This Diamondbacks team entered the season full of unknowns. There were far more questions than answers and while you could surely squint and see a path to success for the squad, it was a narrow path. It would require solid pitching from both the rotation and the bullpen, and some steady production from some flawed position players. The team could always lean on Paul Goldschmidt, but outside of Goldy, things were unpredictable. Through 21 games, the team has won 13 times, so clearly some things are going well. Paul Goldschmidt’s been the team’s most productive hitter and Zack Greinke the most productive pitcher. Those aren’t surprises.
What is a surprise, however, is the fact that Yasmany Tomas has been worth a half a win above replacement in just 18 games. In his debut season, Tomas was worth -1.4 fWAR, and last year he was worth -0.1 according to FanGraphs. Last season he created offense at a rate 9% above league average but simply gave away so many runs defensively that it didn’t much matter. This season he’s on a similar defensive pace — it’s not as if Tomas has improved much in the field. But at the plate he’s been spectacular. Sure, he’s still not walking and striking out more than you’d like, but when making contact, Tomas is doing more damage than ever.
It’s always been a game of adjustments for Tomas who sat out of professional baseball for a prolonged period of time before being cleared by MLB and signing with the Diamondbacks. He played just a handful of minor league games, tried to learn third base, then shifted to the outfield. Despite being signed at age 23, he was “rushed” in a sense and has been playing catch up. He’s had to adjust to the majors on the fly and it’s taken some time. The tools are there for him to be a powerful hitter but getting to that power regularly has been an ongoing process. He’s had to learn better strike zone discipline and adjust to big league pitching, something he didn’t see much of in Cuba. It appears as if we’re seeing that now.
Part of this evolution may boil down to a very simple adjustment. As Sarah McLellan reported last summer, the team and Tomas made a switch to his pregame routine for home games. When playing at Chase Field, the D-backs take batting practice early and have a nearly two-hour break before game time. On the road, the team takes BP last, has a short cool off, then takes the field. Tomas had been performing better on the road, even considering the park factors in Arizona, and his pregame routine seemed to play a part in that. A change was made, one that saw Tomas take extra reps in the batting cage prior to taking the field at home, between the time BP ended and the game began, helping him stay warm before game time.
Take a look at Tomas’ production at home and on the road before the adjustment took place.
Now, we can’t say for sure when the adjustment took place, but we have an idea that it was mid-June 2016. Prior to the home stand that began on June 22, 2016, Tomas had been ineffective at Chase Field as compared to on the road. The numbers speak for themselves. Every category was depressed and he simply wasn’t very good when playing in front of the hometown fans. In this sample, he’d played 88 games at home and 89 games on the road, enough games that we can have some level of confidence in the numbers, but not so many that sample size issues can be forgotten. Now contrast these numbers with his production beginning on June 22, 2016 to present.
On the road, Tomas has been a similar hitter. But at home, wow, thing have changed in a major way. He’s putting up elite offense at Chase Field since mid-June of last season. The average is up, the on-base percentage is up (thanks to the extra hits, not any extra walks), and his power is way, way up. He’s slugging like Mike Trout at home, and even if he’s just producing modestly on the road, his home production is carrying the day. In this sample, we have 48 games at home and 50 games on the road, so small sample issue may apply, but the results are truly remarkable.
Chalking all of this up to some extra reps in the batting cage might be a bridge too far, but one can’t help but notice the change. During this time, he’s making less weak contact, hitting more fly balls and getting to his pull power more all at Chase Field. Reps in the cage may have something to do with this, but it also likely due to his growth as a major league hitter. It’s been a slow burn for Tomas, but he’s turning the corner.
So far, Yasmany Tomas is producing enough offense to offset his fielding deficiencies. At this point in time, that’s helping the Diamondbacks win baseball games. The direction of the organization won’t be decided for another two and half months, but should the D-backs find themselves out of contention by then, perhaps Tomas will have done enough to make himself a trade chip. His growth at the plate has helped his value either way. For now, we’ll have to hope the hot hitting continues because the Diamondbacks can’t afford much decline whether the team chooses to hold onto him or not.
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