August 1, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter Jeff Keppinger scores a run during the fourth inning against the Oakland Athletics at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Beck Diefenbach-US PRESSWIRE
When it was announced that the Rays had signed Jeff Keppinger back in January, I admit I knew little about the man. I was aware of his existence and that he played the infield, sure, but could tell you little else. As everyone took a look at his stats, more specifically his splits, they saw a useful player and one that fit the Rays' mold. What no one foresaw, however, was that he would turn into one of the best free agent signings in team history.
Talking about anything being among the best in team history comes with the caveat that the team is quite 15-years-old yet. Also, I'm only discussing years in the Andrew Friedman era. A limited sample, I know. No one is going to top Carlos Pena's 2007 season. Casey Kotchman's 2011 is second. Then I'd slot in Keppinger ahead Eric Hinske and Akinori Iwamura. Your list may differ, but Keppinger has forced his way into the conversation in just 62 games as a Ray.
His 1.6 WAR is fourth on the team, but just .2 behind Desmond Jennings and Matt Joyce, who have each played 20 and 14 more games respectively. The .361 wOBA and 133 wRC+? Both second. What's made him so good thus far? The same thing he's made a career out of, hitting left handed pitching.
*warning, what you see below contains hot graph action
Maybe "hitting" isn't the correct word. Mashing may work better. Crushing? Murdering? Killing? Some other violent verb? Take a look at the graphs below, because graphs are pretty.
Batting average doesn't mean a ton in the grand scheme of things, but you can see his .433 mark against lefties cannot be contained by modern graphs. That's how good it's been.
Here's how his wOBA (.434) against southpaws stacks up
As you can see there, he's always hit lefties pretty well. He hasn't come close to this type of success since the 2007 season when his wOBA was .426 in 79 PA. He's at 73 right now.
How is he doing it? Let's take a look at his Pitch f/x chart against southpaws this year. The one below shows his batting average in certain areas of the strikezone.
Virtually anything lefties throw him in the strikezone is going for a hit. A .444 BABIP will do that. His numbers against right handers have improved greatly as well, hitting a very respectable .264/.345/.388 thus far, allowing Joe Maddon to not have to worry about platoon matchups.
The Rays offense has obviously struggled this season. Every player is either hitting at or below expectations. The only exception is Keppinger. He's also shown value in playing four different positions. If you were to name an offensive MVP at this point I'd still vote for Zobrist but Keppinger would be a close second. Who saw that coming before the season?