In his first full season, Pittsburgh Pirates’ shortstop Kevin Newman has looked like a capable major league ballplayer. Is he a core player to build around or just a complementary piece?
To be quite honest, I did not expect Newman to have the success he’s had this year. Honestly, nobody really did. Not even his own team. For Newman, last year’s September call up was such a disaster that Neal Huntington felt the need to trade for Erik Gonzalez in the offseason. Worse yet, Gonzalez won the starting job fairly early in Spring Training.
Lesson learned, September call up stats do not matter in the slightest.
Since then, things have obviously changed. Newman is now the everyday starting shortstop. He won and earned the job quite some time ago and hasn’t looked back. In reality though, it’s not like anyone has exactly been breathing down his neck for the job.
On the surface, Newman’s offensive numbers are exactly average. He’s hitting .302/.346/.415 with seven home runs, 15 doubles, and four triples in 418 plate appearances. Yes, the .302 batting average looks great, but when you walk 5.5 percent of the time with very little power, it’s extremely hard to be an above average hitter, especially in today’s happy fun ball home run climate. Newman’s wRC+ is 100 and his OPS+ is 99. Literally average.
Beneath the surface, things don’t look great. His hard hit rate of 26 percent is well below the major league average of 38 percent. His ground ball rate of 51.9 percent is well above the major league rate of 42.9 percent.
Even worse, Newman’s xSLG of .356 is well below his actual mark of .406, which is already below the league average. His average exit velocity of 84.4 mph ranks 406th among 444 hitters (minimum 50 batted balls).
Simply put, Newman does not hit the ball hard enough to be a consistently productive hitter in today’s MLB. Sure his sprint speed (28.4 ft/sec) helps keep his BABIP (.330) above league average, but relying on infield and soft contact hits can only take a hitter so far.
Obviously in today’s game, players are constantly trying to add power. Newman desperately needs to find a way to do so.
Remember, Newman is already 26 years old. With his current approach at the plate, his ceiling may have already been reached. If that’s the case, it would be hard to expect him to ever be more than a two to three win player in the future. This season, his fWAR sits at 1.4 and his bWAR 1.9. That is solid, but not extraordinary. Keep in mind that his solid defense and speed are contributing factors in those figures.
At this current juncture, Newman is complementary player and not a core piece to build around. Unfortunately, the Pirates may need him to be a star.