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Quick Look: Josh Phegley Can Hit!

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Is it merely a small sample size? Or is Josh Phegley’s hot start promising for the veteran catcher?

Oakland Athletics v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

166 and 132. Those are Josh Phegley’s triple-A wRC+ in his final two seasons with the Chicago White Sox. Prior to being acquired by the Oakland A’s in the trade affectionately known as “Sharknado 2” Phegley demonstrated he was possibly a competent MLB hitter. That wasn’t always the case, however.

Phegley advanced from single-A to triple-A over four seasons with Chicago, not once crossing the 100 wrC+ threshold for any significant amount of time. He didn’t show much power and had mediocre K/BB numbers. Then in 2013 at 25 years of age something must have clicked. That’s when Phegley posted the aforementioned 166 wRC+ to go along with a .281 ISO and followed that up with a 132 wRC+ and .255 ISO in 2014. Phegley’s 2019 MLB wRC+ stands at 167.

Batted-Ball Distribution

What happened? Phegley didn’t all of a sudden start hitting more fly balls and he didn’t start walking more or striking out less, at least not by any significant measure. One big change, however, was his pull%. He made a 6% increase in pull% from 2011 to 2012 and then a 5% increase from 2013 to 2014. And he has done it again., only this time it is even more severe.

Phegley has increased his pull% 10 whole points from his career high set back in 2015, and is up 12 points from 2018. Almost 52% of his batted-balls have been pulled. He has also seen a 12% increase in hard-hit balls from 2018.

Phegley isn’t walking much (just 3%) but he also isn’t striking out much (15.2%). He has also cut down in his swings on pitches outside of the zone (down 4% from 2018) while maintaining an above-average contact rate (78.9%). Combine that with his strong hard-hit rate and that more than 80% of his batted balls have been in the air and Phegley’s early success seems well earned.

Statcast Says

Phegley hasn’t really seen a change in his exit velocity, but his launch angle has jumped significantly from a career-high of 19.4 deg. in 2017 to 22.8 deg. Additionally his percentage of barreled-balls is a career-high of 7.4%. All of this results in an xwOBA of .358, which is more than 30 points higher than his previous career high set back in 2016.

Phegley’s Statcast Data

Season Batted Balls Barrel % Exit Velocity Launch Angle XBA XSLG WOBA XWOBA Hard Hit %
Season Batted Balls Barrel % Exit Velocity Launch Angle XBA XSLG WOBA XWOBA Hard Hit %
2015 175 4 85.9 16.3 0.233 0.366 0.323 0.287 26.9
2016 66 6.1 86.9 13.5 0.265 0.424 0.3 0.325 28.8
2017 124 5.6 85.2 19.4 0.252 0.422 0.256 0.317 29.8
2018 68 2.9 84.9 14.4 0.158 0.274 0.259 0.216 22.1
2019 27 7.4 85.7 22.8 0.323 0.494 0.414 0.358 37.5
BaseballSavant.com

Grain of Salt

We are still within the confines of a very small sample size. 11 games isn’t enough for us to declare Phegley a totally changed man. Exit velocity, launch angle, and xwOBA all stabilize somewhere between 40-50 batted-balls and Phegley has just 27 this season. Still, some of these signs are encouraging, especially his improved plate discipline and statcast metrics. Phegley has one time turned in an above-average offensive season, back in 2015 so we know there is a competent hitter in there somewhere. Now that he has an opportunity to stand out as the primary catcher perhaps he’s simply running with it.