Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Bizarre Spray Chart of Bobby Wernes

Bobby Wernes, an unheralded third baseman from the University of Arkansas, was not considered much of a prospect at the start of the 2015 season. As the college season went along however, the relatively small Arkansas program was put on the map and started garnering scouting interest when centerfielder and eventual 1st rounder and Golden Spikes Award winner Andrew Benintendi heated up and took the baseball world by storm. Wernes, teammates Tyler Spoon and Trey Killian benefited from the extra exposure, and became drafted in the Amateur Draft held in June. Bobby Wernes was solid offensively, hitting .279 with 5 homers, but he stood out for his defensive prowess and ability to make plays like these:

His glove and cannon of an arm are most likely what the Astros were looking to benefit from when the picked him in the 30th round this season, but Wernes took fans by surprise by batting .351 in the NYPL and winning the batting title. He no doubt benefited from an unsustainable .410 BABIP and showed almost no power (.043 ISO and just 8 extra base hits, all doubles), but hitting for an average that high and showing good plate discipline as well (27/27 BB/K ratio, .440 OBP) just cannot be ignored. Thanks to websites such as mlbfarm.com, we can dig deeper into his batted ball numbers and spray charts. Click here for Bobby Wernes page, highly recommend this site with its interactive spray charts and graphs.

The first big take away from his numbers is his propensity for putting the ball on the ground or on a line, and his avoidance of hitting flyballs. His batted ball breakdown is as follows:
Grounders: 53.09%
Line Drives: 30.25%
Flyballs: 12.35%
GB/FB: 4.3
No player in the MLB (min. 150 PA's) in 2015 had a lower flyball percentage, beating groundball machines such as Christian Yelich, Dee Gordon, and Ben Revere, and his line drive rate would top everyone as well. So would his GB/FB ratio, as the MLB leader was the unorthodox Yelich at 4.16, then a big drop-off to Howie Kendrick at 3.52. With his penchant for hitting grounders and never putting the ball in the air, Bobby Wernes' batted ball profile is one of the most unusual you will ever see in all of baseball, yet it is not even the most surprising part of his profile.

This is his spray chart with the short-season Tri City ValleyCats, where he led the New York-Penn League in batting average and made the all star team. The spray of batted balls in the outfield is unbelievable, especially since Bobby Wernes is right-handed. He is a dead-slap hitter, with 22.84% of his batted ball location going to right field, more than any other part of the field, especially left field, where his balls were hit at just 4.94%, less than even his balls hit at the pitcher (5.56%). An astounding 45.5% of his batted balls (close approximation, exact value not available) went to opposite field, where the highest percentage of slapped balls at the MLB level among qualified hitters was DJ LeMahieu at "just" 39%. Billy Burns, the A's outfielder famous for slapping singles the other way, went oppo at a 33.5% clip, which pales in comparison to Wernes.

In college, his swing seemed to work, as he bopped 5 homers in college, including this clutch homer in the semifinals of the College World Series, along with 7 doubles and 6 triples, good for a .425 slugging percentage and .146 ISO. One may wonder why all the power disappeared. It is possible that the higher velocity and better off-speed of pro pitchers kept him late or off-balance, leading to all the batted balls the other way, but he managed to win the batting title regardless and struck out just 27 times in 53 games. While his .410 BABIP might be unsustainable, what is crazy is that his .424 xBABIP (predicted BABIP based on batted balls) suggested that he might have even been unlucky! Adjusted with xBABIP, his actual .351/.439/.394 slash line could have looked an even better and more unbelievable .367/.446/.409. It will be very interesting to see Wernes climb the organizational ladder and see if his power will make a return, and even more intriguing to see if his approach and profile will continue to play against advanced pitching. Below is some video of his swing, feel free to break it down and hypothesize why he hits like he does.

All charts and graphs are courtesy of MLBfarm.com, all videos are from YouTube and I do not own them.

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