I don’t find myself watching the Houston Astros as much as I’d like. It’s too bad — they have a heap of great young talent and a couple older guys who are still exciting to watch. But this weekend, being an avid Cleveland Indians watcher, I had the pleasure of seeing them for three games. Many players stand out — the linebacker frame of Carlos Correa, the elfin might of Jose Altuve, the man-bear Evan Gattis. They have a lot of extreme players. Then there’s George Springer. He looks like a normal, average human at first glance. But his superlative lurks beneath that veneer. After three days of watching him work, I’ve come to the conclusion that George Springer is the least cheated man in baseball.
In general, Springer is an excellent player with an amazing collection of talents. He can hit, he can run, he’s at least competent in center field especially now that there’s no hill there to trip him up, and he’s got very loud power. On some teams he’d be slated in the cleanup role. But instead, he gets to lead off, and now and again gets to do this:
That’s a 3-2 leadoff home run to a not-cheap part of Yankee Stadium, on Derek Jeter night no less. It was a nice tone setter for the game that saw the Astros romp all over the Yankees. Springer looked good up there, too. He worked the count against a very good pitcher, got a meatball and lofted it with ease into Monument Park.
He does this all the time. Well, not ALL the time, but he’s got 74 career home runs in 381 career games; that’s pretty good. That’s 31 per 162 contests. He always profiled as a power hitter, and with good reason. If you watch that above video again, aside from the baseball brutalization, what do you see? You see Springer at about a 45 degree angle with the ground as he makes contact with the ball. You see a mighty, unbridled swing. Maybe you see a faint smile, because he’s having the time of his life in that moment, or maybe you just imagine it. He has completely sold out on that swing. That is not an anomaly. It’s not just that he worked a long count and knew innately what Tanaka was throwing and was planning on crushing it. He swings real hard. That’s just what Springer does.
I was drawn to this aspect of his offensive profile this past weekend. He didn’t have a big offensive series because the Indians pitching staff is turning a corner, but he still got his money’s worth at the plate. In Friday’s game alone, he gave us this swing:
Ordinarily, that’s what it looks like when a guy strikes out while getting fooled big time. He swings hard, whiffs hard, and strolls into the opposite batter’s box and on to home plate. Not so with Springer. He just lost his footing because that’s what he does. He knows you only get a few chances each game. What’s the point in just nickel-and-diming your way through an at-bat? It happened a couple times this weekend, culminating in this:
He just… he wanted to crush that ball so bad. He didn’t get fooled or anything; he’s just is incredibly overzealous. He was facing MIke Clevinger, who by all rights he expected to hit hard. Because Mike Clevinger is just “some rookie.” Never mind that Clevinger was in the midst of a no-hit bid. Springer did get a piece of it instead of just missing horribly, but it’s a good thing he keeps his shoes tied.
It’s so rare to see a player have such reckless abandon at the plate like that. Usually by the time they reach the big leagues these professionals have ironed that out of their swing, and are strong enough that even when they miss they still look somewhat composed. His own teammate Evan Gattis is, as mentioned, half bear. But even he stays on his feet. Or Jose Altuve or Dustin Pedroia, two tiny guys who you’d think would have to swing out of their shoes to make enough contact to get the ball over the fence. But neither of them risk shoe-wear even when they’re clobbering the ball. Mike Trout just looks like he’s hitting singles, and it goes 400 feet. Springer is a man apart.
More players should be like this. Springer swings like it’s going out of style. What's amazing is, despite this seeming recklessness in how he attacks the ball, he’s becoming more and more selective every season. He has a career high in contact rate (73.2 percent versus 70.0 for his career) and in-zone contact rate (82.3 percent, 75.8 career), with a career low in swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone (25.3 percent against 25.7 for his career) and swinging strikes (12.3 percent, 14.0 career rate). He’s become more selective and he’s jumping on balls more than ever. The more he plays, the more choosy he becomes, and perhaps the swings will get more and more savage. Will we get to a point where he only swings once an at-bat, his shoes explode and his bat get singed? At this point, I’m not discounting it.
It’s not exactly a new development in how Springer swings or anything, though there does seem to be a bit more tilt, a bit more knee bend on contact than in the past:
That’s a bomb he launched last May. The ball was a bit more inside, but still caught a lot of the plate. And when he followed through he just jogged like a normal slugger. Not anymore though. He needs a few steps to find the ground again.
This Springer attitude — to swing hard, all the time, forever — is just a delight. The abject eagerness in his offensive plan each at-bat seems almost childlike. He swings with glee. Even if home runs are at risk of becoming too mundane because everyone is hitting 20 or so of them, he at least makes each at-bat an event. Chris Davis with his easy, accidental power is neat. Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton are mutants whose feats of strength are something to revel in. Springer is more normal seeming and swings like he’s playing whiffle ball. But instead of a back yard he’s just one of the best young players in the game, headlining on a World Series contender. Instead he’s just the most blatant harbinger of a new world where players have the keenest of eyes, don’t care about strikeouts, sit fastball and swing like they’re trying to help power wind turbines. Or maybe he’s a guy who likes to give his all, all the time and wants to hit baseballs real far. They are fun to watch fly away, after all. Whatever the answer, George Springer is magnificent.
Merritt Rohlfing is a staff writer at Beyond the Box Score and Let’s Go Tribe, and co-hosts Mostly Baseball, which is a podcast about mostly baseball. He owns a very small cat. Follow him on Twitter @merrittrohlfing.