The home run spike has had dramatic effects on the careers of a multitude of players. This can be seen by simply looking at the home run leaderboard across all of baseball and saying, “who?” Cases like that of Scooter Gennett, who has added a considerable amount of power to his game aren’t all that rare. But each case is distinct, and remains interesting to look at and think about.
Gennett’s prior two seasons with the Brewers are the definition of boring. He was worth 0.2 fWAR in 2015 and 0.1 in 2016. Last season in Milwaukee was about as average as they come with a 91 wRC+, 21.0 percent strikeout rate, 14 home runs, and .317 OBP. It was for that reason that the Brewers decided to part ways. Surely the wealth of outfield and middle infield depth on the team helped make the decision easier, but Milwaukee was essentially giving up on a player that had yet to impress through his age-26 season.
The Reds, in the midst of a rebuild with nothing to lose, decided to take a chance and claim Gennett. So far that has been a brilliant decision. Despite hitting just 14 home runs a year ago, Gennett has already racked up 11 in roughly one-third of the plate appearances. Nearly half of those home runs come from a single game, of course, but the increase in power is visible beyond that one freak, amazing performance.
In 2017, his ISO has risen to a career-high .277 because of an impressive .306/.344/.584 slash line. He’s getting more hits, getting on base at a better rate, and hitting for more power. That’s pretty good, and it’s helped him raise his wRC+ to 137 for the season. It’s worth noting here that Gennett has had good seasons before. In 2013, his first season in the majors, he held a 129 wRC+ over 230 plate appearances that resulted in 2.0 fWAR. The difference between 2013 and this season is the power. In 2013 he had just a .479 SLG and .155 ISO. Those are good numbers, but they aren’t representative of the power he’s shown this season.
In the interest of keeping up with the fads, the first thing I checked was his launch angle difference between 2016 and 2017. He went from 11.7 degrees to 15.0 degrees, which is certainly a change worth noting. It is not, however, in the range of launch angle darlings Yonder Alonso and Ryan Schimpf, who jumpted to 22.1 degrees and 30.2 degrees respectively. Despite not reaching the astronomical levels we’ve seen from some players this season, Gennett appears to have settled in a reasonable range that yields line drives, doubles, and a fair share of home runs as well.
His move towards better contact based on the change in launch angle can be seen through a 5.8 percentage point decrease in ground balls in tandem with a 1.3 percentage point increased in line drives and 4.4 percentage point increase in fly balls. Even with a 21.6 percent HR/FB that’s bound to regress, the underlying improvement of putting balls in the air should allow his increased level of power to continue. That may manifest itself in more doubles than home runs, but that’s still a productive profile.
The Reds got Gennett for nothing. He was in the midst of a multi-year slump in which he provided nearly zero additional value to the Brewers. Then Gennett, like so many others this season, added some lift on the ball and power to his game. The addition of power has helped him become a well above average hitter that should be able to provide 2-3 fWAR by the end of the season. That’s a huge win for the Reds, who simply claimed Gennett off waivers.