Solarte expanding the zone during recent slump

Rest In Peace: Tony Gwynn May 9, 1960 – June 16, 2014
Reports: Giants sign Carbonell; Raciel Iglesias given signing extension
(Jason O. Watson/Getty)
(Jason O. Watson/Getty)

The Yankees just wrapped up a nine-game road trip through two time zones and return home this week with five wins in the bank. It was a good trip, not a great trip. Stealing one of those last two games from the Athletics would have been awesome, but they are the best team in baseball. What are you going to do? Considering the injury-riddled rotation and mostly sputtering offense, winning five of nine works fine for me.

The road trip was not at all good for infielder Yangervis Solarte, who had four total hits in the nine games. All four came in back-to-back games in Kansas City. Solarte went hitless in his final 19 at-bats on the trip, though his recent slump extends further back than that — over the last calendar month he’s hitting only .208/.269/.313 (60 wRC+) in 105 plate appearances. That’s just bad. That’s what you’d expect from … well, a journeyman infielder who signed a minor league contract.

Despite the slump, Solarte is still hitting .274/.347/.420 (113 wRC+) on the season, which is a reminder of just how excellent he was a few weeks ago. I don’t think anyone realistically thought he could maintain the 144 wRC+ he posted through April or even the 131 wRC+ he posted through May. That’s Josh Donaldson/Hanley Ramirez production. I’ll be more than thrilled if Solarte manages to produce at a 113 wRC+ clip from here on out.

Sort through his day-by-day graphs page on FanGraphs and you can see Solarte’s gradual return to Earth pretty clearly. The AVG, OBP, SLG, BABIP, and wOBA graphs are all moving in the wrong direction, the walk rate slightly less so. The strikeout, K/BB, and ISO graphs show little change. They’ve held steady even through this slump and that’s encouraging. The one graph that stood out to me was the batted balls. Check it out:

Solarte Batted Balls

The green line is ground balls, the blue is fly balls, and the red is line drives. Solarte’s ground ball and fly ball rates have been moving in opposite directions, which is sorta weird because his ISO has held steady. Usually when a hitter stops hitting the ball in the air, he stops hitting for extra bases. Maybe it’s just a small sample thing. Solarte isn’t fast and won’t beat out many infield singles (he has three infield hits all season, including this one), so it makes sense that the increase in ground balls has led to decreased production overall.

One thing that has impressed me about Solarte — really more than anything — is his approach. His 11.6% strikeout rate is much better than the league average (20.3%) and his 9.6% walk rate is a touch better than average (8.0%) as well. He has swung at only 27.9% of pitches outside the strike zone, a tick below the 29.3% average. Has that changed at all during the slump? Here are Solarte’s plate discipline stats broken down into ten-game chunks because ten is a nice round number:

O-Swing% Z-Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Zone%
Games 1-10 27.1% 59.2% 78.3% 95.2% 45.5%
Games 11-20 34.4% 56.3% 74.2% 93.3% 47.1%
Games 21-30 21.8% 66.7% 73.7% 95.7% 44.2%
Games 31-40 20.9% 52.2% 66.7% 97.2% 44.5%
Games 41-50 29.3% 53.3% 82.4% 95.0% 56.4%
Games 51-62 33.7% 52.3% 83.9% 97.8% 48.9%

Solarte has gradually swung at fewer pitches in the strike zone as the season has progressed, and lately he’s offered at more pitches out of the zone as well. That’s not really a good combination. Swing at strikes and lay off balls is a pretty good rule of thumb. Furthermore, Solarte has not only swung at more pitches out of the zone these last 22 games, but he’s made more contact with those pitches as well. Unless you’re a total freak like Vlad Guerrero, it’s really tough to made hard contact with a pitch out of the zone. Usually the hitter is reaching and either grounding out weakly or popping the ball up.

As Joe wrote two weeks ago, it is very rare for a player to make his MLB debut at age 26 and stick around for a few years. At least rare among non-Cuban players. Dan Uggla and David Eckstein have both done it, and Solarte is more Eckstein than Uggla in terms of his high-contact, low-power playing style. Every little slump makes you wonder if this is the end — for what it’s worth, Solarte has hit much better at Yankee Stadium, so coming back home this week could help jump start his bat — but Solarte has rebounded each previous time. A little less hacking at pitchers’ pitches would help get him back in line this time. That might not be his only problem right now, but it is part of it.

Rest In Peace: Tony Gwynn May 9, 1960 – June 16, 2014
Reports: Giants sign Carbonell; Raciel Iglesias given signing extension
  • Jacoby Eddardsbury

    What makes me sick is how people are so quick to abandon a guy when he’s struggling. Especially after he carried us early in the season and his numbers still make him the 2nd best hitter in the lineup.

    And I hate how sabermetricians rail against small sample sizes, except when they serve their agendas. They take snipets out of a 2 month season as proof that Soley can’t hack it at the MLB level.

    Let’s see if he levels himself off like he has all season and not take small samples, make them smaller and use that as proof for our arguments.

    • ChuckIt

      I hear where your’e coming from. Let him finish the season,then attack his #’s.(if they can) Besides,who’s our option,Kelly?

    • Farewell Mo

      You actually make some sense about SSS but you can’t fault people for expecting Solarte to turn back into a pumpkin since it’s far more likely that the red hot start to his season is the aberration rather than his last month.

      If the end result is about a league average hitter who can play middle infield and some 3rd base and not embarrass himself defensively, that’s a pretty valuable player and quite a find from a 26 year old minor league journeyman.

      • I’m One

        He’ll rail against the SSS when it makes his argument with, say, a perenial Minor Leaguer that’s slumping, but not when it doesn’t, with, say, a top-tier catcher that hasn’t yet performed up to expectaions but just entering the 2nd third of the first year of a 5 year contract.

        So the SSS means nothing in the grand scheme of things for someone that has no history at the Major League level, but was only average in the Minors, yet it’s extremely important with someone that has a good history of success in the Majors and hasn’t yet hit his stride with a new team. Now I understand.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner


    • ALZ

      “What makes me sick is how people are so quick to abandon a guy when he’s struggling. ”

      Says the recently changed Yangeddard to Eddardsbury.

    • Steinbrenner’s Ghost

      BENCH ‘EM! And if he doesn’t sort it out, back to Venezuela! Admittedly that’s not so bad. Have you ever had Venezuelan food? It’s phenomenal. Empanadas, I had no idea such a thing exists. I mean, you get the meat, wrapped in bread–sometimes they throw cheese in the mix. You know, I used to have a policy about trying different foods. If it wasn’t from this continent, I’m not having it, no sir. Then back in the 90s we took a little family trip to Guatemala. Ohh, those Guatemalans can have fun, I’m telling you. We stayed by the beach and there was this one particular night..

  • Jedile

    I think If you look at 2012 and 2013 where Solarte he had a wRC+ of 93, and 89 respectively. So given that his walk rate is up and ISO elevated I imagine he’ll finish the season around 103 wRC+.

    maybe .280 avg, .340 obp, .410 slug. 12 homeruns and 60 runs?


    • I’m One

      I’d take that. He’s far better than what the team had with Nunez. And despite being a starter right now, his real role is that of a bench player. He’s doing far more than he should be, both in terms of the amount of time he’s playing and in his offensive production.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      I think every Yankee fan, as well as the front office, would completely shit themselves if he wound up there. That would be an MiLB coup of the highest order.

  • Vern Sneaker

    Nobody reasonably expected him to finish a full season at .300 — my overall impression out of ST was a .270-.280 contact hitter, maybe 10HR, with adequate D. That’s not so bad. Also turns out he’s kind of streaky. My guess is he’ll come out of this one okay.

  • ChuckIt

    2 out of 3 would have been nice,but Kuroda is allowed a bad game. So far,he has been consistent,and the lack of run support isn’t helping his cause.As for Solarte,cut him a break!We knew he wasn’t Graig Nettles coming in this season,and he’s still doing better than our other options.Nuno?another GLARING example of why we need to deal for another top line starter.The season’s not half over yet,so there’s time,but Cashman better at least start looking.

  • Mike

    Solarte has proven that he is one of the best young players in the league. I fully expect him to come back strong.

    • ChuckIt

      Can anyone name a player who never went into a slump? (Ted Williams MAYBE?)@*%@#@# stat hounds

      • TWTR

        I think the issue isn’t slumps per se, but the duration and frequency.

      • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

        Tony Gwynn.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      Easy there, cowboy.

  • TWTR

    Is Solarte any more selective batting LH?

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    Seems correctable? Paging Dr. Long…..

    Not quite sure this is the glass slipper falling off. Yet.

  • Derek Jeter

    Soooo I should stop thinking Solarte is the next Yankee HOF’er!

  • mitch

    anecdotally, it seems like he’s been seeing more off speed pitches and chasing them out of the zone. That would explain some of the weaker contact/increase in grounders. Feel free to prove me wrong with actual data

  • Tom

    Slumping was nothing big deal. Solarte only cost us about 0.5M a year as a free agent, so slumping was in expectation. And he wasn’t even a major leaguer or so called talented player until this year’s breakout. If he hit, awesome; if not, well, just find the other way fill the whole which FO should do. I really hope Solarte can be the solution of the f*** weak and aging and injury-prone infield but if not, it’s not his fault. The one who should take responsibility is the FO and the farm system especially. The last home-grown infielder who can be regular major leaguer except Cano????? NUNEZ?? CERVELLI?? Ocuh

  • http://riveravenueblues mississippi doc

    And Oakland, Detroit, Toronto, and Los Angeles are homegrown teams?

  • The Great Gonzo

    Time to return the Solarte shirsey