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Breaking down O’Neill’s recent approach

Since coming off the IL, O’Neill has taken much better plate appearances. Here is the proof.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

A week ago today, Tyler O’Neill was activated from the 10-day IL. O’Neill had a very rough start to his season, a departure of sorts from how well he played in spring training. In 29 PAs, he batted .143/.172/.286 for a 28 wRC+. Okay, 29 PAs, not a big deal. More worrying was the fact that he could never make contact. He struck out in 48.3% of his plate appearances and didn’t walk once. Things have changed since then, thankfully.

O’Neill was put in via a double switch last Friday, and since then, he has wreaked havoc against opposing pitchers, batting .333/.368/.833. I do not know the wRC+ for that line as it includes yesterday’s game, but I think I can safely say it’s in the “good” category. I may edit in the actual wRC+ tomorrow, after this has already been posted, at some point. It was 145 wRC+ not including yesteday’s game to give you an idea of how good it probably is. (Update: it comes out to a 222 wRC+. Pretty good)

This is still a small sample. In fact, it’s so small, I want to look at every one of his plate appearances and see what he’s doing right. And maybe what he’s doing wrong. I just think it might be an interesting exercise to analyze each PA.

PA #1 - Flyout to RF

Even though it resulted in an out, this is good process. He ignored two pitches out of the zone, swung at two pitches in the zone. And neither pitch is really a pitcher’s pitch either. The fastball isn’t horribly located, but probably is closer to the center of the plate than pitcher Ryan Hendrix wanted. He definitely wanted the slider lower as well. O’Neill didn’t make great contact off it, but he should probably be swinging at sliders that sort of just hang there, even at the outside part of the strike zone.

PA #2 - Lineout to LF

Again, great process. He recognizes the junk pitch for ball one. Miley throws a great pitch on 1-0 that O’Neill was fooled on, but still managed to make contact on. And then Miley throws what I think is a cutter, but it was mislocated and O’Neill appropriately jumped on it. Unfortunately, the ball went directly to a fielder. The ball was hit 112.6 mph and apparently had an xBA of .950, so this is really unlucky!

PA #3 - Reached on Error

Not the greatest plate appearance, process-wise, but he gutted it out and was able to use his speed to get on base. On strike #1, it’s clear he was planning to take the first pitch, but then Miley threw it right down the middle, so that’s why he swung late there. Ball #1 was a pitch anyone could have taken. And then he got fooled on strike #2. And he got fooled on the 1-2 pitch as well. But Miley probably tried to throw it below the strike zone and instead threw it in the strike zone. Despite being fooled, O’Neill was able to stick bat out and make contact. And with his speed, it was going to be a close play even if Kyle Farmer fielded it cleanly.

PA #4 - BB on six pitches

Sometimes, you let the pitcher walk you. That’s what O’Neill didn’t do before he went on the injured list. Miley kind of screwed up this plate appearance, because I think he had O’Neill guessing. After throwing a pitch in the dirt, he threw a great cutter that fooled O’Neill and got him to swing out of the zone. He tried it again on 1-1, but threw it a little more inside and O’Neill seems to have to stop himself from swinging. He then throws a changeup that O’Neill seemed completely unprepared for for strike #2. And then, well, he throws two pitches not particularly close to the zone. Might be a small thing, but this is the kind of plate appearance O’Neill would have struck out on pre-IL trip no question.

PA #5 - Pop-Up to CF

Great plate appearance. Yes, I know what the result is. He looks at a slider on the outside corner for strike one. He then has a great take on a fastball just outside for the first ball and then again has to restrain himself from swinging at a slider that is well out of the zone. He then just gets under a pitch that catches too much plate or there’s a very real possibility this would have been his second home run of the year.

#PA 6 - HR

This is obviously a great plate appearance. He benefits from Luis Castillo just missing his spots by a mile. We’ll never know if Tyler would have offered at a slider with better location, but this one is just way too outside. Pre-IL Tyler may still have hacked at it though. The catcher then sets up inside, and Castillo throws it on the outside corner for the first strike. And he sets up inside again, but Castillo throws it too much near the middle and Tyler makes him pay.

PA #7 - HR

I don’t want to give too much credit to O’Neill taking strike one, because he may have been taking all the way. But it was a well located slider - maybe too high, but impossible to do anything with. Unfortunately, the ump called it a strike. You almost can’t blame O’Neill for almost offering at a slider a little more out of the zone after that, and thankfully it was called a check swing and not strike #2. Castillo then threw three straight bad sliders. The first O’Neill could only foul off and the second just stayed inside. The third, however, decided to hang right down the middle. O’Neill didn’t miss.

PA #8 - Strikeout Swinging

Not great. You can tell O’Neill is trying really hard to work on avoiding the outside slider. In this plate appearance, he appears to be taking until he gets a strike. He ignores a fastball out of the zone. In hindsight, he probably should have tried to swing at the 1-0 fastball, which was the best pitch he saw all plate appearance. But he didn’t. He then successfully laid off a slider. But then he couldn’t resist on his next two pitches and struck out.

PA #9 - Strikeout looking

He took strike one, which was well located and sort of snuck into the zone and pretty hard to do anything with, being 98 mph and on the outside part of the plate. He then just whiffed on a what appears to be a 93 mph slider! What? He took a ball up and away - it was close to the zone but O’Neill didn’t appear to be even a little tempted even with two strikes. He then got pitched a perfect pitch on the very corner of the strike zone that he wouldn’t have hit anyway. Hat tip to Wheeler on that strikeout.

PA #10 - Popup to 1B

He shouldn’t have swung at the 2-0 slider that he couldn’t have possibly done anything with. The first slider was, in my opinion, pretty clearly an automatic take. And then a ball rose more than Wheeler wanted it to, but O’Neill was ready to swing. And then a perfectly located 2-0 slider that was impossible to do anything with. But with how Wheeler was pitching, feels like he may have just avoided a strikeout by swinging so early.

PA #11 - Groundout to SS

Is Wheeler’s fastball a 2-seamer? It sure moves like one. Anyway, can’t really blame Tyler for not swinging at strike #1 - it could have been an automatic take - but the ball sort of creeped into the strike zone. Strike #2 is just an unbelievable pitch. I’m sure it was a strike when Tyler started his swing. And he’s a bit lucky Wheeler hung his slider, because that is not where he meant to throw the 0-2 slider I can promise you that. Still only a groundout, but this was a tough PA for anyone.

PA #12 - Flyout to RF

By the way, O’Neill’s still getting absolutely screwed on some of these calls. That strike one is awful. Anyway he takes a ball which is called a strike and then makes pretty good contact off a not badly located slider. He hit it 95.2 mph if you were wondering.

PA #13 - Groundout to 2B

Tough to argue with the results here. He takes two pitches that aren’t hard to take - the first pitch slipped out of Zach Eflin’s hand and the second was meant to fool a hitter into thinking it was a ball. The ball just never snuck into the strike zone. He then misses a pitch he absolutely needed to swing at. But it was one of those so bad a breaking ball it almost flips into being a good pitch because no hitter is looking for that. And then a fastball slightly below the zone is nonetheless hit hard by O’Neill to a perfectly prepared infield. 102.4 mph groundout here with an xBA of .540.

PA #14 - Single to LF

Well, O’Neill’s not automatically taking the first pitch all the time, so maybe some of what I assume are automatic takes are actually just O’Neill successfully recognizing a ball? Anyway, this is a badly hung curve to O’Neill that he just ropes into LF. 98 mph single. He was just killing the ball off Eflin this game.

PA #15 - Strikeout looking

Probably shouldn’t have swung at the first pitch, but it was still a strike. You just can’t do much with it. 101 mph fastball with that location? He then looked another fastball fall below the zone. He was a little ahead on a slider that Jose Alvarado probably intended to be lower. He then threw a backdoor slider that fooled both O’Neill, the catcher and the ump. And on 2-2, he was expecting a slider, got a fastball. You’re screwed when you don’t expect a fastball and it’s 100 mph.

PA #16 - HR

Not much to say here. He looked a curveball in the dirt and then annihilated a pitch that absolutely should have been annihilated. I’m pretty sure pre-IL O’Neill has this exact sequence of events happen if he were pitched like this.

PA #17 - Single to 3B

Not entirely sure of Vince Velasquez’s game plan in this PA. Just throw fastballs down the middle? Again tough to credit O’Neill too much here. He swings at three fastballs down the middle, and one of them is hit hard towards third base. Notice how he’s almost mad at himself for not destroying the first pitch?

PA #18 - Single to RF

Brandon Kintzler pretty much pitches O’Neill perfect here. The book on Tyler is definitely to pitch him like this. He throws a perfect strike one fastball that catches the corner. He then throws two sliders that O’Neill just doesn’t offer at. The book says he will and even in this post, you see he swings at sliders out of the zone. But he ignores them. He then throws a fastball to not fall even further behind in the count and O’Neill simply hits it the other way. Great plate appearance from Tyler here.

PA #19 - Double Play Groundout

We end on a down note. He rightfully looks at a fastball that goes below the zone for ball one but then swings at a pitch way out of the zone which leads to a double play. The double play aspect was certainly unlucky, but the out was not.

All in all, more plate appearances than not were good. Even though one of these plate appearances is a walk, he just seems a lot more willing to take pitches than he was previously. And again even though he struck out looking on two fastballs, he seems to have little trouble recognizing when a fastball is out of the zone. The trouble is those damn sliders. And he has to actually make an effort to not swing at them, as you can see in these clips. Most importantly, he’s taking advantage of mistake pitches. Lay off the sliders, be patient, and crush mistake pitches appears to be the key to success for Tyler O’Neill