Last season, Nick Hundley ranked sixth among Giants position players in bWAR. If you only consider that he was a back-up, that’s pretty good. If you remember that Nick Hundley was only worth half a win, then it becomes yet another indictment of the 2017 Giants. Ranking the 2017 Giants by WAR is kind of like that meme that’s going around on Twitter.
1. Buster Posey
Halfway through 2018, he’s nearly matched his mark from last year. Fangraphs is even more impressed with him, putting him at 1.0 fWAR (0.4 fWAR in 2017). His .822 OPS would be his best since 2011, and that’s about 50 points higher than Buster Posey’s OPS. Which brings me to my thesis:
Move Buster Posey to third, and let Hundley catch full time.
Wait, come back! I was kidding. Here’s the real thesis:
Move Buster Posey to first and let Hundley catch full time. Trade Brandon Belt for Noah Syndergaard.
No, as much as I want Syndergaard to be freed from the Mets, sending Belt into that nexus of nincompoopery would be an even graver injustice than moving Posey from behind the plate.
Still, Hundley has been exceptionally good this year even though his OBP was still under .300 before going 3-for-5 with a walk on Sunday. He’s taken the Alen Hanson route to success by subsisting on extra base hits to buoy his OPS because he’s still walking less than 6% of the time.
He’s hitting fewer ground balls than ever before, and he’s hitting the ball harder and more frequently than he has in the past. His hard-hit rate is up 10 points, and his average exit velocity is up to 90 MPH from 88, which is where he’s been for the Statcast era. His BABIP is .307, which is normal, and his xwOBA of .366 suggests it’s not a mirage.
Even if his success is merely a product of small-sample size, he doesn’t have to give those dingers back and he’s a back-up, so he only has to be good in a small-sample. Still, it’s worth it to see what’s been different about his approach. This brings me to my actual thesis:
Nick Hundley is swinging at more pitches in the strike zone particularly fastballs.
Perhaps you can see why I wanted to bury my thesis under more inflammatory—albeit dumb—theses.
Overall, Hundley is swinging more in 2018 than he has before. He’s swinging more at both pitches inside and outside the strike zone, so he’s been more aggressive, and it’s paid off thus far. His swing percentage of 56% is 2018 is six points higher than his career average, and this is coupled with an increase in his zone-contact rate or contact on pitches in the strike zone.
While he’s being more aggressive, he’s also being more selective about what he’s swinging at. He’s currently setting career-high swing rates at both fastballs and offspeed pitches.
He’s been most successful against hard pitches—fastballs, sinkers, and cutters—but less effective against offspeed pitches. It makes sense that his swing rate would rise against offspeed pitches if the plan is to swing more at fastballs. Offspeed pitches are designed to look like fastballs after all.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing that he’s swinging at more offspeed pitches. Most of those are changeups and he’s hit changeups fairly well over his career: .235 average and .406 slugging. His numbers against changeups this year are pretty similar.
Hundley hasn’t been without his struggles in 2018. He slumped a bit in May only posting an 89 wRC+. His more aggressive approach this year isn’t without its flaws.
He’s never hit well against curveballs and while he’s not swinging at a much higher percentage of curveballs, he’s swinging at more curveballs outside the strike zone and fewer inside the strike zone. He’s hitting .154 against curveballs, but two of those hits have been home runs, so he’s slugging .615 against them.
Again, these are all small sample sizes.
Hundley probably isn’t going to continue outhitting Buster Posey. He still has a shot to finish as a two-win player if you prefer Fangraphs. That’s about as valuable as an average starter, and he’s a bench player. Even if he doesn’t, he’s already been more valuable than he was last season.