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Nolan Arenado is back, babyyyyyyy

Let’s breakdown his recent success.

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

I am going to let you all in on a little secret: I am always a tiny bit afraid to write about something good because deep down I am a little suspicious I am going to jinx it. It is silly, I know, but nothing lasts forever and if the good thing ends right after I point it out... it just isn’t a good feeling! Writing about something not-great and then that changing immediately after — the ole reverse jinx — that is more my style. But sometimes something is so good it demands recognition. So we are gonna risk it. I’ll just cross my fingers the entire time I write this.

I first must admit that I was worried about Nolan Arenado as the season began to unfold. 2023 is his age-32 season and though he is coming off the most productive season of his career, that baseball aging curve can be steep. We’ve seen it time and time again. So when Arenado came out the gate not hitting the ball hard and hitting almost half his balls in play in play on the ground, I was concerned that maybe he might not turn the corner and get out of this. This wasn’t like Paul Goldschmidt’s mini slump to start last season where he was still crushing the ball and it just was not falling for hits. This was a player that was chasing more pitches out of the zone, making less contact, and hitting ground balls when he was making contact.

I remember the exact hit I thought might be the hit that finally turns things around for Arenado. It was a double off Shohei Ohtani and it one of those ground-rule doubles that sort of flare just between the third baseman and shortstop and hits the left-field chalk, a line drive hit very hard — 108 mph. It was a hit that had been a foul ball for him over and over throughout the season to that point.

Before that game Nolan Arenando was slashing .233/.280/.310 with a 6.4% walk rate, a 21.6% strikeout rate, and had hit just 2 home runs for 64 wRC+. His average exit velocity was 86 mph. His Hard Hit percentage was 31.1% and he was hitting over 43% of his balls in play on the ground. That game and after, in his last 73 plate appearances, his strikeout percentage has been 16.4%, far closer to his career rate of 14.8%. His groundball percentage has been 35.7%, right in line with his career 35.6%. He slash line in those games has been .328/.370/.687 for 181 wRC+ and he has hit nine extra base hits, seven of them home runs.

I don’t know near enough about Arenado’s game plan or hitting approach to say for sure what has changed. I just have data in front of me and we can only glean so much from that. What I can say is that his first-pitch strike percentage in the time he was struggling was 64.8%. Since May 3 it has been 50.7%. I cannot seem to find a way to break this up for specific games, but for the season Arenado's first pitch swing rate is 32%, which is a bit higher than usual for him. When I search the film room and look up hits and outs he made on 0-0 counts there are 35 results. For swinging strikes and fouls on 0-0 counts there are 39 results, for a total of 74 outcomes from swinging on the first pitch in 2023. It is imperfect, but if we use that to filter by date for games before May 3, we see that 50 of those 74 results happened during that time of unpleasantness. There is a lot of other things that play into player performance —heck maybe he bought a new mattress and after the 30-day trial period decided it wasn’t working for him and returned it — but I feel like this adjustment to swing less on the first pitch of a plate appearance is part of his improved results. Now whether this was a conscious adjustment or itself a result from just plain seeing the ball better, only Arenado really knows. Either way, his improved results seem to be a large part of the Cardinals winning games.

Whatever Nolan Arenado is doing differently, it seems to be working for now. At least until I jinx him with this post.