Talking The Tauch

You probably didn’t pay much attention (or even notice) when the New York Yankees acquired 28-year-old outfielder Mike Tauchman from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for pitching prospect Phillip Diehl towards the end of spring training on March 23rd. Who could blame you? Tauchman’s major league resume to that point was ugly: a .153/.265/.203 slash line in 69 plate appearances over 52 games for the Rockies.

From 2013 to 2016 in the Rockies’ farm system, Tauchman hadn’t shown much in his age-22 to age-25 seasons. He displayed a decent hit tool but didn’t flash much power, combining for only eight home runs across four minor league seasons. If Tauchman wanted to crack Colorado’s major league roster, he needed to make a change.

Prior to the 2017 campaign, as reported by the New York Times’ James Wagner, Tauchman worked with Justin Stone, a hitting instructor at Chicago-based Elite Baseball Training. With three-dimensional sensors and plates that measure force, Stone, who was hired as a hitting consultant by the Chicago Cubs in 2018, used biomechanics to help Tauchman improve his swing. Stone and Tauchman found that he was transferring energy inefficiently from his lower half to his upper half. In scientific terms, Tauchman’s kinetic chain, or the sequence of movements that make up his swing, was off. With Stone’s help, Tauchman learned to use his lower half better when starting his swing, enhancing the transfer of energy up the kinetic chain.

The results were undeniable. Still in Triple-A, Tauchman improved his wOBA from .322 in 2016 to .399 in 2017 and .420 in 2018. His 139 wRC+ was good for the eighth-best mark in Triple-A in 2017. In 2018, his 153 wRC+ was fourth-best, just behind fellow 2019 breakouts Daniel Vogelbach and J.D. Davis as well as Astros top prospect Kyle Tucker. Tauchman’s power had definitely increased: he tripled his career home run mark with 16 homers in 2017 and swatted another 20 in 2018. The Yankees front office took notice and was intrigued enough by Tauchman’s minor league success to add him as a depth piece just before the 2019 season.

Tauchman’s rise has continued this year. In 71 games, he’s posted a .381 wOBA and 138 wRC+. That wRC+ ranks Tauchman 29th among 309 players with 200 or more plate appearances in 2019, just ahead of Josh Bell, Jose Altuve, and Anthony Rizzo. Tauchman’s done more than just impress with the bat in 2019. According to FanGraphs, he’s created 1.4 runs on the basepaths this season.

Tauchman has also shined with the glove. He’s played 559.2 innings in the outfield for the Yanks: 363 in left, 74.2 in center, and 122 in right. Tauchman has been above average defensively in all three spots and amassed a stellar 14 defensive runs saved, which ranks him sixth among all outfielders with at least 500 innings played. To give you a sense of how good Tauchman has been defensively, he’s just two defensive runs saved behind the Tampa Bay Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier in almost three hundred less innings played.

Statcast numbers available at Baseball Savant agree that Tauchman has been outstanding in the field this season. Tauchman ranks 10th among 95 qualified outfielders with seven outs above average this season. Using the exit velocity and launch angle of the batted balls hit in Tauchman’s direction in 2019, Statcast calculates that 85% of those batted balls should have been converted into outs. Tauchman has caught 91% of those balls, good for the second-best catch percentage added in the league at 6%, behind only Kiermaier’s 7%. Statcast’s Outfielder Jump metrics also rank Tauchman above average at 27th among the 105 qualifying outfielders.

Tauchman’s all-around game has contributed 3.4 bWAR in just those 71 games played for the Bombers in 2019. However, there are some warning signs that his offensive breakout might not be sustainable. First, there’s a discrepancy between Tauchman’s .381 wOBA and his expected wOBA as calculated by Statcast based on the exit velocity and launch angle of his batted balls. His xwOBA is a mere .324, suggesting that luck may have played a large part in Tauchman’s offensive success.

Additionally, his .353 BABIP is 54 points above the league average of .299. With a pedestrian average exit velocity of 88.8 mph, it’s likely that Tauchman will see his BABIP decrease and his offensive numbers regress somewhat. That said, according to Baseball Savant, Tauchman owns a 38.4% sweet spot percentage in 2019, which ranks him 71st of 436 qualifying hitters. Sweet spot percentage tallies the percentage of balls a batter hits in the ideal launch angle range between eight and 32 degrees. Since 2015, batted balls in the sweet spot have led to an average BABIP of .514 and an average wOBA of .707.

There’s more to combat the assertion that Tauchman’s offensive breakout is just a mirage. His season has truly been a tale of two halves. The table below helps tell the story.

Tauchman’s actual wOBA is still outstripping his xwOBA by quite a bit over the last month, but his .369 xwOBA is nothing to sneeze at: it’s good for 57th among the 344 hitters with at least 50 plate appearances from July 11th through August 17th. The increase in his launch angle shows that he’s lifting the ball a lot more, and that’s borne out in his batted ball profile as well.

Tauchman’s ground-ball rate has dropped dramatically in the second half, and his fly-ball rate has increased by a significant amount. His 31.0% line-drive rate is almost certainly unsustainable (Whit Merrifield of the Kansas City Royals currently leads the league at 29.7%) and has likely driven much of Tauchman’s success, but given the sweet spot percentage mentioned above, he may be predisposed to hit line drives more frequently than the typical hitter. As expected given his line-drive rate in the second half, Tauchman has been hitting the ball harder more often.

A more refined pitch selection appears to be what’s led to Tauchman’s offensive breakout over the last month.

Tauchman had already displayed excellent plate discipline in the first half with a chase rate that ranked 42nd among 437 hitters with at least 50 plate appearances. He’s improved upon that skill in the second half, as he’s swinging less overall, chasing less frequently, and swinging less often in the strike zone. His second half swing rate ranks 33rd-lowest among 345 hitters with at least 50 plate appearances, and his chase rate ranks 20th among the same group. His even more patient approach after the All-Star break has led to more contact: he’s increased his contact rate by almost 6% and decreased his swinging strike rate by 3.2%. Below are his overall swing percentage heat maps from the first and second halves of the season.

Tauchman has really concentrated his swings in the middle of the zone, especially the inner-middle part of the plate, swinging most often in the upper-middle part of the zone. He’s also laying off pitches low and away and above the zone a lot more frequently. Swinging at pitches higher in the strike zone and staying off that low and away pitch probably has a lot to do with the reduction in his ground-ball rate. You can see the same trend against four-seam fastballs, which Tauchman is seeing 42.1% of the time in 2019.

It’s most likely that Tauchman won’t be able to sustain all of his offensive breakout over the final month. Maintaining a near-.400 BABIP is unheard of, and Statcast shows that Tauchman has definitely been the beneficiary of some good luck. Even when regression comes for Tauchman, however, there appears to be enough to believe that he’ll retain some of that breakout. He has shown elite plate discipline and an above-average ability to put the bat on the ball. Those attributes will serve any hitter well. If Tacuhman is able to keep enough of his batted balls in the air, given his above-average baserunning and excellent defense, he has shown the tools to continue to be an above-average regular moving forward.

We hoped you liked reading Talking The Tauch by gbekiaris!

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Former corporate attorney looking to break into an MLB front office. Running a New York Yankees-focused blog called Back To The Bronx (https://backtothebronx.blog).

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Dmitry
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Dmitry

Great analysis!
What would you guess happens next year? Do the Yanks keep gardner? Does frazier get a shot? Does tauch start?