Nick Solak (2B/3B/OF, TEX): 3-4, 2 HR, 3 R, 2 RBI.
Texas has a couple of interesting players at the top of their home run leaderboard. It is not Joey Gallo, who would be most expected. Second on the list is Nate Lowe with six home runs, and top of the list is Nick Solak with seven. Solak had seven home runs in his career over 368 plate appearances prior to the start of this season. He only smacked two in 2020. This has been quite a power surge for Solak, so let’s look deeper into how he got here and if he can keep this going.
Last night was Solak’s biggest of the year going 3-4, 2 HR, 3 R, 2 RBI. He blasted one homer 422 feet and the other just made it out. His hard hit rate, exit velocity, and max exit velocity have been about the same as last year. However, the results are drastically different. A huge difference is that he is no longer getting under (Statcast’s term) the ball 25% of the time. Most of those batted balls are now barrels (16.7%). He is pulling the ball more (up seven percentage points) as well. Solak has also been striking out much more often (28% up from 18%). I would have considered him an elite contact guy coming in to this year, but his zone contact rate has plummeted 14 percentage points.
This is speculative, but he could be completely changing his approach at the plate to reward a harder swing and better contact (not more contact). He’s dominating fastballs and struggling against offspeed and breaking pitches which is the inverse of last season. This power is certainly something we have never seen before from him over his career, and it does look like he has made explicit changes to get to this point based on his how much contact and the kind of contact he is making. I thought Solak was an excellent hitter coming into the year, but he’s completely changed what kind of hitter he is only 100 plate appearances into the year. I’m excited to see how this season continues for him.
Let’s see how the other hitters did Tuesday:
Franmil Reyes (OF, CLE): 3-4, 2 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI.
Reyes hit two monster home runs both at 111.3 MPH traveling 452 and 434 feet. This is what he’s always done. He crushes the ball. So far this season, though, he seems to be on another level. He is barreling the ball 24.5% of the time with a 60.4% hard hit rate. He’s actually posting a decent fly ball rate, too. However, his weaknesses are showing as strong as ever. His K% is over 30% and his walk rate is under 4%.
Kyle Higashioka (C, NYY): 2-4, HR, R, RBI.
Higashioka is hitting well, unlike so many other Yankees players. And it looks like he will be getting more playing time. He’s hitting the ball much harder than previous seasons, while striking out less and walking more. All of those things are ideal for making changes at the plate. Some of his success can be contributed to a high line drive rate as well, so even if he does get more playing time, he probably won’t be as successful as he’s been.
Cavan Biggio (TOR): 3-3, R, RBI.
Biggio has strung together three Biggio like games in a row. Three hits, followed by two walks, followed by three more hits. Only one extra base hit in that mix, too. Even though these last three games have been solid, he’s still had a terrible start to the season. First, he hasn’t hit fastballs. He has a .279 wOBA on fastballs which he’s seeing two thirds of the time. In addition, one of his main strengths has not been a strength at all. His O-Swing is up over 12 points and his O-Contact has dropped 18 points. Hopefully these last few games are a sign of change.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (TOR): 3-4, 3 HR, 3 R, 7 RBI.
I was thinking of using Vlad as the main subject of this Batter’s Box, but two days ago, Jeremy Siegel published this Going Deep on Vlad Jr. All that really needs to be said is in there. Let me put it simply. Jeremy wrote a breakout piece on Vlad Jr two days before he crushed three homers in one game, something Vlad Sr. had never done in his career.
Dansby Swanson (ATL): 3-4, R, RBI, SB.
I’ve been so ready for the Swanson breakout, but I may now resign to the fact that it won’t happen like I wanted. He is, however, pretty hot these last couple games, going 5-9 with a homer and a steal. Last night was his first steal of the year. Most of Swanson’s expected stats are quite close to the previous couple of seasons, and they’re nothing too special. He may just be getting a tad unlucky to start the year.
Trea Turner (WSH): 2-4, 2 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI.
We all know Turner is amazing. I just can’t leave off a two homer game. I do want to call out his oddly high K%, though. It is 24.1%, which is over 10 points higher than last year. Despite this, he is still sporting a 142 wRC+.
Joey Gallo (TEX): 1-3, HR, R, 2 RBI, BB.
He’s no Nick Solak, but I wanted to highlight Gallo’s 114.3 MPH laser beam of a home run. That was only his second of the season and second extra base hit of the season. He already has 15 singles! So what gives? His fly ball rate is down 25 percentage points from last season and 20 points below his career average.
Tyrone Taylor (MIL): 3-4, HR, R, 3 RBI.
Taylor blasted a 433 foot dinger yesterday for his second of the season. After a handful of injuries for Brewer outfielders, Taylor has stepped in with a solid performance. He has only started a few games and has come in to pinch hit many times, totaling 23 plate appearances. He’s slashing .474/.565/.895 so far across those appearances. With Yelich out for a while, Cain still out, and García day to day, Taylor will be playing for the immediate future.
Brandon Crawford (SF): 3-4, HR, 2 R, 1 RBI.
Crawford’s season so far is about the same as it’s always been. Low walk rate, meh strikeout rate, and a low batting average with minimal power. Interestingly, though, Crawford has seven barrels so far this year. All his other peripheral stats are essentially identical to previous seasons, so I do not expect any drastic change. I doubt he keeps up the barrel pace he has. He’s not someone to be considering for fantasy.
Jesse Winker (CIN): 3-5, 2B, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI.
Jesse Winker may be one of the biggest surprises to start this season. He is slashing an unreal .397/.443/.740. He just needs four more barrels to tie his season high. He also is continuing his hard hit success from last season with a rate above 50%. Ultimately, he is annihilating fastballs, hitting nearly .500 against them. Additionally, Winker has cut his ground ball rate significantly and turned those into fly balls. He is swinging more and getting more and better contact.
Will Smith (LAD): 1-3, HR, 2 R, 3 RBI.
Will Smith was one of the ’safer’ early catchers in the draft, and so far he’s been solid. His low .218 average is rough to stomach, but it comes with a .225 BABIP and .272 xBA. Additionally, his 16.7% BB rate and 18.1% K rate have been excellent. One of my concerns for drafting Smith where he was going was his playing time. The Dodgers usually do funky stuff, and I could see Smith not getting a substantial amount of plate appearances. However, so far this early season, he’s been behind the dish plenty.
C.J. Cron (COL): 2-3, HR, 3 R, RBI, 2 BB.
Cron stumbled out the starting gate but has been on fire this last week. In his last seven games, he has four homers with one strikeout and a 258 wRC+. If someone dropped him prematurely, go scoop him back up.
Carson Kelly (ARI): 2-3, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI.
Kelly just continues his explosion. Another homer for one of the hottest starts in 2021. The one thing that stands out for me is his patience. He is swinging 38.1% of the time (four points below his career line). His walk rate is above 20% and has a 15.4% K rate. He’s waiting for his pitch and crushing it. Kelly should be rostered in every league.
Jesús Aguilar (MIA): 1-3, HR, R, 2 RBI.
After the game on April 24th, Aguilar said he made an important adjustment which resulted in his back to back games with dingers. He started eating arepas again. Since the arepas, he hasn’t cooled off. He’s added two more homers including the one from yesterday and another game with two hits and two runs. If you’ve been struggling to find a first baseman Aguilar may be available in your league (38% rostered in Yahoo).
Featured Imaged by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter)