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Rays bet on exit velocity with Yandy Diaz acquisition

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Can the right handed hitting third baseman shore up the Rays offense in a left hand dominant AL East?

Divisional Round - New York Yankees v Cleveland Indians - Game Five Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

This morning the Tampa Bay Rays surprised many by trading Jake Bauers and $5 million as part of a three way trade that brought back Yandy Diaz from the Cleveland Indians.

in other words, the Rays shed another first baseman, and this time to acquire another third baseman. While the Rays don’t have the multitude of options at third that they do at second base in the farm system, they still have Matt Duffy, Christian Arroyo, and Daniel Robertson already at the major league level.

In 299 MLB plate appearances, Diaz has hit .283/.361/.366 and put up a 97 wRC+. His 10.7% walk rate and 18.1% strikeout rate has helped produced a very good on base percentage.

And given the size of him, it’s surprising that OBP is his strength. His .087 ISO makes you think of Matt Duffy, but Yandy Diaz (on the right in the photo) doesn’t look like a man that has one career MLB homer in 299 plate appearances.

Much like in the acquisition of Tommy Pham, the Rays are betting on exit velocity with this trade. Diaz’s 92.1 mph exit velocity ranks 22nd of 406 players who put 90 or more balls in play in 2018.

The results are mostly encouraging at the top of the leader board: Aaron Judge leads the way, and Tommy Pham ranked 12th. A little farther down, Diaz comes in just behind both league MVPs Christian Yelich (20th) and Mookie Betts (21st) at 22nd overall.

That’s the good news; he hits the ball hard.

The unfortunate thing is it has mostly come on the ground. Diaz’s 91.7 mph on groundballs ranks tenth in the majors on the statcast leaderboard. The top ten includes guys like Nelson Cruz (4th), Aaron Judge (8th), Giancarlo Stanton (11th), and Tommy Pham (12th). Hanley Ramirez led the league and Mark Trumbo ranked sixth.

Hitting the ball hard on the ground doesn’t help as much as balls in the air and Diaz has put 56.6% of his MLB balls in play on the ground, where his .292/.292/.300 line and 54 wRC+ is much higher than average.

So, what about the ups?

For a guy who hits the ball consistently hard, he doesn’t hit the ball all that hard when the ball is put in the air.

Diaz’s 93.6 mph exit velocity on non-groundballs ranks 122th. Stanton leads the way with a 99.7 mph average exit velocity on balls hit in the air. Pham ranks 59th at 95.2 mph. Without the big exit velocities on balls in the air homers turn into outs.

Diaz’s 4.4 degree launch angle was the 21st lowest in 2018. It’s not as bad as Eric Hosmer’s -1.2 degree launch angle, nor is it problematic. On average, Diaz was tied with Wilson Ramos in launch angle. And though they have posted very similar numbers, Ramos has a couple mph of exit velocity on balls in the air, whereas Diaz’s launch angle is just under Duffy’s 4.6. Diaz is already 27 and only about six months younger than Duffy. There probably isn’t a lot more in there than what we’ve seen.

Conclusion

Diaz doesn’t need to go all out on launch angle. It’s more likely that he needs to get more line drives overall to improve his power output. He looks the part of a guy who should hit for quite a bit of power and the exit velocity readings mostly agree.

The Rays paid a steep price in acquiring Diaz, sending $5 million alongside Jake Bauers to get him.

As is, Diaz is a major league bat that the Steamer projections have him hitting .276/.368/.381 and putting up a 105 wRC+ next season. If that’s what the Rays get he’s a fine player, but the Rays have to be betting for more, particularly when the Boston and New York line ups continue to stack left handed pitching.