Game 129, Mariners at Tigers: What’s With Julio?

marc w · August 30, 2022 at 4:13 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

George Kirby vs. Matt Manning, 4:10pm

Absolutely great pitching match-up between two up and coming starting pitchers, AND between two CFs who began the year as highly anticipated prospects. Riley Greene has had some growing pains, and actual, physical pain to work through (he dislocated his foot on a foul ball in spring training), while Julio Rodriguez has become an icon. That said, Julio hasn’t quite been himself at the plate lately. After a lightning-fast course correction, Julio’s K rate tumbled in June and July, but it’s creeping back up lately. As Twitter user Ben Knibbe mentioned, this is due in large part because he’s expanding his zone: he’s swinging at more out-of-zone pitches, and even though he’s making contact, it’s not the good kind. Essentially, nothing good comes from such swings. Julio’s success at the plate depends on really hard contact. When he’s hitting the ball hard, he does well, and he’s stopped doing so consistently. What’s going on?

At the beginning of the season, Julio had a problem. Breaking balls were eating him up, and when he made contact, it was typically on the ground. His GB% was over 40% in April, and over *50%* in May. But he made an adjustment, and started being both more selective on breaking balls AND more dangerous on them. Julio’s been one of the best breaking ball hitters since June – not in the Aaron Judge stratosphere, but in the top 25 in MLB. But as I said the other day, he hasn’t been able to maintain his success against fastballs. He’s hitting worse overall against straight stuff since mid-June. He’s been either/or this year.

And a specific kind of fastball, too. Perhaps in an attempt to hit the ball in the air, Julio’s expanding his zone upwards, especially on fastballs. Here’s a heatmap of Julio’s swings against fastballs through June 15th. Not bad. Some questionable swings, but great for a young rookie.

Heatmap of Julio's FB swings through June

Heatmap of Julio’s FB swings through June

Since that time, though, he’s expanded his zone. Notice the increases in swings above the top of the zone.

Heatmap of Julio's swings on FBs since June.

Heatmap of Julio’s swings on FBs since June.

If we focus on the current month, it’s even more obvious. Julio’s trying to take high fastballs and drive them for home runs.

Heatmap of Julio's FB swings in August

Heatmap of Julio’s FB swings in August

This is why his out-of-zone swing rate is up, and it’s why he’s making worse contact. It’s not all bad; he took a Carl Edwards Jr. pitch above the zone out against Washington, though that was a breaking ball. He’s hitting the ball at a higher angle since June, and it’s probably a good sign. But just as he made an adjustment once, he’s going to have to do so again. High heaters have been tempting pitches since baseball was created, but hitters have to know not to chase them all. Julio’s probably better positioned to do so than most, given the way he’s learned to avoid chase pitches, especially bendy ones. This should be a comparatively easier fix.

1: Julioooo, CF
2: Winker, LF
3: Haniger, RF
4: Suarez, 3B
5: France, 1B
6: Santana, DH
7: Frazier, SS
8: Raleigh, C
9: Toro, 2B
SP: Kirby

Toro’s back with Dylan Moore on the IL with a pectoral issue. With JP Crawford also dealing with injury, Adam Frazier makes his second start at SS in the bigs, and first since 2017.

Matt Manning shook off a rough rookie season last year and is pitching very well for Detroit. He doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts, but has managed contact rather well – he’s got a wOBA on contact of just .300. It’s not Justin Verlander/Paul Sewald good, but you can be a very successful pitcher if batters have a wOBACon that low. The star of his arsenal might be the hard slider at 83, but the workhorse is a sneaky-good four-seam fastball at 93-94. Batters are slugging .304 on it this year, and hitting them, on average, at 87 mph. These are results you’d expect from a breaking ball, not a four-seamer thrown half the time.


5 Responses to “Game 129, Mariners at Tigers: What’s With Julio?”

  1. nwade on August 31st, 2022 8:12 am

    I may not comment often, but I continue to check USSM daily because of insightful analysis like this. Thanks so much!

  2. MKT on September 1st, 2022 12:27 pm

    Yup, most Mariner fans have probably been wondering about Julio, and this article provided an answer!

    It’s tempting to get greedy and ask the Ms for a sweep, partly to make up for their recent underperformance against the Angels and Rangers. I’d settle for a 2-1 series win, but as I write this the Ms are up 6-0 so greed is good in this case.

    With the Ms in a virtual tie with the other two wildcard teams, and 2 or 4 additional teams still in the hunt depending on how generously we want to define “in the hunt”, it’s almost inevitable that at least one of those teams is going to get hot and start to run away from the rest of the teams, just by random chance if nothing else.

    The Ms will need to keep pace with that hot team, or even better be that hot team, and their favorable schedule helps. Hopefully the Ms are on that hot streak right now, we’ll see in Cleveland. Those previous Guardian games were tough, exciting, playoff-caliber baseball.

  3. schwingy on September 1st, 2022 9:43 pm

    Julio. A shoe-in for AL Rookie of the year with a likely finish slash line of approx .275/.330/.470/.800, with a WAR of 4.5, and a possible 30/30 HR/SB rookie season. This is for a player that was unsure if he would make the MLB roster at spring. Was the first pick All Star for the Ms. ++ fielding in center field, which was an unknown going into the season.
    And we’re talking about what’s wrong with Julio???
    I get it. He starts the year as an unsure rookie. Is selective at the plate and gets some early shit calls. Then success occurs and his swing evolves from hunt and peck to ‘let’s destroy’, fueled by a remarkable HR performance at the MLB AS game. To my eye, he has developed much more movement /complicated bat path. Lots of body movement, but the raw talent is undeniable. The progression also makes sense. He’s hungry at the plate and
    I love it. He’s not the one we should be
    looking for, for ‘veteran savvy’ at bat. There are other players this year for that role. Despite his at plate enthusiasm, he is still an assassin. Raw, unfettered, dangerous, exciting and explosive. He will evolve, no doubt. We all know he needs to quiet his bat head and shorten his swing and learn to be a little more selective. But GD, we’ve been waiting 20 years for a bad ass like him, and I will take all of his rawness in his rookie year and celebrate every single at batt like it’s the last one I’ll ever see.
    Julio, in 2022, you get up there and do your thing and mash the shit out of the ball. We’ll
    talk about refinement some other day.

  4. MKT on September 3rd, 2022 4:41 pm

    “And we’re talking about what’s wrong with Julio???”

    Yes, that’s what Marc’s post is about. You’re mixing two different topics: Marc’s post is about “what’s with Julio” — IN AUGUST. Not about his career, it’s about his August.

    Julio’s OPS’s May through June were .866, .903, and .884. His OPS for August was .701.

    It might be okay for a fan to shrug and say well it’s just a random cold streak, but it is vital for the player and the batting coaches to look closely and see what’s going on. And Marc’s post does that for us. Marc’s asking exactly the right question and he provides a possible answer.

    Your comment is instead about Julio’s career, not about his August. There’s no need to defend Julio’s career prospects, it goes without saying that he’s the best young Mariner hitter since, take your pick A-Rod or Junior. We don’t even need to look at any numbers to know that, the words “rookie” and “all-star” are enough to tell us “what’s with Julio” — career-wise.

    But what’s with Julio in August is a good question.

    Or was. It’s now September and Julio’s looking hot again. Another adjustment by Julio? Deep-diving Ms observers such as Marc will probably tell us.

    I was looking forward to another tense, playoff-worthy game against the Guardians but I like an easy romp even better. As Marc says in his intro to today’s game, Cleveland’s been struck with pitching injuries at just about exactly the wrong time for them.

  5. schwingy on September 4th, 2022 8:14 am

    Point well taken, and I do enjoy the detailed drilled down reports. I admit. I had had a few

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