Fans of the team that originally employed Bobby Crosby, I have some news for you. Sometimes, players don’t live up to expectations. Sometimes, players don’t get into the league and follow a normal trajectory. There’s the odd fellow, say Bobby Crosby, who starts out hot in his first year and never plays at that level again.
That’s not to say Ryon Healy won’t follow up his sensational premier campaign with a sensational second year or a sensational career. It means let’s remember it’s not a guarantee. It also means, well, let’s talk about it.
The three possible outcomes for 2017
Ryon Healy is definitely going to be exactly the same as he was in 2016 this season, somewhat worse, or somewhat better. #Analysis.
Bobby Crosby exists, but so do standard aging curves. Consider, a year ago Healy was prepping for his second year of AA baseball, trying to excite himself at the prospect of living in Midland Texas for another year.
He’d then go on to make his famous swing change, one that untapped his power and turned him from a rather boring groundball oriented giant to a legit power threat in any stadium. That change got him to the league in a quick half season, breezing through AAA and into the bigs after dominating the minors. He’d pick up right where he left off in Nashville and Midland, wrecking pitchers at a major league league leading level.
Of course a guy who changed his swing would only improve as he acclimates more to his new mechanics. To that point, adjustments beget adjustments. Healy has proven that he can change on the fly in order to be the best player possible. That baseball IQ will bode well for his 2017 season and career as a whole, and with his youth and his tools, the sky is the limit for the already mashing masher.
Healy stays the same
And that’s a good thing.
Healy finished 2017 with a 134 wRC+. That’s 34 percent better than league average which understates just how good it really is. Advanced stats are great, and normalizing numbers to make it easy to compare to the rest of the league has revolutionized numbers for fans of all types, but it’s just not sexy. Let’s put Ryon in that sexy light.
If Ryon Healy were to put up a 134 wRC+ over the course of a full season, he’d be roughly somewhere in the 15th-20th best hitter in the game. Consider: Edwin Encarnacion, the tease of the 2017 offseason, had a 134 wRC+ last year. Yoenis Cespedes, he of a four year, $110 million contract had a 134 wRC+ last season.
Should Healy stay the same, with his .524 slugging percentage and his .219 isolated slugging percentage, the A’s would be happy.
Sophomore slumps are a thing, often because the league adjusts. The league will adjust but Healy will adjust back, and we know he makes adjustments with the best of them.
Jeff Sullivan wrote a great piece recently at how the league will adjust to the home run spike. The league has already started that response, moving up in the zone with fastballs in an attempt to circumvent upward swings, a large factor in the dinger spike.
Healy of course reinvented himself with the upward swing, one that crushed pitches low and in the middle of the zone. He was worse against high heat, but still solid and again, something we should be on him to adjust to as he sees it more.
The league will likely pitch him higher next year, but Healy will likely adjust. He’ll be another year older, a year wiser, and experience should be an aid to his success. The league will find ways to exploit Healy yes, but so too will Healy find ways to attack the league. The result? A Healy that’s by and large the same hitter we saw in 2016.
Healy gets worse
Ah, the not so fun part.
The antidote to the home run swing may well be the high fastball, something Healy barely saw last year. Pitchers lived in locations well suited to his swing last year, something they won’t do in 2017 and beyond.
The aging curve has changed as the youth movement has permeated the league, with more players hitting their peak when they first arrive in the bigs. Healy being worse wouldn’t make him a bad ballplayer and it also wouldn’t be uncommon. We’re seeing with growing frequency that players just don’t improve.
Why might it happen?
The lack of walks aren’t an issue when Healy is hitting for power and average. But what happens if the hits stop falling? It’s certainly a possibility. His .352 BABIP would have ranked top 15 in the game last year should he have qualified, a number that with some bad luck could fall. It’s not necessarily a sign of being lucky, and there’s no doubt Healy crushed the ball in a manner conducive to success last year. A high BABIP is certainly in the cards if he keeps up that league leading exit velocity.
But bad luck happens, and bad luck is harder to combat when you don’t walk much. It’s tough to be valuable with a low on base percentage and should any of Healy’s rookie success have been a mirage, the downfall could be exponential. Like adjustments begetting adjustments, suck begets suck. If Healy struggles, he’ll be less likely to walk with fewer pitches out of the zone, resulting in a lower on base percentage, more pitcher’s counts, an an overall worse season.
Again, there are infinite options for how Healy’s 2017 goes. He could struggle to adjust to pitcher’s adjustments at first, to then jump all over pitchers, ending the year the same truly great hitter he was last year. In a game of adjustments, the A’s best hitter by far is sure to see many, and make many more. How will Healy fare in 2017?