Max Kepler Entered the Minnesota Twins' History Books on Monday Night
The Minnesota Twins have had a rough season. With a record of 41-64 and the fifth-worst team nERD, their bright spots have been far and few between in 2016.
However, one of these bright spots for the Twins as a unit was the month of July. They won 15 games this past month, as many as April and May combined, and tallied five more victories than they had in June. Their 144 runs scored in July were the second-most in all of baseball.
Perhaps the increase in scoring and victories can be tied to rookie outfielder, Max Kepler, who put on a show on Monday night against the Cleveland Indians.
#Twins hoy Max Kepler bateo d 6-4 con 6 RBI's y pego 3 HR's (14) en la Win vs los #Indians pic.twitter.com/UnjsayQPuN
— MeGustanLosDeportes (@PalillitoArnold) August 2, 2016
All three of Kepler's taters were two-run shots and he joined an exclusive group of Twins to hit three home runs.
3 HR in Game by @Twins Since Moving to Minnesota
2016 Max Kepler
2007 Justin Morneau
1973 Tony Oliva
1963 Harmon Killebrew
1963 Bob Allison
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 2, 2016
Kepler added a single in the top of the ninth inning and that base knock put him in Twins' history books all to himself.
Max Kepler is the first player in #MNTwins history (includes Washington Senators) with at least four hits and three homers in game.
— Ryan M. Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder) August 2, 2016
In case you're thinking that Monday's performance was fluky and not indicative of Kepler's abilities, let's check out what the rookie did in July as a whole.
Kepler's Impressive Month
Kepler went on a tear this month, although judging by his triple slash (.242/.327/.571), you may not have noticed, except maybe for that last number.
Kepler's .571 slugging percentage ranked 17th-best in July, and at .547 for the season, it ranks 14th-best among hitters with at least 230 plate appearances.
More impressive than his slugging percentage, however, was Kepler's ISO in July. He posted a .330 ISO which ranked sixth-best, the same spot he sits in for the season, again among those with at least 230 plate appearances. He also showed plate discipline that is rare for power hitters.
Kepler's 0.75 walk-to-strikeout ratio in July was 22nd-best, but of the 21 hitters ahead of him, none posted a higher ISO, and only 6 had an ISO of .200 or better. This is virtually the same amount of hitters who had an ISO of .100 or worse (5) on this list.
The unique blend of patience and power has helped lead to 11 home runs since the start of July, which is the most in baseball.
Max Kepler never hit more than 10 homers in any Minor League season. He leads the Majors with 11 homers since July 1.
— Rhett Bollinger (@RhettBollinger) August 2, 2016
Unfortunately for Kepler, he didn't have much luck at the plate this month, but it clearly didn't stop him from producing. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was just .206 in July, which was the seventh-lowest mark. However, Kepler still managed to record a 135 wRC+, which was the highest mark of the top-30 hitters with the lowest BABIP in July, and he was just one of two players with a wRC+ of higher than 112 among this group.
Kepler isn't the sole reason the Twins performed better as a team in July, but with the way he produced, he was definitely a contributing factor.
With just 230 plate appearances under his belt this season (he spent time in the minors and suffered a groin injury), Kepler's overall numbers are heavily influenced by how well he hit in July. It shouldn't be considered a knock against his game, but simply that we are evaluating a small sample size. Luckily for us, there is a statistic that quickly normalizes, hard-hit rate, that we can use to try and predict the future.
What to Expect From Kepler Moving Forward
Kepler's hard-hit rate this season is 40.3 percent, which is 19th-best among hitters with 230 plate appearances or more. This mark is not skewed by what he did in July either, as it was 42.9 percent in April (just 15 plate appearances) and 37.7 percent in June (105 plate appearances, same amount as in July).
There are 21 hitters this season (among those with at least 230 plate appearances) who have a hard-hit rate of 40 percent or better. The average Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs, of these hitters is 2.2, so Kepler is keeping good company. Three of the top-four hitters in fWAR this season are included on this list as well.
We currently project Kepler to hit .250/.323/.457 over the remaining course of the season, but don't be surprised if he outpaces these numbers. We've seen his batting average suffer because of a poor BABIP, and his hard-hit rate suggests that he'll be able to continue to hit for power.
The Twins have no chance at the playoffs this season -- we give them a 0.0 percent chance of making the postseason -- but their record-setting rookie is a bright spot who gives them hope for the future.