OF – Chris Taylor
I hesitate to label Chris Taylor as an outfielder for this list as he has spent the majority of his career in the middle field, but for the sake of this list, I am going to put Taylor wherever I please, just like Dave Roberts does on a nightly basis.
In what has turned out to be one of the worst trades in recent memory, the Mariners dealt Taylor for Zach Lee (whom they subsequently released). Understanding that hindsight is 20/20, I cannot fully blame Dipoto for making this deal. At the time, Taylor was a defense-first shortstop that was closer to a quadruple A player than an All-Star. At the time of the trade, Taylor had a career OPS of .593 to go along with a puny .056 ISO, making his performance with the Dodgers one of the least likely success stories of the season.
Since joining the boys in blue, Taylor has posted a .884 OPS and a .230 ISO, blowing any numbers he put up in the minors (or even in college) out of the water. So how has the Dodgers super-utility man managed to turn his career around in such a drastic and sudden way? I will do my best to explain perhaps the most fascinating breakout stud of the season.
When uncovering the answer to the perplexing case of Chris Taylor’s improvement, it all starts with plate discipline. No hitter in baseball this year has increased their Z-O% (number of pitches swung at in the zone minus the number of pitches swung at outside the zone) more than Taylor.
While controlling the strike zone is a great foundation to build upon, it only partly explains Taylor’s transformation. Perhaps the most striking change in Taylor’s batted ball profile is his newfound ability to drive the ball. Since Taylor has posted similar FB%, average launch angle, and exit velocities on fly balls as he did in previous seasons, we are going to have to dig deeper to get to the bottom of his improved ISO.
Part of the reason that Taylor has gotten more extra base hits this season is directly tied to his improved plate discipline. Since swinging at pitches outside the zone is highly correlated to soft contact, when hitters only swing at strikes, they are able to stave off weakly batted balls. It is no mystery then that Taylor has the 24th lowest Soft% in the league when his heatmap of batted balls looks like this:
Below is a spray map of Taylor’s extra base hits this season:
Taylor is hitting for more power by zeroing in on pitches he can pull, which is where the bulk of his power lies. On pitches outside this happy zone, he has developed an ability to lay off. Similar to most of the other players on this list, Taylor selectivity has elevated his game.