Oakland A’s centerfielder Ramon Laureano is really, really good. He reminded us of this yet again last night when he opened the bottom half of the first inning with a 441 foot blast to left field.
Laureano later added an insurance run with another solo home run, this time to right field. Through 93 big league plate appearances Laureano is carrying a .259 ISO, which is 31 points higher than his minor league career high of .228 this season in Nashville.
He’s also demonstrated an ability to reach base often, as well as play elite outfield defense. At this point I’m starting to wonder if Laureano, who put himself in Oakland’s history books, is not only Oakland’s best outfielder, but perhaps he’s Oakland’s best player.
Matt Chapman has easily held that title for much of the season. And in a different time or place Chappy would be an obvious MVP candidate. And before him it was Jed Lowrie laying claim to that crown. But to put it simply Laureano has been one of baseball’s very best players since he joined Oakland’s lineup and deserves to have his name listed among Oakland’s elite.
That’s a bold claim, I know. Though it’s not without merit. In 2018 4 MLB players have a wRC+ equal to or higher than Laureano’s current mark of 161: Alex Bregman, JD Martinez, Mookie Betts, and Mike Trout. Only 14 hitters have an ISO equal to or greater than Laureano’s .259. Among centerfielders he ranks second in each.
Defensively he has been as impressive. His 22.5 UZR/150 is 4th best among players with at least 220 defensive innings, and ranks just below St. Louis’ Harrison Bader among centerfielders. He easily passes the eye test, as well. If you need evidence of that simply google it.
The question regarding Leurano isn’t one of quality, but sustainability. Is he for real?
His .392 BABIP points to regression. Other metrics, though, offer the optimistic take that Laureano is indeed a Star.
Statcast tells us that he isn’t really overachieving much. His .405 wOBA is just slightly higher than his .401 xwOBA and he barrels the ball on 17.9% of his batted-balls.
Laureano has yet to hit an infield fly ball, which is excellent considering those are nearly automatic outs. He also hits line drives at a 23.2% clip, placing him among the top-50 hitters in baseball in that regard. He doesn’t hit fly balls as often as many other Oakland hitters, however, leading me to believe his 29.4% HR/FB rate will come down quite a bit. But Laureano has other things going for him such as a 51.8% hard-hit rate and 53.6% pull rate. He is doing what he can to get the most of his raw power.
When Laureano hits the ball in the air he really drives it. On fly balls and line drives Laureano’s .805 xwOBA is sixth-best in MLB, out of hitters with at least 10 such batted-balls. Among A’s hitters that mark is easily the highest. Khris Davis is the next closest at .760. His 96 MPH average exit-velocity on air balls trails only Matt Olson (97.6 MPH) and Davis (97.4 MPH) on the A’s and is 40th in MLB. Lastly, his 25.7 degree launch angle on air balls is perfectly within the ideal range for extra base hits.
Matt Chapman has demonstrated for us how one can go from toolst-but-raw prospect to elite player thanks to an above-average bat and top-tier defense. Laureano is only following in his footsteps. And to think, the Houston Astros decided they simply didn’t have room for him on their 40-man roster.
*Stats as of first pitch today