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A decrease in ground balls has Joey Wendle looking like one of the better rookies in baseball

After a putrid start to the season, improvements in batted ball profile and plate discipline have led Wendle to become one of baseball’s hottest hitters

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The Rookie of the Year race in the National League is coming down to two of the top hitters in baseball in Juan Soto and Ronald Acuña Jr. It’s pretty clear cut between those two. The race in the American League leaves a bit more room for discussion with more candidates, with the top guys being Shohei Ohtani (he probably gets it easily if would have stayed on the mound), Miguel Andujar, and Gleyber Torres. But there’s one name that has flown under-the-radar. Rays second baseman Joey Wendle is quietly putting together an impressive rookie campaign for his first year in the organization.

Admittedly, Wendle’s chances of winning the award are little to none. He hasn’t been nearly as flashy with the bat as some of the other top candidates. But with all that ignored, he’s still providing value to the Rays for an insignificant cost.

Wendle, a former farmhand of the Indians, flew up the ranks of the minor leagues and got stuck in Triple-A after being traded to the Athletics. He never really hit well in the upper-minors, slashing .285/.325/.441 between three seasons at Triple-A. After 36 subpar games with the major league club between 2016 and 2017, he was flipped to the Rays for a player to be named later. A player that could play play three infield positions and the outfield, he looked to make the team as a bench piece.

The early results to Wendle’s biggest taste of major league experience weren’t good. For the first three months of the season, among 233 players with at least 200 plate appearances in that time, only 37 had a lower wRC+ than Wendle’s mark of 78. He ranked in the bottom third of that group in hard-hit rate, had the 20th highest GB-rate, and was rocking a 24.6 percent K-rate with a 4.8 percent BB-rate. Not good.

Wendle needed to make a change or he wasn’t going to stick at the major league level. So he did. At this point, he was sporting an 8.9 degree launch angle, so improvement in lifting the ball would be a start for him.

While Wendle hasn’t seen a big increase fly balls, he’s adjusted his launch angle to play less to ground balls and more to fly balls and line drives. The results have paid off big too, as he’s legitimately been one of the better hitters in baseball since the beginning of July.

Top 20 wRC+ since the beginning of July

Name Team PA wRC+
Name Team PA wRC+
Matt Carpenter STL 183 202
J.D. Martinez BOS 156 197
Jose Ramirez CLE 166 196
Mallex Smith TBR 122 194
Mookie Betts BOS 176 193
Kole Calhoun LAA 160 183
Rougned Odor TEX 163 180
Yasmani Grandal LAD 129 177
Matt Chapman OAK 159 177
Ronald Acuna ATL 151 173
Khris Davis OAK 162 168
Mike Trout LAA 110 167
Paul Goldschmidt ARI 174 166
Joey Wendle TBR 129 162
Christian Yelich MIL 173 158
Bryce Harper WSN 162 156
Aaron Hicks NYY 155 155
Francisco Lindor CLE 184 154
Daniel Murphy WSN 137 153
Nolan Arenado COL 150 151
Minimum 100 plate appearances FanGraphs

Going back to the same X,Y of the table above, this time looking at players since the beginning of July, Wendle looks much better.

Joey Wendle has easily been one of the better rookies in baseball this year. He’s swinging one of the hotter bats in the game for the better part of six weeks, easily securing him a spot as the Rays primary second baseman. Like I said above, he won’t win Rookie of Year, but he’s giving the Rays value at the cost of nothing.

Patrick Brennan loves to research pitchers and minor leaguers with data. You can find additional work of his at Royals Review and Royals Farm Report. You can also find him on Twitter @paintingcorner.