The legitimacy behind Tim Beckham’s torrid start to the season

Free agent acquisition Tim Beckham is off to unbelievable start to the 2019 campaign. Having signed a one year deal (potential to be worth between $1.75-2 million) with the rebuilding Mariners in January, he hopes to revamp his value and test the free agent market come 2020.

Photo: AP

7 games and 31 plate appearances in, Tim Beckham has done nothing but far exceed all expectations. He’s hitting to the tune of a .423 batting average, and his OBP is north of .500 (.516). Beckham leads the league in fWAR (0.8 per FanGraphs), granted the Mariners have played 2 more games than virtually everyone else (expect the Oakland Athletics); he also has 3 HRs and has driven in 8 runs. It’s worth noting that his walk rate (16.1%) is much improved (his career average walk rate is just over 6%). There’s obviously reason to be skeptical of how sustainable this approach will be, especially when one considers that Beckham did not walk once during spring training (in 35 PAs). He’s walked 5 times in four fewer PAs! But in taking a closer look at some advanced metrics, it became apparent that Beckham has (presumably) made some adjustments to his approach.

Tim Beckham was originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays (1st overall in 2008). After spending six seasons in their farm system, he received a call-up to the major leagues. Unfortunately, Beckham never really found his footing, and in July of 2017, the Tampa Rays traded to Tim Beckham to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for minor league pitcher Tobias Myers. Beckham performed exceptionally well in August with his new squad, hitting for a .394 AVG and a .417 OBP (as well as 10 doubles and 6 HRs). September was not as kind to him (.180 AVG and .255 OBP) though. Beckham also failed to translate his success in August to the 2018 season (.230 AVG and .287 OBP). In order to determine the legitimacy of Beckham’s amazing 1st week, we will compare the stats from his amazing August in 2017 (which he proved to be incapable of maintaining) to what he’s doing now.

AVG, OBP, and PA / HR

August (8/1/17 – 8/31/17): AVG – .394; OBP – .417; PA / HR – 22

1st week of 2019: AVG – .423; OBP – .516; PA / HR: 10.333

Super small sample size in 2019, but it is clear that its quality (disregarding quantity) is far superior. Beckham is walking a lot more now (16.1%) versus back then (2.3%).

K% and SwStr%

August: K% – 18.9; SwStr%- 11.0

1st week of 2019: K% – 19.4; SwStr% – 10.1

Overall, there is little disparity between the two, which means Beckham is not swinging and missing any less now (than he did in August of 2017).

Batted Ball Profile

August: GB% – 46.1; LD% – 20.6; FB% – 33.3; IFFB% – 8.8; Med% – 47.1; Hard% – 34.3; Exit velocity – 88.1

1st week of 2019: GB% – 40.0; LD% – 25.0; FB% – 35.0; IFFB% – 0.0; Med% – 40.0; Hard%: 45; Exit velocity – 90.8 (per Baseball Savant)

Several pluses I notice right off the bat: less GBs, more LDs, more FBs, fewer popups, and harder contact.

Approach / Plate Discipline

August: O-Swing% (% of time he swings at pitches outside of zone) – 30.1; Z-Swing% (% of time he swings at pitches inside the zone) – 72.8; O-Contact% – 62.7; Z-Contact% – 85.4; Swing% – 49.7

1st week of 2019: O-Swing% – 22.4; Z-Swing% – 58.1; O-Contact% – 66.7; Z-Contact% – 77.8; Swing% – 39.5

This is the category / facet of the game which has changed most for Beckham. All of sudden, Beckham has become selective at the dish (he’s swinging at 10% less pitches), and he’s drawing walks at a drastically higher rate than he has in the past.

That little dot on the right side of the graph (via Baseball Savant) represents Tim Beckham’s swing % in April. The fact that Tim Beckham went from impatient to selective is very intriguing.

Beckham’s swing rate in August of 2017 (49.7%) would have ranked as the 104th highest in 2018 (among 420 hitters with at least 150 PAs in the 2018 season). In contrast, his swing rate thus far this season (39.5%) would have ranked as the 29th lowest in 2018 (among 420 hitters with at least 150 PAs in the 2018 season). In fact, his 39.5% swing % would have put him in a tie with one of the most patient hitters in all of baseball — Jose Bautista.

Natural regression will undoubtedly dampen Beckhams ridiculous run (.471 BABIP at the moment); nonetheless, I still believe Beckham will have a strong season that will be the best of his career.

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