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Bucco Breakfast: Josh Bell And The Middle-Middle Pitch

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Bell had a very noticeable drop in power in 2018, and the heart of the problem may be over the heart of the plate.

Bell raked in the center of strike zone in 2017, picking up 55 total bases on the 63 at-bats which ended over the middle of the strike zone (.873 slugging percentage). Roughly 21% of his total bases on the season came in this part of the zone. In 2018, he once again had about 20% of his total bases come from pitches in the center, but the volume was significantly reduced. Bell only picked up 42 total bases in the 69 at-bats that ended with a pitch located there (.609 slugging).

2017 results: 13 singles, four doubles, two triples and seven home runs in 63 ABs. Courtesy of Baseball Savant.
2018 results: 14 singles, eight doubles and three home runs in 69 ABs. Courtesy of Baseball Savant.

While Bell also saw power dips in other parts of the zone, the middle of the plate is the most curious case for him. Let’s assume, for a moment, that Bell could have matched his 2017 slugging percentage on center cut pitches. Over 69 total at-bats, that would account for about 18 more total bases. Over his 509 ABs last season, it would be an extra 35 points on his season slugging percentage. All of a sudden his offensive output is somewhere between Jose Martinez and Justin Smoak.

This, of course, did not happen, but there is some good news and some “less exciting, but still good enough” news on why Bell could improve in 2019. The first batch of good news is Bell was still hitting the ball in that part of the plate well. His average exit velocity on center cut pitches jumped from 90.8 MPH to 96.1 MPH last season, per Baseball Savant.

The extra EV did come at the cost of not getting it in the air as often, but those two factors basically cancelled out when looking at his expected wOBA (.451 in 2017, .455 in 2018). That is well above the expected/actual league wide wOBA of pitches located there (.399).

But it’s time for that minor buzzkill news to rear its ugly head. In 2017, Bell’s actual wOBA was .520, meaning he outperformed his projections by nearly 70 points. Last year, he had a .412 wOBA, meaning he under performed by over 40 points. So while it’s reasonable to assume Bell will do better on meatball pitches in 2019 and beyond, he may not get the full 100 point swing unless he changes his batted ball profile.

Daily Links:

Important link: Melisa Reidy- Addison Russell’s ex- talked to Kelly Wallace of Expanded Roster about her physically and emotionally abusive relationship with the Cubs’ shortstop.

Far less important links: Does anyone want to talk openers? I took at look at which Pirates starters would benefit from an opener for The Point of Pittsburgh, and Sheryl Ring wrote about some of the problems openers could create, including creating contested arbitration cases.

Finally, the Pirates added some AAA catching depth yesterday, signing 28 year old Steve Baron to a minor league deal. Baron has had two cups of coffee in the majors: 2015 with the Mariners and 2018 with the Cardinals. He’s done a good job controlling the running game in his career (43% caught stealing rate), and seeing how that’s been a weakness for Mitch Keller, it seems like a good pairing.