We Have To Say Something About Jurickson Profar

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

As I write this before the start of play on May 23, we’re just about a third of the way through the season, and I don’t think we can avoid it anymore. Jurickson Profar is batting .339 with a 178 wRC+. Jurickson Profar ranks 10th in baseball with 2.2 WAR. Jurickson Profar, who signed a one-year, $1 million contract on February 24. Jurickson Profar, who until this season averaged 0.8 WAR per 162 games over 10 seasons, and last season put up -1.7 WAR, making him literally the least valuable player in baseball. Jurickson Profar leads all qualified National League players in on-base percentage (.431) and ranks in the top 10 in batting average, slugging percentage (.517), RBI (32), and strikeout rate (13.7%). Jurickson Profar.

(I say qualified because LaMonte Wade Jr. and his .481 OBP did not have enough plate appearances to be among the league leaders. Naturally, between the time I wrote this post and now, Wade crossed the qualification threshold, so Profar now ranks second.)

Here’s something I wrote a couple months ago:

“I imagine that everybody here at FanGraphs generates ideas for articles in different ways. Looking at leaderboards is certainly a common method. You click around, sorting by different stats until someone looks out of place. ‘How did you get all the way up here?’ is what the start of a FanGraphs article sounds like.”

Well, here we are. How the name of Bip Roberts did Jurickson Profar get all the way up here?

I honestly don’t know what the Padres were expecting when they brought Profar back, but this couldn’t have been it. Let’s quickly establish just how out of character this run has been. Not only has Profar never had a 52-game stretch like this, he’s never come close. He’s running a .949 OPS. Before this season, his best 52-game span in a single season came in 2018, when he ran an .882 OPS. That’s a 67-point difference. Profar is batting .339, but until this season he’d never once had a span this long where he hit above .300. Here’s his 52-game rolling wRC+ for his entire career. His previous high came on August 2, 2022. It was 31 points lower.

Right off the bat, this graph tells us that after a horrible 2023 season, Profar was due for some regression of the good kind. He came into this season with a career wRC+ of 92, and that figure is 97 if we limit it to his last six seasons. The smart bet was that he was going to bounce back at least part of the way from last year’s 76 wRC+ clunker.

There’s also another obvious gimme: Luck. Profar has never finished a season with a BABIP above .300, but he’s currently at .371, tied for fourth highest in baseball. His .416 wOBA is 38 points above his .378 xwOBA, a differential that puts him in the top 10 percent of all batters. The 2.3-homer difference between Profar’s 4.7 expected home runs and 7 actual home runs is the seventh-largest gap in baseball. Profar’s line drive rate, which had never risen above 27.7% in a season, is currently at 32%. It’s fantastic that Profar is squaring the ball up so much, but line drive rate is also notoriously fickle. We can and should expect all of these numbers to come back down.

Profar is running career bests in both walk rate, 13.2%, and strikeout rate, 13.7%. In order to get a handle on how that has come about, I compared his plate discipline numbers from this year to his average the four previous seasons.

Profar’s Plate Discipline
Season O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone%
2020-2023 27.4% 67.9% 44.8% 70.6% 88.7% 82.4% 43.0%
2024 28.6% 70.1% 45.7% 66.2% 91.7% 82.3% 41.0%

As you can see, he’s seeing fewer strikes, and he’s being a bit more aggressive, especially in the zone. He’s also making more contact inside the zone, but not outside the zone. That last part is unsustainable. People don’t usually get better at making contact specifically on the pitches that they want to hit anyway. When it does correct itself, it will result in lower walk and strikeout rates, and more weakly hit balls in play. Still, the numbers aren’t shouting anything particularly clear. According to Statcast, Profar’s swing/take decisions have been worth 21 runs, just the second time in his career that it’s been a positive number. That’s the fifth-highest mark in baseball, and it slots him right between Mookie Betts and Juan Soto. However, according to SEAGER, Profar’s swing decisions put him in the 19th percentile. Right now, I just want to see a bigger sample size.

Profar has always been good at making contact, but so far this season, he’s doing so while hitting the ball harder. This is where things get real. Even though it’s propped up by a line drive rate that’s too good to be true, a .378 xwOBA is a huge jump for Profar, whose career best of .338 came during the short 2020 season, when he put up a 113 wRC+. The switch-hitting Profar is also succeeding from both sides of the plate, running a 181 wRC+ as a lefty and a 172 wRC+ as a righty.

This season, Profar’s average exit velocity is a career-high 90.4 mph. More importantly, he’s seen a big jump in his 90th percentile exit velocity, going from 101.8 mph in both 2022 and 2023 to 104.5 this season. That moved him from the 25th percentile to the 58th. His 40.8% hard-hit rate is not just a career best, but it’s the first time he’s ever touched the 50th percentile. None of this is enough to make him a power hitter or make a .517 slugging percentage sustainable, but it is a serious jump, and those kinds of numbers are hard to fake. Moreover, they’re coming after some changes to Profar’s swing. From the left side of the plate, Profar has changed up his stance significantly, starting out much more open, with a bigger bat waggle at a steeper angle. From both sides of the plate, he’s gone from almost no leg kick whatsoever last year to bringing his foot several inches off the ground this year.

Adding a leg kick is a common way for a player to try to increase power, and it certainly seems to be working for Profar so far. According to Statcast’s new bat tracking metrics, Profar is slightly above average in terms of squaring the ball up and slightly below average in terms of bat speed. There’s no way to know where he ranked in previous seasons, but based on all of this, I don’t think it would be crazy to give him the benefit of the doubt and expect some of this new exit velocity to stick.

There’s one last thing I’d like to consider. It’s possible that Profar is just very happy to be home, or that he happens to see the ball particularly well in San Diego. Profar has a career 123 wRC+ in Petco Park. Over his time with the Padres from 2020 to 2023 (excluding his time with Colorado in 2023), he’s run a 113 wRC+ at home, compared to 96 on the road. Even this season, he’s at 212 at home, compared to a (somehow) relatively pedestrian 149 on the road. I wouldn’t put a ton of stock in that theory, but there’s a possibility that Profar just feels comfortable at Petco.

So where does all of this leave us? It definitely doesn’t leave us thinking that Profar is now a true-talent .300/.400/.500 hitter. He’s due for some regression in terms of BABIP, in terms of line drive rate, and in terms of contact rate outside the zone. On the other hand, it does seem like he might have found a way to hit for a bit more power without sacrificing much in the way of contact ability. We’ll have to wait and see where exactly that leaves him.

Davy Andrews is a Brooklyn-based musician and a contributing writer for FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @davyandrewsdavy.

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21 days ago

The power of friendship!