Rewarding Jeimer Candelario for a strong month of hitting.
Baseball is hard to predict. Jeimer Candelario joined the Tigers in 2017, but he didn’t get steady big-league playing time until the following season. He looked pretty darn good in his first two months in Detroit, playing solid defense and putting up a 140 wRC+ in April, and a 146 in May.
And then for the next 26 months, he was literally the worst hitter in baseball. There are 142 players who had at least 800 plate appearances between June 1st, 2018, and August 1st, 2020, and Jeimer Candelario’s 69 wRC+ ranked dead last. The only players even close to him were Elvis Andrus and Dee Gordon, who both had a wRC+ of 71.
He was hitless in his five games this July, going 0-for-17 with 9 strikeouts. And then voila! Seemingly out of nowhere he had the best month of his career, and one of the best Augusts of anyone in major league baseball. Check out his numbers for the month below:
(Ranks out of 164)
His walk rate was very low, but everything else was good to great. It would be foolish to look at this and think Jeimer Candelario is just a great hitter now. He’s had far too many bad months to believe this is real. But August 2020 is now in the books forever, and he deserves credit for his performance.
The Key to Candelario’s Success?
Most likely we just witnessed an anomalous hot month from Candelario — the sort of thing anyone with MLB talent is capable of doing. Think of it as the offensive version of Tyler Alexander’s record-breaking strikeout streak. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look for root causes.
Candelario’s swing profile this year offers a few potential reasons for his recent success. The first key stat may seem counterintuitive, but Candelario is swinging at more pitches this year — his current swing rate of 46.1% is up 2.5% from his career average. But the big difference seems to be the pitches he’s targeting. His swing rate within the strike zone is up nearly 8% over his career rate.
This is tough to illustrate with words, so let’s use the nifty Swing Take tool at Baseball Savant.
That may be hard to see (and even harder to understand), but you can get a closer look at the link above and a more in-depth explanation at this link. In very basic terms, Jeimer Candelario cost himself 7 runs in 2019 by not swinging at pitches in the Heart of the zone.
Below you can see his Swing Take chart from 2020.
So far this year Candelario is +5 runs on pitches in the Heart of the zone. He’s still struggling on pitches in the Shadow zone, but his decision to swing more seems to be paying huge dividends. His hard-hit rate has jumped from about 33.5% over his career to 43.6% this year.
It’s too soon to know if Candelario has made a real change to his approach, but it would certainly be an ironic twist if one of the Detroit’s most patient hitters owes his August success to newfound aggression. We’ll see how pitchers adjust, but for now, Jeimer Candelario gets to enjoy his Motor City Bengals Hitter of the Month Award.