Going Deep: Jake Marisnick is Doing Incredible Things

(Photo by Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire)

Jake Marisnick was never expected to have much offensive allure as a major league prospect. His value has lied in his defensive prowess. And it still does. The hope was that his bat could play well enough to let his magical athleticism and defensive wizardry show out in center field on a regular basis. Marisnick bounced from the Tornoto Blue Jays system to the Miami Marlins system before finally landing with the Houston Astros. He cracked the top-65 overall prospects in 2013 and was a top-three prospect with both the Jays and the Marlins. Take this draft report from Baseball America:

“His frame and athletic skills make him one of the most appealing outfield prospects in the nation, but any club selecting him early will have to be convinced of his hitting potential.”

The tools were great, and people were positive the athleticism would show up in-game. That alone was enough to make him a highly touted prospect. The hitting was always questionable, but he looked to be closing some of those questions after slashing .294/.358/.502 in 67 games with Toronto’s AA team in 2013. Marisnick put thoughts of an eventual great player in people’s heads.

That type of offensive production didn’t show up in the majors, though, as he produced a 67 wRC+ with just 18 long balls in over 1000 plate appearances from 2013-2016. Even on a Houston team expected to contend for a championship coming into 2017 (which they clearly did), Marisnick’s defensive abilities had still carved out a large role. That’s when he decided to change. He needed to change. His light contact-hitting was not working whatsoever. So, he decided to start swinging for the fences.

Marisnick’s contact rates fell nearly 9% from 2013-16 to 2017. The strikeout jumped to almost 35%. His massive swings were costly in the contact department. But Marisnick did something that no one thought he ever would as a pro. He hit for power. After just those 18 career home runs, he jacked 16 in only 259 trips to the plate last season. The lack of contact was wholly worth it with the added power. With a 117 wRC+, swinging for the fences was working.

Now in 2018, Marisnick is doing the same. Doubling down, even. Swinging even more in an effort to produce more power. And he is flailing at an unbelievable level. In 87 plate appearances, Marisnick has struck out 41 times and walked once. Once. He is sporting a K-BB% of 45.8%, by far the worst in the league this season. Only one other player, Drew Robinson, is even topping 40%. This is still a tiny sample. But Marisnick has been unimaginably poor. Plotted is the strikeout rate and walk rate of 3653 individual seasons since 2002, with Marisnick in black:

Marisnick is just 87 appearances in, but no one has come close to resembling this sort of poor production. The strikeouts will normalize to a degree, as always. But with the way he is currently approaching his hitting, one of the worst plate discipline seasons in recent history does not look out of the question. On the other hand, my god, look at some of those Barry Bonds seasons in the top left. That is the anti-Marisnick.

He is doing some unbelievable things against fastballs, making contact on less than 60% of his swings. That is the third-lowest in all of baseball. 29 of his 41 strikeouts have come against heaters. Take this not so uncommon Marisnick fastball sequence against Marco Gonzales from earlier this season:

After a first pitch changeup, Marisnick is behind 0-1. Gonzales gives him a center-cut 90mph fastball. This is a hitter’s dream. Instead of offering a level-planed swing to barrel up the ball, Marisnick golfs at the pitch. It manages to find a bat, but the pitch is fouled off.

Now it’s 0-2. Gonzales gives another beautiful hitter’s pitch. An 88mph middle-in fastball that Marisnick manages to foul away. He’s still alive.

Gonzalez finishes with another fastball, a little more inside. Marisnick does not get his bat around to make contact with the pitch. For the third time in three pitches, he violently flings his bat in a golf-like manner. Only this time, it does not connect to foul off the pitch. You see Marisnick do this all the time. His swing is completely uncontrolled and often looks like it has no intention of hitting a baseball. He hardly adjusts to pitch location, swinging as hard as he can in hopes of the off-chance that the barrel catches the meat of the pitch. With this consistent swing-path, Marisnick covers almost zero area of the strike zone. The pitch has to be perfectly located for him to barrel it up. Such a vertical swing leaves no margin for error and makes constant whiffs inevitable.

Marisnick did much of the same in 2017 that he is doing now, and it worked exceptionally. But he looks even more out of control at the plate this year, and it’s showing in the numbers. He does have three home runs, which would outpace his totals from seasons previous to 2017. But he has only one since the beginning of April. Despite that, with his athleticism and defense, Marisnick will probably still keep getting playing time for Houston. But if he does not reign himself in from the violent swings, Marisnick could be headed for a historically bad season.

Henry Still

Henry is from Houston and has contributed to the Fangraphs Community.

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