Entering the season, Chad Pinder appeared to be primed for a breakout year. He had a great 2020 postseason, an encouraging 2021 spring, and long-term progress in reducing his strikeout rate. He hits the ball as hard as anyone on the Oakland A’s, and defensively he can fill in almost anywhere on the field. After years of part-time duty, it was impossible not to be curious what he could do with an everyday chance.
Naturally, he got hurt in the fourth game of the year. A sprained left knee cost him six weeks, putting him out of action until mid-May. But now he’s back, and it was worth the wait.
Since his return, Pinder has appeared in six games, including five starts and a pinch-hitting spot. He’s already started at three different positions (2B, SS, LF) and filled in at a fourth (3B), and at the plate he’s destroying the ball.
- Pinder, lately: 6-for-20, HR, 3 doubles, BB, 7 Ks, .364 xwOBA
In 21 plate appearances he’s already racking up extra-base hits, and he nearly had another homer on Tuesday but it was caught at the top of the wall. His efforts on Friday, including a three-run dinger, helped lead the A’s to a win over the Angels.
But that batting line above sells short just how well Pinder is swinging. He’s hit the ball 13 times in those 21 trips to the plate, with the following exit velocities (95+ mph is considered hard-hit):
- 107.7 mph exit velocity
More often than not, he blasts a rocket with triple-digit velo. The whole things averages out to 97.6 mph, and if you toss in his four April games pre-injury then his 96.4 mark leads the team by four miles over Matt Olson.
What’s more, most of that work came against right-handed pitchers, putting him at the platoon disadvantage. For most of his career he’s been limited to facing lefties, but that’s not the case this year. Only four of his 21 plate appearances this month were against southpaws, resulting in a double, single, walk, and strikeout.
That said, hitting it hard against righties has never been Pinder’s issue, but rather making enough contact. Indeed, strikeouts are still a red flag at a 33% rate since his return (or 32% vs. RHP), and he’s yet to draw a walk against a righty. It’s working out nicely for now because he’s making almost exclusively monster contact the other two-thirds of the time, but the Ks are going to have to come down at some point, especially against righties if he’s going to be facing them more often.
The other key to optimism about Pinder is the way that his defense can help keep him in the lineup. Versatility is the first step, as it’s always easier to squeeze in a hitter who can fit anywhere. On top of that, his emergence as an excellent outfielder means he can make a serious positive impact on that side of the ball, as we saw on Opening Day and then again on the play in which he hurt himself.
Unfortunately, Oakland has a more pressing need right now in the infield than the outfield, and Pinder’s work on the dirt isn’t as good as his brilliance on the grass. Everyday infield duty might be a stretch, and at the very least it would give back some of the value earned by his bat, but the fact that he can fill in at both SS and 2B is another strength in his profile. The primary driver for his breakout candidacy is his hitting, so the first step is to make sure he’s at least in the batter’s box and not on the bench.
For the season overall, in 31 plate appearances, Pinder leads the A’s with a 158 wRC+ thanks to a .300 average and lots of power. On the other hand, one walk and a dozen strikeouts suggest caution before we begin celebrating, no matter how hard Statcast says he hits the ball. But even with that in mind, the Chad Pinder Breakout Train is officially back on track after a temporary early derailment.