Teoscar Hernández and Catching the Ball Out Front

When I first looked at Teoscar Hernández back in July it was only a month since he had been recalled from Triple-A Buffalo. He had a new swing, lowering his hands, getting his bat to the ball quicker, and in turn making more contact. He was also using the opposite field more. Today I wanted look again at Hernández and see if those changes held up for the final months of the season.

Teoscar was great in his return from Buffalo. In 323 plate appearances he hit .248/.325/.548 with 23 home runs. That was good for a 126 wRC+ per Fangraphs, which ranked fourth on the team behind Bo Bichette, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Reese McGuire. This was a substantial improvement from the 48 wRC+ he had to start the season.

The one big change we saw from this new swing was an increase in contact outside of the zone and a decrease in his walk rate. Everything else was relatively intact. If we take a look at it now we can see that he maintained this over the remainder of the season.

K% BB% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% SwingStr%
Mar 28-May 15 29.8% 9.2% 50.4% 78.5% 66.7% 15.7%
June 5-Spet 29 34.4% 9.9% 58.1% 76.8% 69.8% 14.3%

The primary takeaway here is that Teoscar improved his walk rate and got it back to the level we saw at the beginning of the season. Hernandez’s power is legit and with more contact gives him more opportunities to get extra-base hits. Plus considering his speed, his sprint speed of 29.1 ft ranked first on Blue Jays among players who had at least 25 competitive runs, more walks means more pressure on the defence and more opportunities to score runs. The drop in zone contact and rise in strikeout rate is a concern, but that is the trade-off when you start expanding the zone the way Hernández has.

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Looking at Hernandez’s batted ball profile we see very little change. In the first look we saw him using the opposite and middle parts of the diamond more, but that was just a small sample blip. He has returned to his prior levels.

LD% GB% FB% Pull Centre Oppo Launch Angle
Mar 28-May 15 17.6% 40.0% 42.4% 47.7% 31.4% 20.9% 15.6
June 5-Sept 30 17.9% 38.5% 43.6% 49.2% 27.9% 22.9% 15.0

Hernandez didn’t see much of a change in where he hit the ball, so how did he improve so drastically? Well, he started to crush balls to the pull side, seeing large improvements in hard hit percentage and exit velocity.

Hard Hit% Exit Velocity Launch Angle Avg Distance xBA
Mar 29-May 15 34% 89.6 2 119 .351
June 5-Sept 29 55% 95.5 7 165 .428

He raised his launch angle slightly, saw his hard hit rate go up and he started hitting the ball much further. This improvement came predominately against fastballs. Using Baseball Savant’s search feature, Teoscar had a 0.268 wOBA against fastballs before he was sent down and a 0.432 wOBA after he returned.

All of the success stems from Hernandez’s new swing. By being quicker to the ball, he was able to make more contact at the plate but most importantly, it allowed him to catch the ball out in front of the plate more. This helped him hit the fastball better but left him susceptible to off-speed pitches, which is why his zone contact and strikeout rate were worse. The following images show Teoscar right at the point of contact, the first swing is from earlier in the season, the second is after he made his changes.

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Both of these swings came on fastballs down the middle and their results were singles to left field. It’s tough to see but he is catching the ball more out in front of the plate. He is slightly more crouched down and seems to be just slightly more open on his swing. These changes are very minor but it allowed him to get the bat head out which helped him square the ball up better and hit the ball harder.

Sometimes a player doesn’t need a significant overhaul to improve. Teoscar Hernandez has always been a pull flyball hitter. He just needed a small swing change to get his hands quicker and more direct to the ball, and get the bat head out in front sooner. That tweak turned him from an early season disappointment to one of the best hitters on the team. Say what you will about his defence, but his bat plays at this level and is one that needs to be in the Toronto Blue Jays 2020 opening day line-up.