Danny Valencia's Monster Day at the Plate Was No Fluke
The third baseman for the Oakland Athletics, Danny Valencia, proved over the weekend that good things come to those who wait.
Prior to a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays that began Friday, Valencia had gone 17 games, or 65 plate appearances, this season without hitting a home run. With the series now over, Valencia has five home runs under his belt, three of which came in Sunday's series finale.
.@dannyvalencia19 smashed three homers today and the SHORTEST one went 426 feet. https://t.co/k4M6Faw4Mo #Statcast pic.twitter.com/zZmO8E2qiJ
â€” #Statcast (@statcast) May 16, 2016
Perhaps a prior hamstring injury -- which forced him to the disabled list earlier in the season -- was helping suppress his power, and his bat has come to life now that he is finally healthy. None of the home runs were wall-scrapers either.
All 3 of Danny Valencia's HR were calculated at 425 feet or longer, the 1st player with 3 such HR in a game since 2009.
â€” ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 15, 2016
2009 is the year when ESPN Stats and Information first began tracking the distances of home runs, so Valencia is the only player to accomplish this feat since this information became available. More importantly, the A's needed all the runs his taters supplied.
Valencia's home runs were hit in the first, fifth, and ninth innings. His first home run opened the scoring, his second brought his team within one run, and his final long ball was the game-winner.
|Home Run||Inning||Score Before||Score After||Distance||Exit Velo|
In what ended up being a one-run victory for Oakland, every one of Valencia's five RBI were necessary. You'll also notice that despite having the slowest exit velocity, his third home run traveled the farthest.
A three-home run game is impossible to predict, but should we have seen this onslaught coming?
A Glimpse of What's to Come
Valencia posted a .231 Isolated Power and an .868 OPS in the second half in 2015, which ranked 27th- and 30th-best, respectively. He also hit 12 of his 18 home runs in the second half, despite playing in just seven more games than in the first half. His hamstring injury may have sapped some of his power to start 2016, but Valencia proved his ability to drive the ball last season.
And it's not like he wasn't hitting well this season prior to the home runs. The power hadn't shown its face yet, but Valencia had 19 hits through 65 plate appearances (.311 batting average) before the series with Tampa.
Valencia has now played 20 games this season and has only gone hitless in three of them. Two of those three games without a hit came during his first three games of the season, and he's currently riding a 10-game hit steak.
His batted ball profile explains Valencia's success at the plate.
Line Drives and Hard Hits
His line drive percentage of 22.4 is more than three points higher than his career average, and he's consistently hitting the ball hard.
Valencia's 44.8 hard-hit percentage is significantly higher than his career total (30.6), and among hitters with at least 70 plate appearances this season, this mark ranks sixth-best. Conversely, his 8.6 percent soft-hit rate is seventh-best.
Although each home run he hit Sunday was pulled, Valencia's pull percentage is just 31.0, which is currently the 23rd-lowest percentage and well below his career total of 44.1 percent. The difference has switched to balls he hits up the middle, and he's doing it more than anyone in baseball. The percentage of balls Valencia hits towards the center of the field is 50.0, which is almost two percent more than any other hitter.
It's important to note that FanGraphs points out there isn't a "good" or "bad" batted ball direction profile, but the significant difference in what Valencia has done this season compared to years past means it's worth watching -- especially because putting balls in play in the middle of the field implies the batter was able to square the ball up.
However, the key word there is "implied." Valencia has just 77 plate appearances this season, so we'll need more data before it's safe to say that he changed his approach and that the difference this season isn't just a fluke.
What we do know is that Valencia's power isn't going anywhere. His Isolated Power is up to .247 on the season, which is 31st-best, and he's now slashing .342/.377/.589. His average is likely inflated because of a .377 BABIP, so expect that to come down, but look for more extra-base hits as the season goes on.
Our models project Valencia to hit 12 home runs and post an .817 OPS over the remaining course of the season. That would give him an .847 OPS for the season, which is something only 27 hitters did last season.
Valencia -- and the Athletics -- no longer have to wait for good things to come. They are already here.