Talking The Tauch

You probably didn’t pay much attention or even notice when the New York Yankees acquired twenty-eight year old outfielder Mike Tauchman from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for pitching prospect Phillip Diehl towards the end of spring training on March 23rd. Who could blame you? Tauchman’s major league resumé to that point was ugly: a .153/.265/.203 slash line in 69 plate appearances over 52 games for the Rockies.

From 2013 to 2016 in the Rockies farm system, Tauchman hadn’t shown much in his age 22 to age 25 seasons. He displayed a decent hit tool but didn’t flash much power, combining for only eight home runs across four minor league seasons. If Tauchman wanted to crack Colorado’s major league roster, he needed to make a change.

Prior to the 2017 season, as reported by the New York Times’ James Wagner, Tauchman worked with Justin Stone, a hitting instructor at Chicago-based Elite Baseball Training. With three-dimensional sensors and plates that measure force, Stone, who was hired as a hitting consultant by the Chicago Cubs in 2018, used biomechanics to help Tauchman improve his swing. Stone and Tauchman found that the former Rockie was transferring energy inefficiently from his lower half to his upper half. In scientific terms, Tauchman’s kinetic chain, or the sequence of movements that make up his swing, was off. With Stone’s help, Tauchman learned to use his lower half better when starting his swing, enhancing the transfer of energy up the kinetic chain.

The results were undeniable. Still in AAA, Tauchman improved his wOBA from .322 in 2016 to .399 in 2017 and .420 in 2018. His 139 wRC+ was good for the eight-best mark in AAA in 2017. In 2018, his 153 wRC+ was fourth-best, just behind fellow 2019 breakouts Daniel Vogelbach and J.D. Davis as well as Astros top prospect Kyle Tucker. Tauchman’s power had definitely increased: he tripled his career home run mark with sixteen homers in 2017 and swatted another twenty in 2018. The Yankees front office took notice and was intrigued enough by Tauchman’s minor league success to add him as a depth piece just before the 2019 season.

Tauchman’s rise has continued in 2019. In 71 games, he’s posted a .381 wOBA and 138 wRC+. That wRC+ ranks Tauchman twenty-ninth among 309 players with 200 or more plate appearances in 2019, just ahead of Josh Bell, Jose Altuve, and Anthony Rizzo. Tauchman’s done more than just impress with the bat in 2019. According to FanGraphs, he’s created 1.4 runs on the basepaths this season.

Tauchman has also shined with the glove in 2019. He’s played 559.2 innings in the outfield for the Yanks: 363 in left, 74.2 in center, and 122 in right. Tauchman has been above average defensively in all three spots and amassed a stellar fourteen defensive runs saved, which ranks him sixth among all outfielders with at least 500 innings played. To give you a sense of how good Tauchman has been defensively, he’s just two defensive runs saved behind the Tampa Bay Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier in almost three hundred less innings played.

Innings Played363.074.2122.0550.2
Defensive Runs Saved91414

Statcast numbers available at Baseball Savant agree that Tauchman has been outstanding in the field this season. Tauchman ranks tenth among ninety-five qualified outfielders with seven outs above average this season. Using the exit velocity and launch angle of the batted balls hit in Tauchman’s direction in 2019, Statcast calculates that 85% of those batted balls should have been converted into outs. Tauchman has caught 91% of those balls, good for the second-best catch percentage added in the league at 6% behind only Kiermaier’s 7%. Statcast’s Outfielder Jump metrics also rank Tauchman above average at twenty-seventh among the 105 qualifying outfielders.

Tauchman’s all-around game has contributed 3.4 bWAR in just 71 games played for the Bombers in 2019. However, there are some warning signs that his offensive breakout might not be sustainable. First, there’s a discrepancy between Tauchman’s .381 wOBA and his expected wOBA as calculated by Statcast based on the exit velocity and launch angle of his batted balls. His xwOBA is a mere .324, suggesting that luck has played a large part in Tauchman’s offensive success. Additionally, his .353 BABIP is fifty-four points above the league average .299 BABIP. With a pedestrian average exit velocity of 88.8 miles per hour, it’s likely that Tauchman will see his BABIP decrease and his offensive numbers regress somewhat. That said, according to Baseball Savant, Tauchman owns a 38.4% sweet spot percentage in 2019, which ranks him seventy-first of 436 qualifying hitters. Sweet spot percentage tallies the percentage of balls a batter hits in the ideal launch angle range between eight and thirty-two degrees. Since 2015, batted balls in the sweet spot have led to an average BABIP of .514 and average wOBA of .707.

There’s more to combat the assertion that Tauchman’s offensive breakout is just a mirage. Tauchman’s season has truly been a tale of two halves. The table below helps tell the story.

3/30 – 7/6.31088.0 mph7.8 degrees0.285.31030.2%
7/11 – 8/17.47289.5 mph16.3 degrees0.369.39719.3%

Tauchman’s actual wOBA is still outstripping his xwOBA by quite a bit over the last month, but his .369 xwOBA is nothing to sneeze at: it’s good for fifty-seventh among the 344 hitters with at least fifty plate appearances from July 11th through August 17th. The increase in his launch angle shows that he’s lifting the ball a lot more and that’s borne out in his batted ball profile as well.

Date RangeGB%LD%FB%
3/30 – 7/653.3%16.0%30.7%
7/11 – 8/1731.0%31.0%38.0%

Tauchman’s ground ball rate has dropped dramatically in the second half, and his fly ball rate has increased by a significant amount. His 31.0% line drive rate is almost certainly unsustainable (Whit Merrifield of the Kansas City Royals currently leads the league at 29.7%) and has likely driven much of Tauchman’s success, but given the sweet spot percentage mentioned above, he may be predisposed to hit line drives more frequently than the typical hitter. As expected given his line drive rate in the second half, Tauchman has been hitting the ball harder more often.

Date RangeSoft%Med%Hard%
3/30 – 7/618.7%53.5%28.0%
7/11 – 8/179.7%51.4%38.9%

A more refined pitch selection appears to be what’s led to Tauchman’s offensive breakout over the last month.

Tauchman had already displayed excellent plate discipline in the first half with a chase rate that ranked forty-second among 437 hitters with at least fifty plate appearances. He’s improved upon that skill in the second half, as he’s swinging less overall, chasing less frequently, and swinging less often in the strike zone. His second half swing rate ranks thirty-third lowest among 345 hitters with at least fifty plate appearances, and his chase rate ranks twentieth among the same group. His even more patient approach after the All-Star break has led to more contact: he’s increased his contact rate by almost 6% and decreased his swinging strike rate by 3.2%. Below are his overall swing percentage heat maps from the first and second halves of the season.

Tauchman has really concentrated his swings in the middle of the zone, especially the inner-middle part of the plate, swinging most often in the upper-middle part of the zone. He’s also laying off pitches low and away and above the zone a lot more frequently. Swinging at pitches higher in the strike zone and staying off that low and away pitch probably has a lot to do with the reduction in his ground ball rate. You can see the same trend against four-seam fastballs, which Tauchman is seeing 42.1% of the time in 2019.

It’s most likely that Tauchman won’t be able to sustain all of his offensive breakout over the last month. Maintaining a near .400 BABIP is unheard of and Statcast shows that Tauchman has definitely been the beneficiary of some good luck. Even when regression comes for Tauchman, however, there appears to be enough to believe that he’ll retain some of that breakout. He has shown elite plate discipline and an above-average ability to put the bat on the ball. Those attributes will serve any hitter well. If he’s able to keep enough of his batted balls in the air, given his above-average base running and excellent defense, Tauchman has shown the tools to continue to be an above-average regular moving forward.

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