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Ryon Healy: Unlikely Building Block

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Tampa Bay Rays v Oakland Athletics Photo by Don Feria/Getty Images

Do you want to know why I’m a fan of the Oakland A’s? The Oakland A’s are competitors. The team just doesn’t rebuild, not in the traditional sense anyway. Each year the A’s continue to acquire talented high-floor-low-ceiling players so as to perpetually have a steady stream of big-league talent. Occasionally, out of nowhere, one of these players surprises and becomes a franchise cornerstone.

Amidst the sea of destined-to-be-league-average types such as Joey Wendle, Chad Pinder, and Jake Smolinski stands one player this team is poised to build around: Ryon Healy.

Before the season started not many would have guessed that Ryon healy would be the second best hitter on the team in the second half. He is, at least among players with 150 or more plate appearances — his 112 wRC+ trails only Khris Davis.

Thanks to a solid batting average, above average power, and a better than average strikeout rate Healy has been a solid contributor on offense and has held his own on defense. As a right-handed batter Healy hasn’t been great against lefty pitchers, but his .229 ISO versus southpaws gives him above average overall numbers. Versus righties he sports a .793 OPS.

How Good Can He Be?

Since 2006 there have been 19 seasons by third baseman 24-years old or younger with a 112 wRC+ or better. Evan Longoria has three and Miguel Cabrera, David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman, Manny Machado, and Kris Bryant each have two of them. That’s quite the list. We’re talking about one sure-fire hall-of-famer and potentially a couple more.

(Disclaimer: I’m not suggesting Ryon Healy will become a hall-of-fame caliber player)

So far Healy has proven he can stick as a major league hitter. What is in store for the young third baseman? To find a comp I sorted through third baseman of the past 10 years to see who had a similar batting profile to Healy.

23 hitters posted walk rates between 4-8% (Healy’s is 4.3%). Nine Hitters posted strikeout rates between 18-22 (Healy’s is 19.6%). Four hitters met both thresholds. Here’s where we start to narrow it down a bit. Only one hitter walked and struck out as often as Healy while hitting for league average power: Mike Moustakas, in 2012.

In 2012, his first full season as a major leaguer, the 23-year old Moustakas walked 6.4% of the time, struck out 20.2% of the time, and posted a .171 ISO. Overall that season Moustakas wasn’t a good hitter thanks to his low batting average, and he has only a little more than one season of above average production. Still his walk rate has increased and his strikeout rate has decreased each season despite fluctuating power numbers.

We’ll have to wait for next season to be sure, but if Healy can follow the same path as Moustakas with regard to plate discipline and retain his above average pop Healy is well on his way to being a regular contributor at a corner infield position.

Ryan Zimmerman is another accomplished third baseman who I think Healy compares with well. In Zimmerman’s first couple seasons he posted walk rates around 8%, strikeout rates around 17% and an ISO between .180-.190.

To match Zimmerman’s production Healy will need to improve his BB/K numbers, but I believe he is up to that task. In his past 13 games Healy has walked at a 7.8% clip while striking out only 13.7% of the time with a .170 ISO.

Another similar hitter isn’t a third baseman but an outfielder. Baltimore’s Adam Jones’ career numbers are almost identical to Healy’s: 4.4% BB, 19% K, .184 ISO. Jones has been a consistent mid-20s home run guy and has sprinkled in two seasons of 30+ home runs.*

Conclusion

Healy played his way out of triple-A, for sure, and he hasn’t stopped hitting since reaching the big leagues. Despite being a top-100 selection in the 2013 draft he never garnered much attention as a prospect. In a lost season with not much to cling to for 2017 Healy offers a glimpse of what the future could look like in Oakland — and not many saw him coming.

*= Included after original post was published.