything up there indicates an improved hitter. In truth, Paredes started showing flashes when he played with the Orioles for a few weeks last August and September, but this year the numbers have improved even more. It might be of some note that Paredes worked out in the offseason with players like Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano. Eric Byrnes thinks there are some similarities between Cano and Paredes at the plate. We might as well look at a few swings, understanding that this can get us only so far.

Paredes trying to cover a fastball away, from the before times:

paredes-swing (1)

That’s a slap-swing. That’s Paredes just trying to hit the ball fair the other way. There’s nothing really going on with his lower body, and the swing plane is flat.

From just the other day:

paredes-swing (2)

Most hitters in baseball are able to hit for power to the pull side, if they want. Generally it’s only the better ones who can punish the ball in the air the other way, and here Paredes stays back and generates more force from his lower body. You also see an elevated swing path, instead of the flat one from before. But, all right, you might notice the first one came in a two-strike count, and the second one came in a 3-and-1 count. Maybe not the best comparison, so here’s a two-strike swing from not far back:

paredes-swing (5)

Again, there’s a better relationship between the hip and the shoulder. Paredes definitely isn’t trying to slap the ball — he hits it on the barrel, even though the pitch is well off the edge. As it happens, this resulted in an out, but it very nearly resulted in a double over the left fielder’s head.

Differently, we can watch Paredes swing and miss against heat. From years back:

paredes-swing (3)

Here, it’s too long of a swing. It’s certainly not an attempted slap — we see force, but we also see a looping swing that’s unlikely to ever be able to catch up with this kind of pitch. Now for Paredes whiffing against Michael Pineda:

paredes-swing (4)

The result is the same — it’s a tough pitch to hit. Heat that’s up and inside is pretty effective heat. But Paredes is quicker to the ball. He keeps his hands in, instead of getting extended. He gives himself a better chance. He could hit that pitch, if it were a few inches lower.

I can’t speak to Paredes’ “average” swing from before, or his “average” swing from 2015. I don’t know exactly how different things are, but from appearances, Paredes is swinging with a better idea, and he’s improved his plate coverage. I’ve only shown you Paredes hitting from the left side, and he’s a switch-hitter, but we still don’t have much on his swinging right-handed at the moment. Thinking about the evidence, Paredes appears to have shortened up some, while introducing some more force, with contact positives and negatives basically canceling out. There’s more of a connection between his upper and lower body, and if that slap swing is still in there, I didn’t see it in recent video. Paredes looks like he’s just more committed to hitting the ball and hitting it hard.

Like J.D. Martinez. And, like J.D. Martinez, Paredes will have to prove that he won’t erode over time under pressure from high strikeouts and low walks. That’s a delicate balance, but at least now, it looks like Paredes has an opportunity. He’ll go only as far as his bat can take him, and for the first time, his bat is something worth thinking about. It’s funny: the Orioles have been without Matt Wieters for what seems like forever. Wieters is approaching the date of his return, yet the Orioles aren’t exactly a roster in need.

We hoped you liked reading The Potential New J.D. Martinez by Jeff Sullivan!

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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If this only had been published last week … before I decided to drop him! Alas, this was fun to read.