It hasn’t been the easiest first season for Eloy Jimenez. He got off to a slow start in April, and later in the month, he landed on the injured list with an ankle sprain that kept him out for nearly a month. He looked to be getting into form after that with a terrific June that saw him post a .942 OPS and a 143 wRC+. He could not keep the momentum going in July, as he posted a wRC+ of just 66 in the month, and he again fell back on to the injured list, this time with an ulnar nerve contusion. When he returned, he rebounded to a just OK month of August, posting an exactly average 100 wRC+, which was his second-best month of the season to that point.
While nobody should have been panicking and making leaps that the first few months of a 22-year-old’s career are indicative of what should be expected going forward, it wouldn’t have been outrageous to be just a little disappointed with his 98 wRC+ through the end of August. After all, it is becoming more and more common these days for top prospects to establish themselves right away, and in the cases0k of fellow top prospects Pete Alonso and Fernando Tatis Jr., to establish themselves as two of the best players in the game.
While the Chicago White Sox have been out of the postseason race for some time now, it hasn’t been all bad for the team. Yoan Moncada has finally looked like the perennial star that the team hoped he would be when the team traded Chris Sale for him. Lucas Giolito has had one of the most impressive performance turnarounds I’ve ever seen and looks like a top of the rotation workhorse for the long haul, and however you may feel about Tim Anderson and his profile as a hitter, his own breakout this season has his outlook in a much better spot than it was a year ago. The pieces are starting to fall into place for the White Sox, and the team would gladly take those developments while also still having a young and raw hitter in Jimenez who still has room to grow.
Well, for the past few weeks, Jimenez is making people pay attention to him again, and for the right reasons. Since September began, Jimenez has been one of the absolute best hitters in baseball, tearing the cover off the ball in a way that can only be topped by a few other hitters. In case you are unaware, here’s a look at the best hitters so far in September:
Not that the performances by Jimenez or any of the other hitters on this table are sustainable, but it is never a bad thing to be toward the top of a leaderboard like this. Hitters don’t usually luck their way to the top, either. In the case of Jimenez, his surge to the top of the leaderboards this month is mainly driven by adjustments he’s made, and that is a good thing because not only does it ease concerns over whether this stretch is fluky but also because we want to see him perform well and live up to his top-prospect status.
When looking at who Jimenez is as a hitter, what stands out to me is how easy his power is. His average home run distance of 409 feet is well above the league average of 399 feet, and his 105.9 mph average exit velocity on home runs is above the 103 league average mark. Both of Jimenez’s outputs are in the top 35 of all hitters with at least 400 plate appearances. His natural power ability is how he can easily hit home runs over the batter’s eye like this:
That’s just one of many examples of Jimenez obliterating a baseball. What’s even more impressive in my opinion, though, is how well he hits the ball to the opposite field. It’s kind of amazing to see how easy his opposite-field power is. That easy opposite-field power can be shown further in the following table:
|Average Distance||Average Exit Velocity|
|All Batted Balls||258 feet||92.2 MPH|
|Fly Balls||315 feet||93.3 MPH|
For context, his average distance and exit velocity numbers on all batted balls are in the top 10 of all hitters. His 93.3 mph average exit velocity on fly balls is top 20, and his 315 feet average distance is in the top 30 as well. This shows that Jimenez is one of the best at taking the ball the other way, and illustrates how he can do things like this:
With such easy power, it puts Jimenez in a rare spot as a hitter in that he doesn’t need to necessarily focus on power as it’s just so naturally easy for him. Instead, he can just focus on making good swings and making hard contact, which he does a lot. His 47.7% hard-hit rate according to Statcast is 16th-best, and his 12.9% barrels per batted-ball event rate is 18th among hitters with at least 300 batted-ball events. Taking it deeper, in September, Jimenez has barreled up 16.5% of the pitches he’s seen, which is only behind George Springer and Kyle Lewis.
Without a doubt, Jimenez’s power is real, but that power alone is not enough to cause this recent hot stretch. There’s no doubt in my mind that Jimenez is the type of hitter who can hit 50 homers and maybe do that a few times in his career. After all, he’s hit 30 of them despite the struggles and missed time that I mentioned earlier. But for Jimenez to become a more complete hitter, he has to make some adjustments.
Part of that has already started, though. When looking at Jimenez’s batted-ball data, what stands out is his high ground-ball rate. Among qualified hitters, his 47.7% ground-ball rate for the season is among the top 30 highest. We know that Jimenez has such easy power and that he makes a lot of hard contact, but what could he be if he just put the ball in the air a little more? Well, part of what is driving his strong September is that he’s keeping the ball off the ground. See for yourself:
The rate in which he gets fly balls is nearly the same, but look at that increase in line drives. That split could still be better, but a line-drive rate of about 25% would be one of the best in baseball if he maintained that rate over the course of a whole season. Additionally, getting more balls in the air in the form of fly balls would serve him well because of that aforementioned power, which should lead to more balls going over the fence.
In terms of what’s driving this hot stretch for Jimenez, it’s not being caused by improvements in plate discipline. His walk rate, already at a pedestrian 5.9% on the season, is down to 4.4% in September. Jimenez may never be a great on-base guy, but it would be the icing on the cake of what could be one of the game’s future great hitters. Instead, Jimenez is doing some things elsewhere on the discipline side of things that are interesting and could be part of the reason for his current hot stretch. Consider the following table:
While he’s chasing at an increased rate this month (one doesn’t usually walk only 4.4% of the time by accident), what I like about the September split is that he’s swinging more and making more contact on pitches in the zone while not whiffing at a substantially higher rate. Remember, when Jimenez makes contact, it’s usually good contact, and combined with better balance in his batted-ball data, it looks like we have a good explanation for his incredible September.
The other thing that he’s doing really well this month is that he’s crushing breaking and offspeed pitches. As good as he is and for as much I sang praises over his ridiculous power and hard contact, he has definitely struggled against non-fastballs in his rookie season, and for him to become a better overall hitter, he has to get better in this area. Fortunately, this month he’s doing just that. For a quick and easy comparison, here’s a look at his slugging results on breaking and offspeed pitches through August compared with September:
Prior to September, if those pitches weren’t in the middle-ish portion of the plate, Jimenez wasn’t doing much with them. It’s been quite the opposite in September, as per usual for him in the month, he’s just crushing it. We need to keep in mind that this is still a small sample of pitches for Jimenez, but it is a good sign to see him improving and it should be something to keep checking on going forward. However, based on the improvements made elsewhere that I mentioned earlier, I don’t think it would out of line to suggest that those improvements have something to do with him getting better results on these pitch types. Because he is making more contact, makes a lot of hard contact, and is hitting fewer balls on the ground, I’m confident that he’ll have more results like the hitter from the heat map on the right than the one on the left.
It hasn’t quite been the rookie season people were expecting from superstar prospect Jimenez this year. A slow start to the season combined with a couple of trips to the injured list lead to a frustrating first few months for Jimenez, and he never quite got into a solid rhythm. However, as the hype on the season dies down and most White Sox fans turn their attention to the Chicago Bears or rubbing the recent poor play of the Chicago Cubs in the faces of their fans, Jimenez is giving those who are still sticking around something to be excited about again. He’s been of the best hitters in the game this month, and as a player with such a strong penchant for making solid contact, a run like this should have definitely been in the cards.
During this month, Jimenez has shown some things that get me really excited about his future. First, he’s been getting the ball off the ground more, which means that he’s putting more of his great, hard contact in a position to do more damage. Next, he’s jumping all over the pitches he sees in the zone that he knows he can do more destruction to. Finally, he’s shown improvement in what’s been his most difficult area, which is his performance on breaking and offspeed pitches.
The next step for Jimenez will be improving his plate discipline and maybe cutting down a little on his strikeouts, but nobody is expecting him to be the perfect hitter. However, his profile everywhere else leaves Jimenez as a hitter with the potential to be one of the best power hitters in the game, and becoming a more complete hitter would only take him to a new level. But for now, this glimpse of Jimenez in his top form will be more of what we expect from him going forward, and for a White Sox team that’s hoping to emerge as contenders sooner rather than later, they would also love to have this version of him in their lineup every day for the foreseeable future.
(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)