Independence isn’t a revolution per se, but it shows a significant break from the past
The funny thing about the American Revolution is that it’s largely thought of by historians as not being a true revolution, but a War of Independence. This is because it is for the most part considered a bourgeois revolution, where an existing ruling elite replaces a feudal order.
This is no small feat, either; replacing Parliamentarian monarchism with constitutional republicanism was still unheard of in the 18th century, and even this replacement of the English aristocracy still inspired more grassroots social revolutions in Haiti, Russia, and Vietnam, to name a few.
In baseball, true revolutions are very rare. Players like JD Martinez, José Bautista, and Josh Donaldson seemingly sprang up overnight, forming a clean break from the player they once were. In 2019, which players seemed to declare “independence” from themselves, ie: becoming a player more unlike themselves to advance their career? We’re going to talk about a few.
I don’t think you can talk about baseball in 2019 without mentioning Bellinger, who as of today, is hitting .345/.440/.707, good for a 190 wRC+ and 5.8 fWAR—a Ruthian pace halfway through the season. In one way, he has declared offensive independence from himself; his swinging strike rate has dropped by a whopping five points, and his exit velocity is now in the 93rd percentile.
Yet no matter how good his offense is, it’s his defense where he truly made a clean break from his former self. He was never a bad defensive outfielder, but despite being worth a total of 11 DRS from 2017-18, he has been worth 20 so far in this year alone.
The funny thing is that his range didn’t get much better, and one would traditionally think that range behind you would create the most defensive value. It is in fact his jump in front of him that has generated most of his value this year, generating six outs on plays in front of him without even improving his catch percentage.
It’s not like Marte was a bad player last year, producing 2.5 fWAR and hitting to a 104 wRC+. This year, though, he’s hitting .312/.358/.566 with 20 home runs over 84 games. Now the difference is his ability to hit breaking pitches, where he now has an xwOBA of .387:
He now has barrels on 11.8% of breaking pitches, helping to boost his exit velocity to the 76th percentile.
Lynn, who at one point struggled to find a job last year but was able to secure a three-year deal from the Rangers, has rewarded Texas with a 3.8 fWAR start to the year. His ERA may be at 4.00 but DRA agrees with the success as well, putting him at 2.85. According to Craig Edwards at FanGraphs, this shift has largely been because of his decline in sinker usage:
This has largely reverted him back to the form he took with the Cardinals, so let’s say he declared independence from who he became into who he once was. Yeah, I get it’s all semantics but please continue to humor me for one more player.
Yet another Ranger, Jon Daniels and company were rewarded with a risk-free acquisition on a player who has had shoulder issues that set back a very promising career with the Braves. Now, he has a 2.54 ERA and could be one of the more coveted trade targets at the deadline.
Like many pitchers, these benefits have come at the expense of his fastball, which he has thrown just 43% of the time:
His change is now his secondary pitch, and shockingly, which pitch do you think he gets the most whiffs on?
While these players haven’t entirely changed their character, like changing position or all-of-the-sudden becoming a knuckleballer, they have very much charted a different path for themselves, and for us, as viewers, fans, and analysts.