One of the best stories for the Baltimore Orioles this season has been Jimmy Paredes‘ explosion onto the scene. Paredes is fifth in the American League in batting with a .319 average, ranks third on the Orioles’ roster with 38 RBIs, and has hit a ridiculous .457 with runners in scoring position. He’s done all this with only 11 walks in 59 games. Paredes is clearly not looking to reach base via the walk. He swings hard, early and often in the count, and if the ball is anywhere near the plate, you can almost bet he’s taking a hack at it. All of this clearly goes against the modern baseball teaching that using all of your allotted pitches each plate appearance is a good thing, and hacking early in the count is a bad thing. But Paredes continues to show that perhaps what is becoming the conventional wisdom is slightly overrated.
Paredes has swung at a Vladimir Guerrero-esque 57.3% of pitches thrown this season. Of pitches within the strike zone, he has swung at 76.0%, and has made contact on 81.2% of them. Yes, the 43.2% of pitches outside the strike zone he has chased looks ugly, but it is not dragging his average down because of the pitches he swings at in the strike zone, he frequently makes contact. On the year, he has struck out a relatively low 61 times in 59 games. For a raw power hitter who swings at everything, that’s not too shabby.
This approach is working for Paredes because he is aggressive early in the count, when pitchers are more likely to give him a fastball to hit. Seventy of his 229 at-bats this season have ended after just two pitches. In those at-bats, he is batting .471 with five of his ten home runs. Paredes’ teammate Chris Davis hit 14 of his 53 home runs in 2013 on the first pitch he saw, and batted .438. He hit nine more of his home runs on the second pitch he saw. Overall, Davis batted .425 in those two-pitch at-bats, which accounted for 155 of his 584 official at-bats that season. When Davis struggled in 2014, he ended only 98 of his 450 at-bats after two pitches. He was still effective when doing so, but by sticking around longer in the batter’s box, opened himself up to more of the opposing pitcher’s arsenal. Paredes, like Davis, is a dead-red fastball hitter, and those types must get on fastballs early to make the most of their at-bats. Davis did it in 2013, and Paredes is doing it this year.
Going by more raw pitch data — hard, breaking, offspeed — rather than trying to break down fourseamers, twoseamers, sinkers, and cutters, Paredes has seen 514 fastball-type pitches this season, against only 194 and 171 breaking and offspeed pitches, respectively. He is batting .344 against hard stuff with a .616 slugging percentage. He swings and misses at well over 40% of breaking and offspeed pitches he sees, but because he is aggressive early in the count, pitchers are not able to dip down into their repertoire and get him out when he chases. He has struck out 30 times in the 101 at-bats that ended on a breaking or offspeed pitch, so it is evident that he can be gotten out that way. Pitchers just have not figured out how to force him into more advantageous counts enough this season.
Judging by batting average on balls in play alone, Paredes seems to be a screaming regression candidate. His .394 BABip is just begging to be knocked down a peg or two, and it very well could be. I would not be willing to bet on a huge dip in production from the player who has finally provided the answer at designated hitter the Orioles have been searching for. Paredes certainly swings at a lot of pitches, and he does chase, but it works for him, because he is an outstanding fastball hitter and pitchers are not willing to attack him with breaking and offspeed pitches early in the count. For a player who makes a ton of hard contact — only 19.4% of his batted balls this year have been classified as “soft” — and hits line drives and fly balls at a better than 50% clip, it should not be unexpected to see a higher average on balls in play. Perhaps pitchers will come wise to the fact that Paredes can be gotten out with soft stuff early in the count, but that would also defy conventional wisdom. There are not many pitchers in the league who are comfortable throwing a curveball or changeup for strike one.
Jimmy Paredes will certainly get himself out by swinging at pitches he should not, but if he continues to pounce on fastballs early in the count, the Orioles can certainly live with a few strikeouts on curveballs in the dirt. It is certainly a good thing to be disciplined as a hitter, but as Paredes continues to prove, the best pitches to hit often come early in the count. His aggression is paying off with a breakout season, and until pitchers make adjustments to him, he will continue to be among the best hitters for the Baltimore Orioles.