Chris Taylor Has Come Out of Nowhere to Flourish for the Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers have been in a dogfight for the National League West this season, which isn't totally surprising. However, their toughest competition being the Colorado Rockies so far certainly is. Entering action on Monday, L.A. currently sits a half game behind Colorado for the division lead, and one of the key players on their roster to this point was likely an afterthought on Opening Day.
An injury to Logan Forsythe opened the door for Chris Taylor to get some playing time, and he's continued getting penciled into the lineup because of a separate injury to Justin Turner. Based off his play thus far, it will be hard to keep him off the field once everyone comes back from the disabled list.
A Top Replacement
Taylor has been much more than an adequate replacement for the Dodgers. The proof is in the pudding as we compare his Isolated Power (ISO), wRC+ and fWAR with the two guys he's replaced at different points throughout the year.
Despite Turner's surprising lack of power, he's been a force at the plate and leads all Dodgers hitters in wRC+ and fWAR. Taylor is right behind him in wRC+, and is also tied with Corey Seager and Yasmani Grandal in fWAR. It's also pretty clear to see how much more valuable Taylor has been to Los Angeles than Forsythe so far this year.
A Surprising Development
Taylor was a noteworthy prospect in the Seattle Mariners' farm system -- he rose as high as ninth after the 2013 season -- but based off his past performance in the big leagues since debuting in 2014, this pretty much came out of nowhere.
His rookie year was slightly above average in terms of wRC+, but the next two seasons weren't good at all. And after just two games (which included just three plate appearances) last year with the Mariners, he was shipped off to Los Angeles.
That .420 BABIP really sticks out, especially since there have only been two qualified hitters to finish with a BABIP higher than .400 between 2000 and 2016. So, we can almost certainly expect some regression to come his way in this department.
Making Better Contact
Despite Taylor's likely unsustainable BABIP, he's at least helping his case in other areas of his batted-ball profile. The table below outlines how he's made contact throughout his career.
|Year||Line-Drive Rate||Ground-Ball Rate||Fly-Ball Rate||Soft-Hit Rate||Medium-Hit Rate||Hard-Hit Rate|
While his line-drive rate has consistently been above the league average, so has his soft-hit rate. Taylor has continued that his trend in the line-drive department, but has done an about-face with regard to soft contact, which is helping him experience more success.
If he was a qualified hitter, that 5.7% soft-hit rate would be the lowest in baseball entering Monday. If he's able to continue limiting soft contact better than he has in recent years and continues pairing that with above-average numbers in medium- and hard-hit rates (averages are 49.1% and 32.0%, respectively), he'll putting himself in a solid position moving forward, despite not having his ground-ball and fly-ball rates where we'd normally like to see them.
Along with this, he's also displayed plate discipline we've never seen from him before. He's only seeing first-pitch strikes 57.3% of the time (a career low), yet his chase rate is just 18.8%, along with a 76.1% contact rate that's on track to be a single-season career high.
This helps explain why his walk rate is currently sitting at 14.0% this season after never settling in higher than 7.3% entering 2017.
A New Approach
The numbers have shown where Taylor has made improvements at the plate, but is he doing anything different in particular in his approach at the plate? For the latest Dodgers' breakout star, the below GIF shows what his batting stance looked like when he recorded his first big league hit in 2014.
And here is a home run that Taylor hit this season.
There are a few differences in his swing from then to now. He is more open, incorporated a leg kick, and also has a bit more of an uppercut. His finish largely looks the same, but quite a few things that led to a similar finish have changed.
It also looks similar to someone who transformed as a hitter himself upon landing in Los Angeles.
There are some subtle differences, but it sure does look an awful lot like Turner. Taylor actually named Turner as an example for what he was going for during the offseason, and it's certainly paid off so far.
While there are certain areas of his batted-ball profile that tell us he'll regress back to the mean a bit, there are other peripherals that show this hasn't been a fluke. And when we couple these improvements with his versatility -- he's played second base, third base, shortstop and center field so far this year -- he's looking like a valuable piece to manager Dave Roberts' puzzle this season.