Yangervis Solarte has been arguably the best surprise of the Yankees season so far, ranking among the top three on the team in nearly every hitting stat after entering spring training as an unknown minor-league prospect.
With virtually no track record of success in the pros, we’ve been waiting for the regression bug to bite Solarte, but so far he’s bounced back from every little slump he’s endured this season.
Right now he is in the midst of the longest streak of hitless games in his MLB career (5 games, 18 at-bats), and his current batting average of .274 is his lowest since he went 0-for-2 in his major-league debut.
Though it is only a sample of five games, there might be a few signs that his regression is real and he may have already reached his peak level of production this season.
One of the reasons for Solarte’s success this season has been his excellent batting eye. Prior to this slump, he had nearly as many walks (23) as strikeouts (25) in his first 57 games; during his hitless streak, he has four strikeouts and one walk.
He’s actually making more contact over the last five games, but is putting the ball in play at a lower rate because he’s fouling off more pitches and taking more called strikes.
Solarte has been more aggressive during the hitless streak but is swinging at the wrong pitches. His swing rate on pitches in the strike zone has fallen from 60 percent to 51 percent, while his rate of chasing pitches out of the zone has increased from 26 percent to 38 percent.
Solarte’s patience has also been one of the key factors in his success this season, yet it appears to be hurting him now as pitchers have adjusted to his passive approach.
Solarte is swinging at just 17 percent of first-pitches this season, well below the league average of 27 percent, and that first-pitch swing rate is even lower during his recent slump (12 percent).
In his first 57 games, pitchers started him off with a pitch in the strike zone about half the time. They’ve caught on to his reluctance to swing early in the count, however, and over his last five games three-quarters of the first-pitches he’s seen have been in the zone.
It is no surprise then that he’s taking a high number of first-pitch strikes during this stretch, and has fallen into an 0-1 count in 13 of his 20 plate appearances. Over his first 57 games, he went to 0-1 in less than half of his plate appearances.
Falling behind is never a good thing for a hitter, especially Solarte. Overall this season he has a .595 OPS after an 0-1 count and a .953 OPS after a 1-0 count.
Now that pitchers apparently have adjusted their approach to Solarte, it will be interesting to see how he counters. Can he regain his plate discipline without becoming overly aggressive? How will he respond to seeing more hittable pitches early in the count?