Thursday, April 18, 2024

Robert Jr.’s Offseason Adjustment Could Make Him Even More Dangerous

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Despite hitting 38 home runs, driving in 80 RBIs, and winning a Silver Slugger Award, Luis Robert Jr. still felt there was room for improvement at the plate. Specifically in his pitch selection. 

The 26-year-old outfielder was fresh off the best offensive season of his young career that saw him set new career highs in hits, extra-base hits, home runs, RBIs, stolen bases, and walks. However, he also set a career-high in strikeouts with 172.  

Robert Jr. was a free swinger at the plate in 2023. His whopping 40.5% chase rate ranked in the bottom three percent of the league while his 33.5% whiff rate and five percent walk rate ranked inside the bottom ten percent of of MLB hitters. His lack of plate discipline was masked by excellent power numbers. If a pitcher made a mistake in the strike zone more times than not Robert Jr would make them pay. The problem is Robert. Jr was giving pitchers little reason to throw him anything in the strike zone.

Robert Jr. spent the offseason trying to improve his selectiveness at the plate and try to force opposing pitchers to throw him more pitches inside the strike zone. His work centered on a drill where he focused on one quadrant of the strike zone. He would try to refrain from swinging if a pitch was thrown outside of that quadrant.  

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His most effective quadrant of the strike zone by average exit velocity last season came in the bottom center portion of the strike zone. He hit seven home runs last season on pitches thrown in that quadrant while hitting .328 and having an expected slugging percentage of .890. Robert Jr. also had an average exit velocity of 98 mph on pitches thrown in the upper right-hand corner of the strike zone which tied for his highest average exit velocity of any quadrant. 

It just so happens that is where Tigers starter Kenta Maeda left a cutter on Saturday afternoon that Robert belted 417 ft with an exit velocity of 104.8 mph for his second home run of the day. 

“What you guys saw today was part of the results of all the work I put in during the offseason,” Robert Jr. told reporters on Saturday through interpreter BUlly Russo. “Hopefully, you guys can see that on a consistent basis this year. I really worked a lot on that this offseason.” 

Robert’s more disciplined approach at the plate was on full display during his first at-bat of Saturday’s game. With a 2-2 count Robert Jr. refrained from chasing a splitter in the dirt, then fouled off four straight pitches in or around the strike zone. The tenth and final pitch of the at-bat was a four-seam fastball over the heart of the plate that Robert Jr proceeded to launch 449 ft for his first home run of the season. 

Plate discipline has been one of the only things lacking from Robert Jr’s game. Even with his free-swinging approach last season the Cuban center fielder still managed to produce a .515 expected slugging percentage. If he can reduce the urge to chase bad pitches he can take his game to another level. By showing the ability to lay off pitches out of the zone opposing pitchers will have no choice but to throw him more strikes.

Robert Jr. drawing more walks will also help his stolen base totals. White Sox manager Pedro Grifol wants his team to run the bases more aggressively this season. Robert Jr. has already proven to be the White Sox’s biggest threat on the base paths. Last season he managed to swipe 20 bags with a .315 OBP. A higher on-base percentage is only going to jack up those totals and put more pressure on opposing pitchers who decide to pitch around him.

“That guy right there can win MVP, that’s for dang sure,” rookie infielder Branden Shewmake told MLB.com. “Everybody in here knows that. I think he knows that, too. The greatest part about it is he doesn’t go about his business that way.” 

If Saturday was any indication he is about to make pitchers who have to stand 60 feet six inches away from him a lot more nervous on the mound.

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