Tommy Joseph: Swing At The Strikes
Heading into the 2017 season, we here at Crashburn Alley strive to update you on a specific storyline regarding many of the returning staples from last season’s roster. Today is first baseman Tommy Joseph.
For the ardent reader of the Crashburn Roundtable, my enthusiasm for Tommy Joseph should come as no surprise. For those who chose baseball dormancy as Citizens Bank Park was preparing to close its doors, a quick review of said enthusiasm.
On September 30, then Crashburn editor Spencer Bingol forced upon us the impossible choice:
Both Tommy Joseph (115 OPS+) and Cameron Rupp (101 OPS+) have surprised with their offensive performances this season. Are you more encouraged by one or the other? Does one have a long term role on the Phillies?
Guenther: There are 22 players in baseball this year that combined a league average contact rate with a HR/FB rate north of 18%. Tommy Joseph was one of those players. That combination of raw power and contact can’t be taught, and it can make for a dangerous middle-of-the-order hitter if everything clicks. Consider, of the 22 players in the aforementioned group, the median wRC+ is 135. Joseph still has some things to clean up, namely his ball and strike judgement, but he might have the highest ceiling bat of anyone on the team.Crashburn Alley
On January 5, not satisfied with my commitment to the idea of this high ceiling bat, new editor Eric Chesterton pressed even further:
What’s your off-the-wall prediction for the Phillies in the next year (could be their 2017 record, a big trade, free agent signing, player performance, whatever)?
Guenther: Tommy Joseph emerges as one of the premiere power hitters in the league. This past season was not a one-off fluke. There is a distinct combination of big power and contact in that bat, and the only thing holding it back was his middling plate discipline. But consider, Joseph spent the prior three years accumulating fewer than a season’s worth of total plate appearances. In his first full year of baseball since 2012, he made notable strides in his pitch discernment. First half BB% and K%: 3.7% and 24.7%. Second half: 8.6% and 18.9%. A breakout is coming. The only problem with this prediction is it doesn’t feel very off-the-wallCrashburn Alley
Note the recurring themes in the answers above:
1. Joseph has a notable blend of contact and power.
2. Joseph would benefit from better plate discipline.
3. The author has an unmistakeable optimism for Joseph’s impending breakout.
Getting to that breakout, however, hinges entirely on point number two: better plate discipline.
There is obvious benefit to taking pitches outside of the strike zone. Namely, more walks and fewer strikeouts. That improvement alone would place Joseph among the better hitters in the league. But there is also a less obvious implication: better quality contact. In 2016, Joseph demonstrated how good that contact can be. Consider the following table, a month by month account of his relevant numbers in that regard.
*League Average is 30.6%
The pattern is the same for every hitter in the league. When a batter avoids pitches out of the strike zone, overall contact quality is improved. But note the extent of damage on contact when Joseph is more discerning. Few hitters in baseball are capable of that level of power. And Joseph does not require the batting eye of Joey Votto to achieve those results. With an average eye at the plate, Tommy Joseph is a premiere power hitter. The question, then: can he maintain that average eye over the course of the year?