(Stats as of 5/23/21)
Chris Taylor broke out as an MLB hitter in 2017 where he hit .288/.354/.496, with a 8.8% walk rate, and a 126 wRC+. He posted a 113 wRC+ in 2018 and a 107 wRC+ in 2019. And although being a league-average to above-average hitter with the defensive ability to play any position may be enough for most teams and players, Taylor decided to get better in 2020. Although he saw just 214 plate appearances in the shortened season, Taylor’s walk rate jumped to 12.1% and he slashed .270/.366/.476—good for a career-high 132 wRC+. And 167 plate appearances into 2021, Taylor is taking another step forward. His walk rate has increased again, this time to 14.7%, and he’s currently posting a career high ISO of .207. Altogether, Taylor is looking at a wRC+ of 150. Here are your top-10 hitters by OBP this season.
Part of Taylor’s improvement in 2020 was thanks to a big decrease in chases and in 2021 this improved discipline is a staple of his offensive approach. While his whiff rate and strikeout rate are a bit concerning—he’s currently in the 22nd and 41st percentiles by the metrics, respectively—his ability to lay off pitches out of the zone has been elite. Taylor has the 10th lowest chase rate and the fifth largest difference between swing rate and chases among qualified hitters, meaning chases are far and few on a per swing basis. The trend of these two statistics across his career looks like this.
Taylor’s improved discipline and increased patience seem to be correlated, as if he knows his zone awareness is better and he’s waiting for the right pitch to attack. Taylor is taking the first pitch more often than he ever has, but is also swinging away, when ahead in the count, the most he ever has since 2014. And what’s even better than that? The past two seasons, Taylor has chased in a two strike count at career lows. Although this doesn’t negate the strikeouts Taylor sees from pitches inside the zone, it is supportive of his improved plate discipline—the same improved plate discipline that lands Taylor in the 90th percentile by xOBP. In fact, Taylor’s deserved walk rate of 15.3% is the 10th highest in the league. So where exactly in the zone are we seeing a difference?
Well, by swing/take metrics, Taylor isn’t seeing any major outliers from 2020. He’s still seeing most of his runs coming from chase pitches, while also excelling at waste pitches. He gets hurt the most in the shadow, but has been solid in the heart of the plate.
Relative to the rest of the league, we can see swinging much less on chase pitches and a good bit more on pitches in the heart. But if we go back a few more years, we see a huge difference in how Taylor fares on pitches in the shadows.
These shadow pitches are really important, because a ball just a bit off the plate can make the difference between weak contact or another opportunity to get a more hittable pitch. Of course, these close pitches leave a good bit of subjectivity by the home plate umpire (any robo-umps out there?), but all signs point to a genuine improvement to Taylor’s eye and ability to identify which borderline pitches are balls.
When it comes to pitch types, Taylor’s plate discipline is also faring much better. Against fastballs, Taylor is posting the lowest chase rate of his career, swinging at a fastball out of the zone just 11% of the time. He’s swinging at an offspeed pitch out of the zone just 18.2% of the time, which is also a career low, and is chasing breaking balls 26.3% of the time. In result, Taylor’s xwOBA by pitch type are some of the best numbers he has put up in his career.
Of course there are other factors that will contribute to his improved expected results, but it is irrefutable that laying off bad pitches will help a hitter. Additionally, Taylor has always been a great fastball hitter, and if he is going to be laying off the breakers and offspeed pitches that are outside the strike zone, it might just help him see more fastballs. Nonetheless, Taylor has found a way to take his offense to the next level. He’s a top-20 hitter by wRC+ and a borderline top-25 player by fWAR. Taylor’s patience at the plate is paying out and is lining up a career year for the utility star.
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