Kyle Waldrop was drafted out of high school in the 12th round of the 2010 Draft. He signed late and didn’t play much that first season, getting into just seven games before the season ended. Over the next three seasons he spent time playing in Billings, Dayton and Bakersfield where his OPS was .776, .767 and .766. This season he has split his time between Bakersfield and Pensacola where he’s hit a combined .338/.388/.510 with a career high 36 doubles, four triples and 12 home runs. He’s also set a career high in walks. While in Pensacola earlier this month I had a chance to talk with him about his season and some of the reasons this season has been a breakout year for him.
RML: You started off the year back in Bakersfield, the first time you’ve gone back to repeat a level. You’ve always been a guy who has seemingly done a lot better in the second halves, do you think going back to Bakersfield is one of the reasons you started off so well this year since you had already made some of those adjustments the year before and were able to carry those forward and continue making more this season?
Kyle Waldrop: Yeah, last year no one wants to hit .215 in the first half, for me it was a blessing to go through that. I learned a lot about myself, I learned how to fail. This year I wanted to carry the second half (from last year) into the first half. The thing that has been working for me is just being relaxed and in control of my at bats. It’s really what I’ve been working on and it seems to be making a difference.
RML: I’m glad you brought that up, it leads into the next question. It doesn’t seem like from the numbers side of things that you’ve made a big leap forward in any one area, but you’ve made smaller improvements in several areas. You are walking a little bit more, striking out a little bit less and using the entire field more than you have in the past. Has that been a change in approach, maturity, simply taking what the pitchers are giving you a little more?
Kyle Waldrop: I would say it is a little bit of everything. Working with Ryan Jackson (Cincinnati Reds minor league hitting coordinator) this offseason, we got a lot of work in together. I think it’s also a maturity thing. Every year I feel like I’m getting better. Especially here in Double-A, the pitchers know what their doing. It seems to be a repetitive pattern that they are trying to get me out with pitches away-away-away. So I had to force myself to hit the ball away and force them to try and bust me in as well. This year it’s just been being relax and trying to get away from hitting a lot of home runs. I think that has helped me become more of an all around hitter and someone who uses the whole field.
Improvements in Plate Discipline
Prior to the 2014 season Waldrop had a 6.1% walk rate, 20.4% strikeout rate and a 3.4 strikeout-to-walk rate for his career. Let’s take a quick look at how those rates compare to the ones he has posted in the 2014 season:
The walk rate is up at both levels and the strikeout rate is down at both levels. The strikeout rate is significantly down at the Double-A level as well compared to where his career rate was coming into the season. The strikeout-to-walk ratio has dropped from a 3.4 to a 2.3. Prior to the season the career rate was concerning, over the benchmark of 3.0 that is usually a “break-even” point for hitters. The 2.3 mark falls well into the category of that can work just fine in the big leagues.
As noted above, the outfielder says he has stopped trying to hit a lot of home runs. While the home run total is down from the 2013 season where he hit 21 for Bakersfield he has nearly the same number of extra-base hits in 2014 as he had in 2013. When judging power, I like to look at Isolated Power, which is a players batting average subtracted from a players slugging percentage. Like above, let’s look at the career rates versus the 2014 season:
Compared to the rest of his career the isolated power is the same as it has always been. That does ignore that he had a breakout power season in 2013 where his isolated power was at .202. Still, the current season mark of .172 isn’t far off from that and he’s actually done better in Pensacola with a .189 mark. It’s also worth noting that Pensacola does no favors for power to right field.
Using the entire field
Another thing that Waldrop noted was that he has had to force himself to use the entire field more, to go the other way. He isn’t just saying that though, it’s actually happening. Here is his 2013 spray chart compared with one from 2014:
In 2014 the ball is going to center and left field a bit more often and it seems that it’s coming at the expense of the ball being pulled to first and second base.
With the improvements for Waldrop in 2014 there hasn’t been one big reason for why he’s performed better. He hasn’t begun walking at a very high clip. He hasn’t found big time power that he didn’t have before. He hasn’t cut his strikeout rate in half. What he has done is make minor improvements to his offensive game nearly across the board and when combined they have made for a big improvement overall.