The Washington Post

The key to Luis Valbuena’s success: Hitting fastballs

(AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

Up until now, Luis Valbuena’s major league career has not been very noteworthy. He never hit above .250 and posted the best wins above replacement of his career as a 27-year-old last year (1.0). This season, however, is much different.

Valbuena is batting .284 with a  0.382 on-base percentage and 0.458 slugging and a 132 wRC+, which means he has created 32 percent more runs than the league average after adjusting for the park and league he plays in.

“Nothing different,” Valbuena said of his success last month. “I’m looking for my pitch and being aggressive in the zone.”

There is plenty different, but it has nothing to do with looking for pitches or being more aggressive in the zone. For example, last season he swung at 21 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone and 60.7 percent of those within, this season he is swinging at 21.8 percent and 60 percent, respectively. He isn’t making more contact either.

Here is what is different: Valbuena is finally hitting the “hard” stuff – fastballs, sinkers and cutters. Last season he batted .218 against fastballs and this season is at a robust .308.

And don’t let the high batting average on balls in play (BABIP) fool you: this isn’t good fortune fueling the production, Valbuena is hitting the ball better. Against right-handed pitchers he is hitting line drives on 25 percent of the balls put in play and against lefties 35.3 percent – career highs for both.

Valbuena will cool off from his recent eight-game hot streak (.419 with five doubles, a homer and five RBI) but his improvement is very, very real.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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