Oscar Taveras and his Free-Swinging Ways

Don't get used to seeing pitches get by minor league guy - Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Walks and strikeouts have increased in prominence, yet Oscar Taveras avoided both in his climb to the top of the prospect rankings. How successful are current major league players employing a similar lack of patience at the plate?

Visions of Vladimir Guerrero knocking ankle-high outside pitches over the fence come to mind when people see Oscar Taveras. St. Louis' top prospect certainly fits a unique profile. He makes a lot of contact which leads to low strikeout and walk rates. His power separates him from free-swinging slap hitters and invites the Vlad comparisons. Other major league ballplayers have more recently taken the same approach at the plate, and could shape more reasonable expectations for the Cardinals' potential star.

Over his minor league career, Taveras has hit .320/.377/.518, clear star numbers if he could reproduce them in the majors. At just twenty-two years of age this June, it is not reasonable to expect that type of production right away. Available at fangraphs, ZiPS predicts a .287/.331/.448 season good for a solid .334 wOBA. Perhaps more interesting than Taveras' final line are Taveras' walk and strikeout rates. He is projected for just a 5.7% walk rate. Among the 140 batting title qualifiers in 2013, Taveras would have had the 26th lowest percentage. His projected 12.4% strikeout rate would have been the 24th lowest in 2013. Each group comes with their own hitting profile. See below a chart showing Oscar Taveras' projections, a comparable group of low walk rate players (5-8%), and a group of low strikeout rate players (10-15%).

The low strikeout group fares well in on-base percentage and wOBA, but the low walk group fares better in slugging percentage and isolated slugging percentage. Taveras fares well in all categories, pacing the group in three out of four statistics. Only in on-base percentage does the low strikeout group edge Taveras. Of course, Taveras is in both groups. Combining the two groups yields just fifteen results from 2013, but it does provide a closer match to Taveras' hitting profile.

The major difference in the chart above can be seen in the power numbers. Very few players make as much contact as Taveras is expected to and hit for power. In 2013, only six out of 140 qualified hitters matched the Taveras profile of low strikeout and walk rates as well as an isolated slugging percentage above .150.

Name BB% K% ISO AVG OBP SLG wOBA

Yadier Molina 5.5% 10.2% 0.158 0.319 0.359 0.477 0.362

Adrian Beltre 7.2% 11.3% 0.193 0.315 0.371 0.509 0.379

Jonathan Lucroy 7.9% 11.9% 0.175 0.28 0.34 0.455 0.345

Jed Lowrie 7.6% 13.7% 0.156 0.29 0.344 0.446 0.345

J.J. Hardy 5.9% 11.3% 0.17 0.263 0.306 0.433 0.322

Taveras ZiPS 5.7% 12.1% 0.162 0.287 0.331 0.448 0.334

Perhaps more good news, five out of those six players posted very good overall offensive numbers including St. Louis' own Yadier Molina. If Taveras can match his projections, he will be in rare company. Over the past five years, 731 players have qualified for the batting title. Only 28 players had seasons that match up with Taveras' projections.

Oscar Taveras will reach St. Louis with more hype than any hitting prospect in the last decade. It remains to be seen whether he will live up to the lofty expectations that come along with his top prospect rankings. In baseball, fans have become accustomed to an increasing number of walks and strikeouts, two of the least exciting outcomes from an offensive perspective. Taveras goes against that trend, showing that he has the potential to be not just a good baseball player, but an exciting one to watch as well.

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