Anecdotally, one of the reasons the Rays offense seemed to be struggling to build leads during the dog days of June and July this year was the length of at bats.
When you don’t want to face him, absorbing pitches is an excellent way for an offense to get a good pitcher off the mound. The Rays were going down far too quickly in recent weeks against teams like the Yankees, and something needed to change.
This is, in part, why the Rays were glad to see Matt Duffy return to the lineup, and why the front office was also glad to land 2018 All-Star Jesus Aguilar on the trade market.
The average baseball player sees approximately four pitches per at bat — divided out it comes out to something like 3.897 pitches per plate appearance (PPA) on average this year, among qualified hitters. The best hitters tend to be above four pitches, but among the Rays the only stand-outs until recently have been Austin Meadows (4.16 PPA) and Daniel Robertson (4.19 PPA before a knee injury).
In 2018, Jesus Aguilar averaged 4.30 PPA, which would rank sixth in baseball this season among qualified hitters, and although he’s only been slightly above average at 4.05 PPA over all of 2019, that number has been steadily improving—along with the player himself.
It’s no secret Aguilar has been returning to form throughout the month of July, and now three games in with the Rays, Aguilar is averaging 5.91 PPA with four hits, three walks, and no strikeouts in 11 plate appearances.
After his Rays debut in Boston, I asked Aguilar if driving up pitch counts was part of his game:
“Yeah, for sure! I just try to see how many pitches I can...” Well, Aguilar then fessed up, with a smile, “I kinda don’t know those pitchers, so I tried to see what they got.”
There was no need to be humble; he was able to see them just fine.
Aguilar’s first plate appearance with the Rays was a seven-pitch walk; his second appearance was an eight-pitch pop out, and the next was a single on a great pitch to hit. Here’s the whole at bat:
Aguilar followed that up with a five-pitch walk and a six-pitch base hit. On Saturday, he was brought in as a pinch-hitter and drew a walk. Then, on Sunday, well hopefully you’ve seen this highlight by now:
A long homerun on a 3-2 count, 108.5 MPH off the bat — 446 feet. Before that, he hit a single in a ten-pitch at bat.
Here’s what Aguilar had to say about that eye popping homerun:
“Just tried to be on time,” Aguilar said. “Tried to hit the ball to the middle. Think I got lucky and hit a home run. Tried to get ready early, that’s the most important thing for me. Good things are going to happen, believe me. They’ve got a great group of guys here. I think this team has got a lot of things to do.”
He stayed humble.
In Aguilar’s eleven plate appearances for the Rays, only one has resulted in an out on less than four pitches.
The answer will vary depending on who you ask, and in total it may be a very marginal thing to look to improve, but if the Rays did have a problem soaking up pitches from starters, Jesus Aguilar is here to help.
Statistics via Fox Sports