MLB Hitters Stock Watch: Taylor Ward Rising, Marcus Semien Free-Falling
Taylor Ward has been one of baseball's best hitters so far this season while Marcus Semien has been one of the worst. Which hitters are trending in what direction and can we expect it to continue?
Every week, we will be checking in on hitters and pitchers whose “stock” is moving both positively and negatively at the big league level. Should you be concerned about a certain player’s struggles or sold on their hot streak being a sign of sustainable improvement? We will be answering those questions every week!
To find the stock watch on pitchers, click here.
Taylor Ward – OF – Los Angeles Angels
2022 stats: .376/.484/.733, 9 HR, 253 wRC+
What a story Taylor Ward has been for the Angels. Coming into this season, Ward had reached the big leagues in parts of four different seasons, but could not find the consistency at the plate to stick up there.
The 28-year-old enjoyed his first productive season at the MLB-level in 2021, serving as a solid fourth outfielder with a .250/.332/.438 line in 65 games. Ward’s performance last year earned him another look this spring, and the former first round pick made the most of it.
Ward posted a .920 OPS with three homers in 15 Spring Training games, forcing the Angels hand between him and the Angels first round pick in 2017, Jo Adell. Given how highly-regarded Adell has been as a prospect for some time now, he received most of the at-bats through the first week of the season, but as Adell struggled, Ward continued to make the most of his opportunities as they came.
It didn’t take much time for Ward to claim right field for the Angels and he has not looked back. Ward has had a different set up in the batter’s box each season that we have seen him with the Angels, but each tweak seemed to get him closer to where he is now.
Ward struggled with lower-half inconsistency through much of the early years of his career, and the final product, as you can see above, is what has helped Ward repeat his movements and timing most effectively and efficiently.
As a result, Ward is more consistently on time and has seen his zone contact rate jump by nearly 4% while his chase rate has dropped by 9%. Hitting the ball harder and more frequently while making better swing decisions? I am 100% sold on Taylor Ward’s upward trajectory.
Jazz Chisholm Jr. – 2B – Miami Marlins
2022 Stats: .292/.328/.566, 6 HR, 6 SB, 152 wRC+
Last week, I broke down why I believe Chisholm is on the brink of superstardom, so I’ll keep the swing analysis to a minimum in this excerpt. Put simply, Chisholm’s approach has never been better as he is laying off of the high heat that give him fits last year while lifting the ball with much more success.
Chisholm has cut his ground ball rate down by more than 13% alongside a 5% dip in his strikeout rate as well. The Marlins have sheltered him from left-handed pitchers in the early going this year–Chisholm is just 2 for 20 against left handed pitchers–but the 24-year-old has been so dominant against righties that his numbers should remain strong even if he sees more at-bats left on left.
Throughout Chisholm’s professional career, he has posted a HR/FB rate around 17-19%. As Chisholm has hit a higher number of his batted balls in the air, the same percentage is leaving the yard (18.8%).
More fly balls with the same percentage of the fly balls leaving the yard sounds like something I’d be willing to sign up for.
Eric Hosmer – 1B – San Diego Padres
2022 Stats: .338/.399/.492, 4 HR, 155 wRC+
After an offseason where the Padres quite literally couldn’t give Hosmer away, the 12-year MLB veteran has been an enigma in the best way possible.
Infamous for hitting the ball on the ground as much as anyone in the game, Hosmer’s rollover tendencies drove many Padres fans–including our own Javier Reyes–absolutely crazy. With Hosmer off to such a great start this year, he must be hitting the ball in the air more…right? Wrong! The Padres first baseman doesn’t care about your analytics and has actually seen his ground ball rate rise by nearly 3% this season.
The big difference for Hosmer has been his improved ability to hit secondary stuff this year. After hitting .230 with 6 home runs against non-fastballs last season, Hosmer is hitting .372 while already leaving the yard four times.
Not only is Hosmer staying back on secondary stuff, but he is also turning fastballs around effectively. Hosmer is hitting .316 against fastballs while cutting his whiff rate by more than 3%. Over the last couple seasons, Hosmer struggled to turn around higher velocity, but he has upped his pull-rate by more than 12% as well.
It is probably ambitious to assume that Hosmer will be able to sustain his .385 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), but his improvements at the plate should continue through the rest of the season even with the egregious ground ball rate. In some of Hosmer’s best seasons with the Royals, he was still hitting the ball on the ground more than half of the time.
Marcus Semien – 2B – Texas Rangers
2022 Stats: .173/.235/.233, 0 HR, 38 wRC+
Semien left the yard 45 times with the Blue Jays last year, earning himself a nice $175 million payday from the Rangers over the offseason. Through his first 153 PA’s in Arlington, Semien has yet to hit a homer.
Still just 31 years old, Semien looks like he has hit a wall this season, seeing his chase rate jump by 8.5% while his average exit velocity and max exit velocity are way off from his career averages and last year’s averages. The good news is, Semien’s strikeout rate is still low at 17.6%, however his swing decisions have still been much worse as made evident by his chase rate. Because of Semien’s elite bat-to-ball ability, his higher chase rate results in more weak contact instead of more whiffs.
Semien has been a streaky hitter at times in his career, and Rangers fans shouldn’t totally sound the alarms through 35 games with a player in a new environment trying to live up to a big contract. If Semien is still looking like this in mid-June, I will slam the panic button with you, Rangers fans. That said, every plate appearance without a home run after launching 45 the year prior, a bit more anxiety mounts.
Trent Grisham – CF – San Diego Padres
2022 Stats: .153/.261/.250, 1 HR, 58 wRC+
I have to ask. Are we really sure Trent Grisham was ever THAT good? I don’t mean to beat a man while he’s down and the physical talent is evident both in the field and, at times, in the box, but the production on a macro scale in his big league career is rather pedestrian.
Through 279 MLB games, Grisham has hit .231/.324/.401 with a 99 wRC+. 2020’s shortened season inspired a lot of belief in Grisham being able to ride an upward trajectory to potential All Star levels, but a step back in 2021 and now a lounge backwards in 2022 has Grisham looking potentially replaceable in centerfield for the Padres.
The 25-year-old’s strikeout rate has risen by 4.5%, which can be explained by a jump in his chase rate and drop in zone contact rate. Grisham has also regressed in his ability to hit lefties, going just 3-for-27 so far this season against left-handed pitchers.
Nearly every figure is alarming. Grisham is swinging at pitches in the zone less (9% drop in zone swing) and pitches outside the zone more (3% rise in chase rate). A stat I almost never look at but can’t ignore in this instance–meatball swing–has declined for Grisham by nearly 20% this year. His hard-hit% is also at the lowest mark of his career.
Unfortunately, Grisham looks lost at the plate right now and a change of scenery might not be the worst thing for the current Padres outfielder. I’d like to say better days are ahead, but I’m not so sure.
Jesús Sánchez – OF – Miami Marlins
2022 Stats: .221/.280/.377, 4 HR, 93 wRC+
In just 34 games, it has been quite the rollercoaster for the Miami Marlins second-year outfielder. After hitting .340/.386/.623 with 3 HR through his first 13 games, Sánchez has since hit .130/.200/.188 over his subsequent 21 matchups.
Still just 24 years old, Sánchez has elite raw power plenty of time to work through things, but the gaping holes in his approach have plagued him since his teenage years in the lower levels of the Minor Leagues.
Sánchez has a long swing that leaves him exposed middle-in. As a result, the free-swinging lefty will cheat to try to catch up to the heat and often make the wrong swing decisions. Sanchez’s chase rate is in the bottom 20th percentile of the league and his whiff rate ranks among the bottom 15%. Pitchers rarely feel as though they need to give into Sánchez in hitter’s counts as his aggression and willingness to wave at bad pitches often erases his advantage.
So far this season, Sánchez is hitting just .143 against breaking balls and .125 against left-handed pitching. Another frustrating metric for Sánchez is his ground ball rate. For a hitter who puts up elite exit velocities and boasts big time raw power, Sánchez has always struggled with putting the ball in the ground too often. So far this season, Sánchez’s GB% has jumped by more than 5% to 50.6%.
It is extremely difficult to be a productive hitter when your chase rates are sky high and you’re putting the ball on the ground a ton. I was worried about Sánchez’s swing mechanics and approach before the season and those concerns have only grown.