Daniel Vogelbach: Power and Patience

The Blue Jays’ acquisition of Daniel Vogelbach raised a few eyebrows. Does this team really need another bad body first base/DH type? They already have Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Rowdy Tellez.

Given that this trio can really only play first base or DH, we are never going to see all three of them in the line-up together. One of these hitters is going to end being a bench bat and it’s not going to be Vladdy.

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The first thought would be Vogelbach to the bench. He’s the new player and has been dreadful at the plate this season, slashing .094/.250/.226 a 39 wRC+, while Rowdy has been excellent with a .254/.308/.549 slash line and a 123 wRC+.

With Rowdy playing so well, and with the trade deadline just a few days away, there is plenty of speculation that Rowdy might be on the move. Perhaps for more pitching help.

On the surface Rowdy and Vogelbach seem really similar, big strong power hitters, however, Vogelbach does one other thing really well that sets him apart from Rowdy, walks.

His 16.5% walk rate last season ranked fourth among qualified players, behind Mike Trout, Yasmani Grandal and Alex Bregman. It’s been more of the same this season, with a 17.2% rate. His average is dragged down by a .079 batting average on balls in play. Vogelbach isn’t going to leg out any infield hits, and hits against the shift, but his BABIP should bounce back to the .230 range he was in last season. Baseball Savant’s expected batting average for Vogelbach is .156 which is 62 points higher than his current average. You give Vogelbach 62 more points to his on-base percentage and he’s at .312 which is higher than Rowdy.

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The Blue Jays don’t have a lot of hitters with the skillset of Vogelbach, Cavan Biggio is really the only one. Vogelbach is projected for a .336 OBP for the rest of the season per ZiPS. ZiPS projects him to have the fourth highest OBP on the team for the rest of the season. You need players like this to score runs. The Blue Jays as a team have a ton of power. Power is great but you need players on base so all those home runs aren’t solo shots. Vogelbach has shown he can work the count and take walks.

Vogelbach this season has swung at just 19.8% of pitches outside of the strike zone. That ranks 15th in the majors (Biggio for context is second at 14.9%). Vogelbach’s plate discipline looks fairly similar to last season.

BB% K% O-Swing% Z-Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% SwSTR%
2018 16.5% 26.7% 22.0% 52.2% 64.4% 81.1% 8.6%
2019 17.2% 20.3% 19.8% 51.6% 77.4% 82.8% 6.3%

Stats courtesy of Fangraphs

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Vogelbach is still doing some things really well. He’s cut his strikeout rate and swinging-strike rate down. He’s making more contact and drawing more walks. All positive signs. The problem is when he is making this contact he’s not hitting it hard at all.

His line-drive rate is at 7.5% and his groundball rate is 52.5% this season, after being 22.2% and 33.0% last season respectively. His hard-hit rate has dropped nearly 10%, and his exit velocity is down close to four miles per hour. The culprit for this is that when Vogelbach is making contact he is topping the ball 47.5%, up from 24.1%. That combined with a five-degree lower launch angle gives you a ton of groundball outs into the shift.

Vogelbach’s struggles extend to last season. He had a great first half with a 136 wRC+ but it was just 71 in the second half. Reading through some articles from his time in Seattle, there was some thought that Vogelbach was exposed to left-handed pitching too much in the second half and he was becoming too patient at the plate, watching those middle-middle fastballs go by.

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That sounds a lot like what Biggio went through last season. Biggio has such a good eye but wasn’t aggressive enough in the strike zone. Biggio was able to work through that, whether on his own accord or with help from the coaching staff and maybe the team feels they can do this again with Vogelbach.

You have to wonder if perhaps Vogelbach wore down last season; it was his first full season in the majors. And by the sounds of it he didn’t much during quarantine to stay in shape, coming to summer camp 20 pounds heavier, than in Spring. That has caused his bat speed to slow down, and all those balls he should be barreling are topped.

Rowdy is hitting well right now, but his offensive value is tied exclusively to home runs. Vogelbach might not have the same raw power as Rowdy but he did hit 30 home runs last season, and he’s patient hitter at the plate. So even when the ball stops clearing the fence he can provide value. This is an upside move at little cost for the Blue Jays. If they can get Vogelbach back into shape and his bat speed rebounds, he could be a very good hitter and one that differs from most of the line-up.