Scrolling through the Baseball Savant leaderboards and sorting by barrel percentage, atop the list is a group of familiar names, with Gary Sanchez, Anthony Rendon, and Mike Trout maintaining their elite quality-of-contact skills. Looking at a smaller, but more recent sample, the top three barrel percentages for the month of June also belong to a group of non-surprising names: Hunter Renfroe, Nelson Cruz, Mike Trout.
The fourth highest barrel percentage for the month of June is where a surprise emerges. Long-time veteran outfielder Cameron Maybin holds this spot, barreling a fourth of his batted balls (eight out of 32), going against the profile developed on his game through thousands and thousands of plate appearances. Yes, I know he was just put on the injured list with a calf strain, but all of this is still relevant.
To explain further, I’ll dive into where Maybin’s quality-of-contact has stood among the league in the Statcast-era before this season. Among 361 hitters with at least 500 batted balls in that time, his barrel percentage ranked 280th, standing at 3.2 percent. His average exit velocity of 86.9 miles per hour ranked 235th. For 2019, among 359 hitters with at least 50 batted balls, he ranks 94th in barrel percentage and 79th in exit velocity. Focusing again on the month of June and once again lowering the threshold to a minimum of 25 batted balls, he ranks the mentioned fourth in barrel percentage out of 249 hitters, while standing 30th in exit velocity at 92.4 MPH. Visually, it becomes clear that Maybin is hitting the ball harder than he ever has.
Maybin’s batted ball issues can probably be attributed as the results of a lackluster swing. Before this season, out of those 361 qualified hitters in the Statcast-era, he ranked 343rd in launch angle. Identifying how often he hit the ball in the “ideal” launch angle ranch (typically eight to 32 degrees), he sat at 29.2 percent, ranking 328th, sitting next to noted non-sluggers Adam Engel and Ronald Torreyes. In 2019, he’s upped that mark to 36.1 percent, ranking in the top third of baseball. This June, he’s been up to 40.6 percent, good for a spot in the top sixth of baseball.
So what if Maybin always had these good batted ball skills in him? Year-to-year, his max exit velocity numbers usually hung around 110 miles per hour, considerably above-average. This prompted the question of Maybin possibly changing something with his swing. After swimming through some video from last season and this season, a difference quickly became apparent.
Starting with the stance, the bat position from Maybin was consistent in both 2018 and 2019, except totally different between the two seasons. As you can see, the bat position turns from resting on his right shoulder to standing up right, subsequently changing the positioning of both his hands.
Secondly, it seems that Maybin has abbreviated his leg kick to an extreme degree. Before this year, he had a very noticeable lift in his leg as the pitcher released the ball, with his foot coming in inches of lining up with the bottom of the strike zone. This season, he’s been using more of a simple motion with his lower-half.
It seems that the changes Maybin has made has made his swing generate more power and generate his power on a more consistent rate. As mentioned, a lot of this has to do with lifting the ball more, so adjusting the positioning of his hands, allowing him to gain a more optimized path to the ball, has allowed him to do that.
As of today, Cameron Maybin has a 139 wRC+. It remains unlikely that Maybin will sustain this pace of offensive production, and he still has to make his IL return now, but if he can to be an above-average contributor on offense, while providing serviceable and versatile defense in the outfield, while mixing in some stolen bases, the value accrued from him will end up being a steal.