On Saturday, the Giants were trailing the A’s 5-4 in the top of the ninth inning. Brandon Belt drew a walk against right-hander Lou Trivino, and due up was Darin Ruf, who had homered in his last at-bat. Giants manager Gabe Kapler often prioritizes the platoon advantage, and he had two lefties on the bench: Mike Yastrzemski and LaMonte Wade Jr. Back in April, Yaz would have been the clear choice. The grandson of the Hall of Famer had been the Giants' best hitter for the past two seasons. Wade was someone the Giants picked up in a minor deal for a pitcher who has been released by the Twins, the Rangers, and even the Orioles. But Wade, not Yastrzemski, got the at-bat. Here’s what he did:
Trivino missed his spot, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad pitch. Though it was higher than he wanted, it was still on the plate's inner third, and Wade didn’t get his arms extended. Still, Wade got the barrel on it and kept it fair to give the Giants the lead.
That was Wade’s 16th homer in 71 games. In 249 plate appearances, the 27-year-old is hitting .248/.320/.523 for a 124 wRC+. That’s pretty good for a player without much prospect pedigree and who had a .306 wOBA in his first two big-league seasons. That Wade is a productive hitter shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, but the way he’s done it has been totally unpredictable.
When the Giants traded for Wade, his feel for the strike zone was immediately identified as a reason why Farhan Zaidi wanted him. In four out of Wade’s first five professional seasons, he walked more than he struck out. Even in his first taste of the big leagues in 2019, Wade drew 11 free passes while only striking out 9 times. During his time with the Twins, Wade only chased 21.5 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. Of the 510 batters with at least 100 plate appearances between 2019 and 2020, Wade ranked 22nd in O-Swing%.
Wade could get on base, but what he couldn’t do was hit for power. Wade slugged .486 back in his first professional season of 2015, but he never posted a mark higher than .438 before joining the Giants. In a single year, Wade only reached double digits in home runs once when he hit 11 in 2018.
And yet, Wade is on pace for a 20-homer season as a platoon player. Moreover, he hasn’t let Oracle Park’s low elevation, spacious field, or cool winds sap his power. He’s not hitting wall scrapers; he’s finding water.
This power surge didn’t come from nowhere. Over the offseason, Wade retooled his stance and swing to get the ball in front of the plate where hitters typically generate the most power. Before 2021, Wade got into a deep crouch which shrank the strike zone but forced him to stay back on the pitch instead of catching it in the sweet spot. Here he is at the end of the 2020 season driving a center-cut fastball up the middle for a single.
That’s a much worse pitch than the one Trivino threw him, but Wade kept too much of his weight back and barely reached the outfield grass on the fly. Here’s an equally bad mistake to location that Wade hits at about the same spray angle but sends about 300 feet farther.
The difference in stance is obvious. In 2021, he’s standing straight and not leaning back. On the swing, he’s got a little more stride, more of an uppercut, and more bat speed. All those things are going to generate more power.
What’s remarkable is that while Wade is striking out more and his walk rate of 8.4 percent is about the league average, he’s still displaying excellent command of the strike zone. Per FanGraphs, his O-Swing rate is 25.9 percent which is great. Better yet, he’s not making substantially less contact with his power-oriented swing, especially on pitches inside the strike zone. His in-zone contact rate is 91 percent, and his overall CSW (Called Strikes + Whiffs) is 24.5 percent. Both marks are comfortably above league average.
Unfortunately, Wade is pretty much unplayable against left-handed pitching. On the season, he’s 2-for-24 with 10 strikeouts against lefties. The Giants have the luxury of working around that with Darin Ruf, Kris Bryant, and Austin Slater as right-handed options in the outfield. The trio each has a .430, .427, and .348 wOBA against lefties respectively, and Kapler isn’t shy about pinch-hitting anyone for platoon advantage.
The Giants put Wade in a position to succeed, and that has certainly helped his numbers. Wade deserves credit for reinventing his approach without losing the discipline that got him to the big leagues in the first place. Now he’s here and he’s here to stay.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.