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Tommy Pham’s interesting power trend

Tommy Pham may be underperforming at the plate

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to find anything to complain about when it comes to how Tommy Pham has performed since coming over from the Cardinals last July.

He hasn’t quite been able to find the Trout-ian 191 wRC+ mark he put up as a Ray in 2018, but his 137 wRC+ in 2019 is still good for 11th among qualified hitters in the American League. This, despite having a higher average exit velocity and hard hit rate in 2019:

Tommy Pham Statcast metrics

Year EV (percentile) HH% (percentile)
Year EV (percentile) HH% (percentile)
2017 89.2 (80th) 43.1 (88th)
2018 92.8 (96th) 49.9 (96th)
2019 93.2 (97th) 54.4 (99th)

With as good as Pham has been, could he actually be underperforming?

Honestly, it’s hard to say, but I did notice something fun and interesting after Thursday night’s game in Cleveland. Let’s start by taking a look at this home run by Pham:

Just another Tommy Pham dinger right? Not really.

After watching this, I said to myself, ‘I feel like that was the first homer Tommy has pulled all year.’ Turns out (to my surprise), I was right:

Including the one hit in Saturday night’s game against Carlos Carrasco, all but one of Pham’s homers have been to the opposite side of center field. Expanding his spray chart to include all of his batted balls shows the vast majority of his extra base hits, and even his deep fly ball outs, have been hit to the opposite field as well:

This is in stark contrast to his batted balls in 2018:

So while Pham is hitting the ball hard more often and harder in general, it doesn’t mean there aren’t any adjustments that could be made. Even though Pham is pacing at career highs in Hard Hit % and Exit Velocity, he is currently setting career lows in launch angle and Barrel %, coinciding with a career-low BABIP.

Tommy Pham metrics

Year Barrel % Launch Angle BABIP
Year Barrel % Launch Angle BABIP
2019 8.8 2.6 .329
career 10.3 6.1 .347

Where Pham is running into his relative troubles is that he is hitting the ball on the ground more than ever (56.8%). He’s still getting his hits on these thanks to his elite ability to make hard contact, and the fact that he’s had such success on fly balls to the opposite field is quite extraordinary.

I’m not suggesting that Pham change his approach in any major way, but since line drives and pulled fly balls tend to be the most successful batted ball outcomes, it’s worth wondering whether a small adjustment could pay huge dividends.