Thursday, May 30, 2024
spot_img

Jackson Holliday has struggled in MLB debut so far, but here are three reasons to believe in Orioles prospect

Baltimore Orioles infielder Jackson Holliday, the No. 1 prospect on CBS Sports’ preseason top 50, has now been in the majors for a whole week. The bad news for Holliday is that he’s started off his big-league career mired in a slump. He enters Thursday with one hit in his first 25 at-bats. He’s also sporting a 14-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio — great for a pitcher, not so much for a hitter.

The good news for Holliday is that big-league careers aren’t defined by how they start; they’re defined by how you settle. Several of his Orioles teammates can confirm as much. Baltimore’s player-development machine has produced notable young hitter after notable young hitter in recent years. Almost all of them took a little while to acclimate to their new surroundings before taking off. Let’s play the selective endpoints game:

  • C Adley Rutschman: Hit .210/.296/.389 through his first 176 plate appearances.
  • SS Gunnar Henderson: Hit .224/.339/.394 through his first 289 plate appearances. 
  • OF Colton Cowser: Hit .115/.286/.148 through his first 77 plate appearances.

Rutschman has since matured into a franchise cornerstone; Henderson is an extremely early candidate to take home the Most Valuable Player Award; and Cowser is solidifying himself as a fixture in a crowded lineup. In an ideal world, all three and Holliday would’ve been great out of the box. Sometimes, though, you have to be patient. That’s especially true for Holliday, who won’t celebrate his 21st birthday until this December.

We can preach all day about the dangers of drawing Big Conclusions from small sample analysis. Rather than do that, we decided to watch every pitch and play from Holliday’s first week in the majors and write up three observations we found noteworthy. Scroll slowly with us, won’t you?

1. Approach is promising

We know, we know. You’re probably wondering how good can an approach be if it enables a 1-for-25 stretch. When it comes to small samples, you have to be able to separate the processes from the outcomes.

“Approach” is an all-encompassing concept that attempts to capture a few different skills: the ability to discern balls from strikes; the ability to key in on pitches that you can do the most damage to; and the ability to adjust based on context — that can mean how pitchers are approaching you, how umpires are calling the zone, the base-out-score situation, or any number of other variables.

holliday2.png

TruMedia

In this case, Holliday’s chase rate is on the higher side (33.3%), but we feel that his overall swing decisions have been good. The image above shows the pitches that Holliday has taken for strikes in counts with fewer than two strikes. Almost all of them have been down in the zone or away. Predictably, that’s because Holliday seems to be hunting pitches that are up and/or on the inside half of the plate:

holliday1.png

TruMedia

As you can see, most of the red is located over the plate and in the zone. There are a few outlier spots high and low that should smooth out as the sample increases. We will note that Holliday, even dating back to his prospect days, has a tendency to expand the plate inside; he also steps in the bucket (his stride leg lands more open than it starts), suggesting he has an appetite for pitches on the inner half and beyond. Interestingly enough, he seems to have no issues with expanding the zone away.

Judging a batter’s approach is generally more art than science. Baseball Prospectus author Robert Orr has attempted to quantify a batter’s selectiveness and aggressiveness by developing a metric called “SEAGER.” We feel obligated to mention that Holliday actually has the best score among Orioles, suggesting that he is indeed making good swing decisions at this stage in his career.

So, why haven’t the results supported it?

2. Timing is off

“Timing” is a more intuitive concept than “approach.” It can manifest in a few different ways, including in swing and misses — something that Holliday has done his fair share of — and foul balls. It can also impact the batted ball type, direction, and quality. The reason is somewhat obvious: if a batter is out in front on pitches, they’re likely pulling them; if they’re late, they’re likely splaying them to the opposite field.

With that in mind, Holliday had not pulled a ball in the air until Wednesday’s game, when he hit a harmless fly ball to right on a Pablo López changeup. Instead, he’s mostly pulled ground balls and lifted line drives and flys to the opposite field. That includes this hard-hit ball to left and this potential extra-base hit to left-center that hung up a little too long.

We mentioned Holliday’s minor-league tendencies above. We can point to that same dataset to show what his spray chart looks like when he’s rolling. Here’s a look at every batted ball that had a launch angle over 10 degrees (his average was 9.9 degrees, as opposed to his MLB average of 1.9 degrees): 

export-5.png

TruMedia

There were a few instances where Holliday hit inside-out line drives to left. For the most part, though, he was trying to do damage to right and right-center. That hasn’t been the case yet. While it’s natural to wonder if Holliday’s leg kick is throwing him off, we suspect that it’s part of the adjustment period facing improved velocity and stuff — and hey, there’s a reason these pitchers are in the big leagues and those in Triple-A are not. Once he catches up, in more ways than one, he’ll start wearing out that rightward portion of the Camden outfield.

3. Secondary skills are there

We don’t have a ton to write about Holliday’s defense or baserunning (in part because he hasn’t received many opportunities on the basepaths). He’s looked good at the keystone to our eyes. His arm, which would’ve been stretched at times at short, is fine at second. He even contributed to this nifty-looking double play

To paraphrase Chuck LaMar: the only thing separating Holliday from being recognized as a good all-around player is his offensive production. Once he starts hitting, everything else will fall into place. Fortunately, we think that Holliday will get it figured out sooner than later.

Related articles

Share article

Latest articles

Newsletter

Subscribe to stay updated.