George Springer Has Modest Hitting Streak, Writer Has Excuse to Talk about George Spinger

Earlier today, rookie outfielder George Springer belted a two-run shot to put Houston up 2-0 over Kansas City in the top of the first. Springer thus extended his hitting streak to 10 games in his first opportunity, and every day he further cements himself as a good-to-great major league hitter. Forgive the optimism, you understand we are talking about the Astros. Springer has played in 37 games now, his first one coming on April 16 of this season. In 29 of those games, he’s hit safely. In four of those other eight games, he reached base via the walk. It’s too early to tell but he might be a machine.

Springer swings at pitches in the strike zone and spits on the rest; you can visualize that here with Fangraphs’ new heat maps. With the fine-grain details on these heat maps, Springer’s tendencies become more pronounced, and the more I see the more I like. He doesn’t favor one side of the plate over the other. Generally, he won’t swing at balls, but he’ll swing at pitches on the borders of the strike zone, and his aggression increases as such from all directions toward the very middle of the strike zone, where he rarely lays off a pitch.

Of the 193 players with at least 150 plate appearances, Springer ranks 32nd in highest percentage of swings at pitches in the zone (Z-Swing%). He ranks 76th in lowest percentage of swings at pitches outside the zone (O-Swing%). In other words, above average in both respects. The 24-year-old rookie has a veteran’s cool in the batter’s box.

And he appears to be a slugger, through and through, of a particular brand. He swings and misses at the seventh-highest rate out of those aforementioned 193 everyday players, ranking among familiar all-or-nothing hitters like Mark Reynolds, Chris Carter and B.J. Upton. Springer is one of only 14 players to strike out in more than 30 percent of his plate appearances. Still, that hasn’t stopped him from reaching base in 33 of 37 games. And while his BABIP looks ready to burst at .353, consider that he’s struck four line drives to left, three to center and three to right this season, suggesting a balanced and versatile approach. In the minor leagues Springer was more of a pull hitter (see the heat map below), so a marked shift to all parts of the field could be a pleasant mirage. Or, it could mean Springer coasted past pitchers of lesser talent but has now made the necessary adjustments to contend with major-league pitchers. I’m inclined toward the latter.

George Springer_HeatMap

Springer is average at making contact, and increasingly below average the lower in the strike zone you go. Looking at his stance, it’s not hard to understand why. Springer is so tall and stands so upright it’s as if he does not care about the low pitch. And why should he? He can put such a charge onto the ball, it would be a waste for that ball to be driven into the ground.

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