Coming into this year, the focus on going to the opposite field was a primary focus for Chris Davis. Fans clamored for him to beat the shift by bunting or learning how to go the other way. However, we mentioned on the Bird’s Eye View podcast this Spring Training that Steve Pearce was actually a great shift candidate due to his prevalence to pull the ball. In comparison to Davis in 2014 and 2015, Pearce rates as follows:
Based on the batted ball profile, Pearce should be expected to have a BABIP around .324. The defensive shift is certainly having an impact on Pearce and is likely contributing to his lower than average BABIP this season. However, there are other reasons we should be concerned with his performance to date. One of these in the batted ball profile is the increase in ground balls impacting his fly ball rate. This is negatively impacting him with his home run production which appears uniform to last year.
Batted ball distance seems to be an issue for Pearce so far this year. In 2014, he posted an average of 201.56 feet for all batted ball distances which ranked him 24th in MLB. In 2015, his average has dropped to 187.53 feet ranking him at 103rd in MLB. In addition, he is only averaging an 85.62 exit velocity on batted balls good for 224th out of 265 with 50 minimum PA.
Where is the offensive drop coming from Pearce? Based on his spray charts, he appears to be hitting less line drives to the Opposite field and when he does get a flyball they are weak enough that they are being caught in the the gap in right center field.
We’re not aware of any injuries to Pearce during this time, but there must be something else that changed. Looking at the data, Pearce has struggled against fastballs this season. This is odd since he has predominantly been a fastball hitter all through his career. Looking at his approach to four seam fastballs that are high and outside, Pearce’s approach has seemed to be different. The below images demonstrate these differences between 2014 and 2015:
2015: Flyout on 92 MPH FF to RF
2015: Double on 92 MPH FF to RF
Notice how Pearce in 2014 waits for the ball to come to him and keep the stance closed allowing him to drive the ball with power to right field. In 2015, he has a now started to open up too early and his back knee is bending which is altering the torque and power he can put onto the ball. This would impact Pearce’s ability to drive the ball down the line and to the gaps.
Pearce has shown recently to be fixing these issues by not opening his stance as much and also not bending his back knee. This has allowed him to avoid the fly ball to the gaps and hit for power to them. Here is Pearce last week against the Astros:
If Pearce is finally getting out of a bad habit and is able to drive the ball on the outside portion of the plate, it may prevent the defense from overshifting. It also might improve his batted ball distance when approaching the outside portion of the plate. The Orioles could certainly use more of this Steve Pearce from 2014.