On Monday night, Cleveland was facing the Minnesota Twins at home, and they went into extra innings.
In the bottom of the tenth, Alex Colomé came in relief and faced Jordan Luplow with a man on second (due to the recent extra-innings rule in that regard). On a 1-1 count, Colomé threw a 90 mph cutter right in the middle of the zone and then, this happened:
Colomé knew from the get-go that that ball was gone, a 103.2 mph, 399 ft blast that disappeared into the left-center field stands, a no-doubter that gave Cleveland the walk-off win.
This looks like a fairly normal kind of event in contemporary baseball, where homers are prominent but for Luplow it was far from normal. Luplow has a very hard time hitting right-handed pitchers: he hits one home run per every 20.8 plate appearances overall, but the split is one every 14.5 PA against left-handed pitchers and almost three times worse against right-handed ones, at 37.3 PA between homers.
That’s part of the reasons behind Luplow cannot hold full MLB playing time, getting relegated to a platoon role.
The Story of His Life
During his minor league tenure, Luplow accumulated very interesting numbers, a mid-powered hitter with good contact and also the speed to steal double-digit bases:
|A- (1 season)||Minors||62||259||31||12||6||30||10||6||27||44||.277||.360||.423||.782|
|A (1 season)||Minors||106||465||74||36||12||67||11||2||59||67||.264||.366||.464||.830|
|A+ (1 season)||Minors||104||425||63||23||10||54||6||2||60||78||.254||.363||.421||.784|
|AA (1 season)||Minors||73||288||45||15||16||37||1||3||29||45||.287||.368||.535||.903|
|AAA (3 seasons)||Minors||145||596||82||35||17||75||13||4||65||114||.301||.386||.482||.868|
|Minors (6 seasons)||Minors||490||2033||295||121||61||263||41||17||240||348||.278||.371||.466||.837|
|162 Game Avg.||Minors||162||672||98||40||20||87||14||6||79||115|
Based on these numbers, it looked like the right-handed batter could have an easy path to make it to the majors, right? Not so fast, unfortunately, as we have more to see:
I’ve highlighted the vs RHP split for each year to show that, most of the time, Luplow’s numbers against right-handed pitchers are dragging his totals, in terms of batting average, OBP, SLG, and OPS. The cumulative stats apparently do not look too different but let’s remember that there are more opportunities to face RHP. Although batters normally tend to perform better against pitchers of the opposite hand, we can establish a trend for Luplow from the beginning, a trend that he carried to his MLB career as we will see in the following table.
Just looking at wOBA and wRC+ for 2019 and 2020, the difference is abysmal when Luplow batted against LHP. So, it looked like things were business as usual, but… enter 2021.
The Times, They Are a-Changin’
Let’s look at his total and split numbers for 2021:
Luplow is quietly having a pretty solid season, other than in batting average. If he had the qualifying PA, his 158 wRC+ would be 23rd in all MLB, tied with Rafael Devers and ahead of Trea Turner, Aaron Judge, and Michael Brantley; his .393 wOBA would be 25th, ahead of Jesús Aguilar, Freddie Freeman, and J.T. Realmuto.
But what catches the eye immediately is the fact that his wOBA, wRC+, batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, and ISO are all higher against RHP than against LHP; now that’s astounding when we think about how different has it been for him in the past.
Just to be sure that we are getting the right picture here, as the sample we have available is still small, I compared this season’s start with the similar-sized period at the beginning of 2019 for him. His incapacity to hit righties in 2020 was already shown in the table, “Jordan Luplow, MLB split numbers, 2019 & 2020″.
So the beginning of 2019 did not show any difference from his usual trend, as it was the same struggles in 2020. Luplow could not hit righties at the beginning of the season, nor in the rest of it. Until now.
Luplow talks about a change of mentality as the main reason for this newfound success, while also praising the work of hitting coaches Ty Van Burkleo and assistant Victor Rodriguez. “Mentality” is a hard thing to measure, so let’s try to find what other aspect has changed for him. For that, let’s look at some important stats and their year-to-year changes:
A great number of good things are happening for him this year: a higher Exit Velocity, Barrel%, and Hard-Hit rate, for example. But the tangible result of his mindset change is that he is swinging a lot fewer balls out of the strike zone, to the lowest levels of his career. This could mean that he is more selective and is avoiding falling for pitches that could potentially end in weak contact or worse, in a whiff. And as he has been especially vulnerable against RHP, if this better selection is applied in those circumstances, he can be more effective when he actually swings.
The other two important aspects for this season are that, first, Luplow is pulling the ball at the lowest rate ever at 38.5%. Hitting the ball to all fields is a trait normally seen in contact hitters, allowing for more balls in play. Second, Luplow’s ground ball rate is also at its lowest, meaning that whenever he makes contact he is maximizing the chances of getting good connections.
A Look Ahead
Looking at the future, it’s interesting that his BABIP at .152 is far from his career .251, which points to a possible positive regression on the batting average; increasing contact while keeping his better pitch selection will be very good for him as he will be able to use the raw power he possesses, as his Dynamic Hard-Hit rate, DHH%, of 30.56% is top 30 in the league for qualified hitters, plus his Q (DHH%/Sd[LA]) is also top 50 in MLB, which profiles him as a good power hitter.
ATC had Luplow for a .241 BA, 31 runs, 10 HR, 30 runs batted in, and 2 stolen bases before the beginning of the year but, of course, this did not take into account the changes he’s made so far, Steamer has him for a triple slash of .238/.332/.433, 45-15-50 and 6 SB rest of season; I believe that a .260/.350/.450, 75-25-80, and a 10 SB line is achievable, which works great for a free outfield pick.
His difficulty to bat against right-handed pitchers was the obstacle for him getting playing time; but, for the moment being, he has earned the opportunity to have a full-time presence in Cleveland’s lineup and this should stay that way as long as this kind of performance continues.
Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Aaron Polcare