A month after Rowdy Tellez was non-tendered by the Brewers, the primary baseman signed with the Pirates to little fanfare. It’s not arduous to see why that exact transaction flew underneath the radar. Again within the good previous days of December, the offseason was at its peak. There have been extra urgent issues than a participant with precisely 0.0 profession WAR becoming a member of a rebuilding membership. But two months later, amidst the dullest stretch of the winter (and maybe a bout of offseason-induced delirium), I’ve realized we made a dreadful mistake. FanGraphs has cursed Rowdy Tellez, and now it falls on my shoulders to reverse the spell. Let me clarify.
It looks like each time somebody at FanGraphs writes about Tellez’s success, he falls right into a droop shortly thereafter. It began when Jay Jaffe wrote about Tellez throughout his Davis Schneider-esque cup of espresso with the Blue Jays in 2018. The next season, Tellez upset, posting a 91 wRC+ and -0.3 WAR. A number of years later, Jay dared to cowl Tellez’s hot start to the 2022 campaign. The slugger promptly started to wrestle after the article went reside, going 2-for-24 over the following week. In the end, he posted a 100 wRC+ for the remainder of the season, manufacturing too modest for a bat-only first baseman. Most just lately, Chris Gilligan wrote a fascinating piece about Tellez final June. On the time, the 28-year-old was off to a smashing begin to the season, fueled by a affected person strategy on the plate:
Rowdy Tellez has stopped swinging. Not totally; he’s tied for ninth within the Nationwide League with 12 house runs and twentieth with a .494 slugging proportion. However this 12 months, the Brewers slugger has minimize at simply 35.3% of all pitches, the second-lowest fee in baseball after the famously picky Juan Soto. It’s uncharacteristic of Tellez, representing an eight-point drop from final 12 months and a 13.2-point drop from his 2021 marketing campaign.
But positive sufficient, as quickly as that article hit the homepage, every part modified. The truth is, it looks like the curse is barely rising stronger. Check out the graph under:
The bottom level on the graph, circled in crimson, represents Tellez’s rolling 20-game swing fee coming into play on Might 31, the day Chris pitched his article. It’s the bottom swing fee Tellez has posted in any 20-game span of his profession and represents the fruits of a development that started on the very starting of the 2022 season. The steep upward climb from the crimson to the inexperienced circle represents his subsequent 20 video games that 12 months. It’s not as if Tellez became a free swinger rapidly, however his swing fee went from excessive outlier to basically abnormal. By Might 30, solely Soto had a decrease swing fee (min. 150 PA). But from that time to the top of the season, 53 different batters swung much less typically than the Brewers first baseman.
On Might 31, Chris’s draft appeared on the backend of the FanGraphs web site. “Can Rowdy Tellez Get Extra By Swinging Much less?” the title requested. That night, Tellez noticed 19 pitches. A strong drive past his management compelled him to swing at 10 of them. It marked the primary recreation during which he swung at over half the pitches he noticed in almost 4 weeks. Two days later, the completed piece appeared on FanGraphs, with Tellez’s image on the high. That very same day, he noticed 13 pitches and swung at eight. His 61.5% swing fee was his highest in a single recreation (min. 2 PA) for the reason that earlier summer time. Impulsively, as if cursed by darkish magic, Tellez had left his affected person strategy by the wayside. And it’s not as if he did so with good purpose. Fairly the other, the truth is. From that time on, his sturdy season crumbled earlier than his eyes.
By Might 30, Tellez had performed 49 video games. He was strolling 12.2% of the time. His 12 house runs and 123 wRC+ had been tops amongst certified Brewers hitters. Then, from Might 31 by way of the top of the 12 months, he performed one other 57 video games. His stroll fee fell to 7.6%, and he added only one extra house run. No different Nationwide League hitter (min. 150 PA) had a decrease wRC+ than his 31. I can’t assure his new swing tendencies led to his downfall, however I can definitely present the correlation:
The normal markers of poor plate self-discipline — a low stroll fee and excessive strikeout fee — weren’t the basis of Tellez’s struggles. His strikeout fee was unchanged, as all his further swings merely canceled out his known as strikes from earlier within the season. Furthermore, his 7.6% stroll fee wasn’t that far under league common, nor was his 0.31 strikeout-to-walk ratio. As a substitute, the actual bother got here when he put the ball in play. A hitter outlined by his energy abruptly discovered himself powerless, hitting lazy fly balls as an alternative of driving pitches into the seats.
Brute power wasn’t the problem; Tellez may nonetheless pummel the baseball. For the fifth 12 months in a row, he completed within the 94th percentile or greater in most exit velocity, and his hardest-hit ball of the 12 months got here in July. The truth is, his three hardest-hit balls of the season all got here after Might 31. Even so, he wasn’t doing almost as a lot injury as he had earlier within the season; in fact, he wasn’t doing any injury in any respect. Though he put extra balls within the air, these balls had been far much less more likely to be hit arduous. As a substitute, he was hitting extra cans of corn to the other area and extra popups to the infield. His barrel fee plummeted, and as a rule, these barrels had been changed by the sort of contact Statcast classifies as “poorly/underneath” hit. As well as, he was hitting extra foul balls, and never simply as a method of staying alive with two strikes. It’s fairly clear Tellez was struggling to see pitches and swing on the proper choices. But he continued to swing.
William of Ockham would possibly level to an easier rationalization than darkish magic. What if opposing pitchers adjusted to Tellez’s new strategy, forcing him to swing extra typically by throwing extra pitches within the strike zone? It’s a believable speculation, I’ll give William that, however the numbers don’t assist it. Tellez didn’t see a change in his total zone fee after Might 31. The one zone during which he noticed considerably extra pitches was the chase zone.
What’s extra, he elevated his swing fee throughout the board. He swung extra typically at pitches within the coronary heart zone, the shadow zone, the chase zone, and the waste zone. He swung extra typically at fastballs, offspeed pitches, and breaking balls. He swung extra when he was forward within the depend, when he was behind within the depend, and when the depend was even. None of these swings did him any good, both. As you could possibly in all probability guess from his total numbers, he produced unfavourable worth on swings in all 4 assault zones, towards all three pitch sorts, and whatever the depend. Merely put, it seemed as if Tellez was compelled to swing, whatever the final result. He was cursed.
Maybe you assume a bodily damage is a stronger rationalization than a curse. In spite of everything, Tellez spent about six weeks on the injured record final summer time, first with forearm inflammation after which with a torn nail. After the season, he suggested he had been enjoying by way of ache, telling reporters, “I feel that when [the injuries] occurred – after which attempting to cope with the accidents and never saying something and simply being that man that goes out every single day whether or not it’s proper or unsuitable – simply sort of rolling by way of it actually affected me.”
Even when his arm began to hassle him greater than a month previous to his eventual IL stint (and his finger continued to hassle him lengthy after he returned), it’s just a little odd that he would swing extra typically because of this. If Tellez had been attempting to cut back his ache or compensate for diminished power, one would possibly anticipate him to swing even much less. As a substitute, he induced himself better ache in alternate for worse outcomes. It reads like a punishment from Greek mythology. Or, , like a curse.
If Tellez goes to get again on monitor this 12 months, he has to hit for energy. Steamer initiatives him for a 106 wRC+, whereas ZiPS has him at 92. The one appreciable distinction between these two projections? Steamer is assured he can rediscover his plus energy. To perform that, he has to make higher contact, and a method he can accomplish that is by shedding pitches he can’t hit. Thus, Tellez must reverse the FanGraphs curse. If writing about his success portends his failure, I hope that writing about his struggles could have the other impact.