The Rays have scuffled their way to a record below .500, but it is most certainly not due to anything newly-minted leadoff hitter Logan Forsythe has or has not done. He ranks 7th among all position players in fWAR (1.4) and 6th in wRC+ (193). He is sandwiched on that wRC+ leaderboard by Jose Altuve and David Ortiz, which I thought was pretty great, however irrelevant to the overall analysis.
Forsythe came to the Rays in a seven-player trade back in January of 2014. The Padres received reliever Alex Torres and Jesse Hahn, but the Rays also got back Brad Boxberger and Matt Andriese. I would say that the Rays would make that trade over and over again.
At the time, however, it was hard to see the impact of the deal. Though he hit well at every level of the minors, major league success was difficult to attain. Over 762 plate appearances across three years with the Padres, Forsythe hit .241 / .310 / .349 for an 87 wRC+.
His first year with the Rays in 2014 brought much of the same. In 336 plate appearances, Forsythe's wRC+ was an uninspiring 79. The 2015 season came along, and Forsythe was slated for platoon duty due to his trouble hitting righties. An injury to Nick Franklin last spring offered something Forsythe had yet to receive in MLB: consistent playing time.
And that appears to be one of the biggest things. Consistency. From Marc Topkin:
Part of it was mental, and part physical, specifically settling on the best set of mechanics and sticking with them. Working out during the winter with former Ray Ben Zobrist near their Nashville-area homes, Forsythe would send videos to Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton, who offered suggestions, and they agreed to remain, well, consistent.
Well, that and being better against right-handed pitchers. Forsythe finished 2015 with a .273 / .353 / .375 line for a 108 wRC+ against righties. Last year was his best performance against righties in his career by far, and he's trucking right along in 2016 with a 159 wRC+ against righties.
I wish I had some copy-pasted language regarding small sample sizes since pretty much every early-season stats/analysis article has to deal with this issue. Can't we all just agree that everything written at the beginning of the season (up to some point) just automatically contains the small sample size caveat? Forsythe has a .378 BABIP against righties. There.
What's surprisingly different is the plate discipline. Forsythe is walking 13.2 percent of the time against righties, whom he has faced about 78 percent of the time. Forsythe's O-swing rate ranks 13th among the "qualified" position players, so that's a clear reason why he's walking more, and his O-swing rate is quite a bit lower than last year.
However, he's doing it a bit differently than the others on the O-swing ranking. Among those 12 players in front of Forsythe, only Anthony Rendon is swinging at a higher rate. Only Rendon and J.J. Hardy are being thrown more strikes. Forsythe is getting a lot of hittable pitches, and he's being relatively aggressive with them. He's simply laying off the bad pitches.
The results are following the process, if you can call "swing at the good ones, avoid the bad ones" a bona-fide process. Here's a list of things at which Forsythe has been good so far:
- Hitting for power (18.2% HR/FB)
- Hitting line drives (24.6% LD rate)
- Not hitting popups (4.5% IFFB rate)
- Spraying the ball (29.2% oppo rate, highest of his career)
- Going along with the above, not pulling the ball too much (32.3% pull rate, very low among hard contact leaders)
- Hitting the ball reallllly extra hard (41.5% hard contact rate)
Avoid bad pitches. Swing at good ones. Hit the ball hard. "Immune" to platoon splits. Yup. Logan Forsythe is even better than last year. Regression will tell us how much.
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