Nolan Gorman is not a particularly confusing prospect. He’s pretty much your prototypical slugging prospect, with a twist: he can play second base. Hopefully. But his hitting is typical. He has holes in his swing that causes him to strike out and he has immense power that overcomes it. But I will say that the pandemic and unusual timeline of his ascent to the majors makes certain things less clear than they could be.
Whenever Gorman has been fully adjusted to a level, he seems to be a patient hitter with a manageable amount of strikeouts who has a lot of power. When he first came to Low A, the strikeouts were out of control, but in his second attempt at the level, it was 28% and a 11.3 BB%. He barely walked at High A that same year, but upon being promoted to AA two years later, he walked 9.2% of the time and had a 26.7 K%. And this is where things get confusing.
He got promoted to AAA and in 328 PAs, he showed a level of contact ability he has simply not shown yet. Or anything even close to it. He struck out a below average amount of the time. He struck out 19.2% of the time. It did come at a cost. He didn’t walk much either (6.1%) and his .191 ISO wasn’t that impressive given the hitting environment. He only had a 106 wRC+.
A weird thing happened this year. He started striking out a level that suggested he hadn’t adjusted to AAA yet. He also walked at an average pace. His K% of 34% and his BB% of 8.2% were indicative of his first stop at Low A and his first stop at AA. Except, unlike those levels, his power went to unforeseen levels and his BABIP was ridiculously high. So his wRC+ rose to 171. This is kind of confusing.
What did the projections say? Well, first here’s my best guess at how we can interpret the rest of the season projections. It is my theory that the significantly reduced run environment has sort of broken the rest of season projections and made them useless as a tool. Gorman’s projection went from a .309 wOBA and a 96 wRC+ to a .317 wOBA and a 108 wRC+ by ZiPS. But one look at Paul DeJong’s page can make you doubt taking this seriously. Paul DeJong started with a 100 wRC+. And after his terrible start to the season, his rest of the season projection is... a 99 wRC+.
Here is my guess why. So whatever numbers a player produces this year is building off his original projection. So an original projection said a .316 wOBA was a 100 wRC+. DeJong hit for a .196 wOBA and his wOBA projection changed to a .304 wOBA. However an average wOBA is now a .305 wOBA. Hence, the 99. So it is my theory that instead what you need to do is look at the difference in wOBA alone and then compare it to what that wOBA would produce in the original projection. So it seems like the original projection said a .316 wOBA was average. So that’s the benchmark. Now DeJong’s .304 woBA is being compared to a .316 wOBA, which makes much more sense.
All of which is to say, Gorman’s woBA increased from .309 to .317 - which means he’s at a 101 or 102 wRC+. This makes sense to me. I don’t really have a point to sharing this except to keep expectations in check with the rest of the season projections. You’ll notice anybody who is either matching or exceeding their original projection has a wildly better rest of season projection. So keep that in mind.
I wanted to see how Nolan Gorman’s approach has been at this early stage since his AAA numbers are very, very different year-to-year. Only way to do that is look at specific plate appearances. First, his first ever plate appearance and his first ever hit.
Not really much to read into here. He’s taking all the way for strike one. He swings at a really good changeup that you can’t really blame him for swinging at. Takes a pitch in the dirt that’s easy to ignore. Then takes advantage of a change that’s not well-located for his first hit.
A little aggressive on this one. Now that he’s gotten his first plate appearance out of the way, he has no issues swinging first pitch. And he swung at a good one. Takes a ball inside, then is ahead of a ball inside. Hard to shame him for swinging because he did make good contact. Then another pretty good pitch and well-located one that he’s got to swing at with two strikes. This plate appearance suggests a batter who won’t walk much. But it’s one plate appearance against a pitcher with weaker MLB stuff.
If you pay attention, he’s ready to pounce on the first pitch. But he sees that it’s a slider and ignores it. That said, nothing is too terribly close and you can’t read too much into this either. You have to be Salvador Perez level of aggressive to not walk on four pitches on this one.
I was going to skip this plate appearance, but I think it’s instructive. The first ball is actually pretty close, but Gorman isn’t particularly tempted. That’s because it’s not a good pitch to hit. He then gets a ball he can crush, which he does, just not far enough. Unfortunately, I am going to skip his double, because it was first pitch. All that tells us is that he’s willing to swing at first pitch if it’s a pitch to hit. Which is great, but doesn’t tell us anything about his patience.
An uncomfortable at-bat against a lefty, which is to be expected. Doesn’t really seem to get a good swing on any of the pitches. But he swings at pitches that are in the strike zone, except for the strikeout pitch. Which was honestly perfect location. I’d venture to say a good number of left-handed hitters would strike out on that pitch.
Good approach. Not totally sure he actually swung on that 1-1 strike. Wilson was trying to focus on throwing the fastball up and away. I don’t know if that’s the scouting report on Gorman. But Gorman made him pay when the ball was more down than Wilson wanted. He got fooled on the curve, but crucially was able to stay alive. I’m going to skip his single. It was another fastball high and outside that just barely missed. He then threw a change low and away that Gorman was prepared for. It was in the strike zone.
Interesting that the Pirates seem laser-focused on high and outside. Gorman appears to have a good sense of where the outsider corner is, as he doesn’t seem to have a lot of trouble not swinging at them. Great sign. Or maybe the Pirates are just bad. He’s clearly fooled by the pitch that got him to fly out, but still made contact. I’m going to ignore his next plate appearance which involves a change nearly sneaking into the strike zone and then a change right down the middle that Gorman is on, but lines it straight to the right fielder. And I’ll also ignore his next two; he swings first pitch against a lefty and then faces a position player, where he takes his second walk.
This is a “Welcome to the big leagues kid” plate appearance. That first pitch curve is ridiculous and that change could not have been in a better spot. Then the high and outside fastball? I can’t even blame Gorman for this strikeout. This is two understandable strikeouts out of two.
Not a huge fan of his decision to swing at that, but I get it. It would have been the best pitch to hit if it had come in his first plate appearance. He doesn’t seem to have a lot of trouble resisting the high and outside pitch. So far anyway. And to make me eat my words, to some extent, Gorman swings at a similar pitch to the 2-0 pitch - on the first pitch - and makes pretty good contact, but it’s a flyout to center.
He got fooled on a first pitch change, trying to jump first pitch, but then let Richards walk him. Hate to keep focusing on the up and away emphasis, but it’s hard to ignore. Gorman seems to have a good sense of where the strike zone is, because he swings at a pitch in the zone and promptly ignores pitches that are even slightly out of the zone. Again, so far. In his next plate appearance - the next day against Kevin Gausman - Gorman swings at a pitch clearly in the zone and flies out. Definitely a good pitch to hit, definitely the best pitch he would have saw in that plate appearance.
Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to a great pitcher. He swings at two pitches in the zone and then gets fool by a pitch everyone gets fooled by. This is three understandable strikeouts out of three.
I mean this is just Gorman not being able to recognize a pitch. Gausman strikes out 29% of hitters, so he’s not alone. It is a nasty pitch. But I will make the controversial decision of saying this is the first PA where it’s not “understandable.” It is understandable in the sense that it’s obvious what happened. But a better hitter doesn’t swing at every pitch that goes down below the zone.
That fading change is giving him fits. This is just a tough sequence. A curveball that sneaks into the zone. A fastball he instantly seems to regret swinging at. And that change.
You know who Gorman’s approach reminds me of? Paul Goldschmidt actually. Just ready to swing at every pitch, will let the pitcher walk you. Now Goldschmidt has better contact ability - better ability to foul off pitches - so I’m not sure he can manage the kind of K rates and BB rates Goldschmidt has had in his career. But it’s the same general vibe. I don’t know if I’m alone. But he was the first player that popped in my head.
Anyway, encouraging first five games for Gorman. Nothing too alarming or suggestive of not belonging. He got MLB’s version of a cupcake in the form of Pirates pitchers and then very much got the Real Deal MLB pitchers against the Blue Jays. Huge extreme to go from Anthony Banda to Kevin Gausman. There’s a middle ground and that’s where we’ll find out how Gorman adjusts to MLB pitching.