It’s no secret that the Houston Astros have high hopes for OF George Springer. In fact, the Astros thought so highly of Springer that last season they held him down in the minor leagues long enough to gain seven years, as opposed to the normal six.
Although Springer’s rookie campaign was cut short due to a right quad strain injury in late-July, he still managed to post good numbers. The youngster owned a .231/.336/.468 slash in 345 plate appearances, which looks even better when paired with a .352 wOBA and 127 wRC+. Not a bad start for the then-24 year old Springer.
Oh, but what a difference a year makes.
This season Springer is off to an even better start than his rookie campaign. Springer is now batting .267/.369/.466 over 261 plate appearances with a .366 wOBA and 138 wRC+. And over the course of his last 26 games, Springer has really sizzled. With a .363/.425/.559 slash, .427 wOBA and 180 wRC+ in 114 plate appearances.
Clearly, 25-year old has had a better overall output this year than in his inaugural season. But what has been the cause of Springer’s spring-forward?
One thing that factors in immediately is that Springer is not pulling the ball as much. Instead, he has redirected the majority of his hits back up the middle and to the opposite field. A clear sign Springer is slowly-but-surely becoming more of a spray hitter than ever before.
Not only is he starting to hit to all fields, he’s beginning to do it with more solid contact. This season, Springer has also begun to see more line-drives, and a whole lot less fly balls. And, as one might be able to assume, increase in liners could come directly from a decrease in flyballs—which could, in itself, be a sign of better contact.
But is it really better contact? It’s true that—according to FanGraphs—Springer’s Soft% has gone down a bit, but so has his Hard%. That could indicate that the former first-rounder is hitting the ball better overall, but he might not be blistering it like before. Which isn’t a terrible thing. Springer is managing to make more out of solid contact, which is giving him the ability to hit better overall.
Although Springer is beginning to hit the ball consistently better and to all parts of the field, his plate discipline is where his true improvements lie.
Last season, Springer struck out an amazing—and slightly alarming—33% of the time. Thirty-Three. To put that into perspective, strikeout-king Adam Dunn only had two seasons (2011 and 2012) in which he struck out more than 32% of the time—Mark Reynolds has had three (2008, 2009, and 2010) thus far. Now, granted, Springer did not play a full season. But 114 strikeouts in 295 AB’s is still something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Even though Springer struck out three times last night, this season the outfielder has begun to strike out much less. To start, Springer is only striking out 26.4% of the time. Even though that is still a very high strike out percentage, it’s not the astronomically high percentage he posted last season. Springer is also starting to walk more than he had in the past, as his 13.8% 2015 walk percentage is a small increase over his 11.3% walk percentage in 2014.
Combine that with Springer’s overall better approach at the plate, and we’re starting to see a much better all-around hitter emerge in Houston. I say better approach at the plate because Springer has basically improved in every major plate discipline category according to the Pitchf/x data used by FanGraphs. Take a look:
An increase of 16.5% of contact with pitches outside the strike-zone shows that, although he might still be swinging at bad pitches, he’s starting to make contact on the ones he swings at. Not to mention the 2.7% decrease he also has on swinging at pitches outside the strike-zone overall.
And let’s not forget that Springer is also now starting to hit much better against actual pitches in the strike-zone:
Finally, Springer has hit phenomenally better against breaking balls this year than last. In 2014, Springer hit an abysmal .170 on curveballs and sliders—slugging an even more unimpressive .287. However, this season Springer has begun to hit the pitch very well. A .311 batting average and .578 can attest to a much improved approach on the two pitches. And although a whiff/swing of around 38% for each pitch isn’t amazing, it’s a step forward from the 41% on curveballs and 50% he posted against sliders last season.
And let’s not forget that Springer isn’t just an automatic out when faced with a breaking ball on 0-2 anymore. Last season he batted .081 when he had two strikes against him. Combine that with a .129 slugging percentage and a whiff/swing greater than 45% for each pitch, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Much like his other improvements, Springer completely flipped the script in 2015. This season, the righty is batting .303 with a .667 slugging percentage when faced with two strikes. And he’s not whiffing as much, as a 35.71% whiff/swing on sliders and 20% whiff/swing on curveballs would suggest.
It’s clear that Springer, who posted a 1.6 fWAR last season, has been better thus far in 2015. Although he has had less plate appearances, a 1.9 fWAR this year suggests that he has actually been worth more. So although Springer still has some holes in his game, he has still been effective. That’s one of the toughest things for young players to do.
It’s tough to be effective while you’re making the necessary adjustments to the big league level, yet Springer has found a way to make it work. Although every player at the MLB level constantly is making adjustments, it’s the players who do it quick enough that often thrive.
And this seems to be the case with the Astros highly-touted, George Springer.
–All videos taken from Baseball Savant