It’s now almost a month into the 2015 Jimmy Paredes experiment and the man is still on fire. The man who was once packaged with Mark Melancon in exchange for Lance Berkman has been hitting the stitches off the ball. Through Sunday’s game, he was batting .355/.380/.684 with five home runs, six doubles, and two triples. That’s good for a 194 wRC+. When you factor in his above-average speed, offensively he’s been worth 9.5 runs above average. That’s 17th-best in baseball among players with at least 70 plate appearances, better than Miguel Cabrera and just behind Joey Votto. Not too shabby.
There’s no question he’s hitting the ball hard. His hard-hit rate is at 36.8%, the highest of his career by far, and is 26th-best in baseball -- ahead of Chris Davis, Buster Posey, and David Ortiz (just to cherry pick some names). As a result his ISO is an astounding .329 and his line-drive rate is a superlative 28.8%. The hard-hit rate coupled with his speed has boosted his BABIP to an otherworldly .400.
When evaluating Paredes it’s important to remember that we don’t know much about him. At 540 career PA, he’s just now reaching the threshold for a full season in the majors. And in 2015 he’s played for just over three weeks. Anyone can get hot for three weeks. These short periods of time mean we need to heavily regress to the mean when looking at the future. That’s nerd-speak for, "expect him to be average more often than not over the coming months".
Paredes has never had success at the major-league level. He’s in his age-26 season and is basically starting all over again. He began his career with an execrable three-year stint with the Houston Astros where he hit .234/.274/.311 with three home runs in 118 games. They put him on waivers. It has to be humbling to get waived by a team that is losing 100+ games three years in a row.
After passing through waivers three times, including a two-day stint in the Orioles organization before sticking with Kansas City, he was claimed by the Orioles again and, when rosters expanded last September, has stuck with the team. He smashed .364/.368/.636 in spring training but had to start the year on the DL. He returned to Baltimore when Jonathan Schoop went down with a knee injury and has been smacking the ball all around the park ever since. His lackluster defense means that he’s been the starting DH against righties, and although he’s technically a switch-hitter, he’s so bad against lefties (career .210 wOBA) that if you ever see him start a game against a southpaw it means Buck Showalter has been forced into some terrible Faustian bargain involving his immortal soul.
Digging into the traditional indicators of luck reveals that he is benefitting from chance. As I mentioned above his BABIP is an absurd .400. Some of that is to be expected when you’re hitting the ball so hard and have above-average speed, though. I would guess a BABIP in the .310 range is more his talent level; his speed should keep him at the high end of average until we know more about him. Steamer and ZiPs think basically the same thing.
His HR/FB rate is a whopping 25%, which isn’t surprising. He put up a 20% rate in his 27-game stint last year, so we know he can hit the ball hard for a month or so. Again, since he’s just now reaching a full season in the majors and hasn’t even played that much this year, it’s reasonable to expect that going forward he’ll hit closer to an average rate until he proves otherwise. HR/FB rate tends to stabilize around 50 fly balls; Paredes has hit only 20 this season.
What’s concerning is that his outward plate discipline has remained the same. His walk rate is a paltry 3.8% which, while bad, is in line with his career levels. His strikeout rate is at 20.3%, below his career norm but not so far below that we should think he’s changed his approach. Remember, he hasn’t even had 80 plate appearances yet (although he will by the time your read this).
Indeed his approach at the plate is still not that great. His O-Swing rate is 47% above major-league average while his O-Contact rate is 16% below average. That’s a lot of swings and misses. Paredes is basically combining the worst traits of Adam Jones (chase pitches outside the zone) and Chris Davis (swing and miss a lot).
Sure, he’s flashed some pop, but when you dig deeper, you see his power has mostly come from balls heaved over the middle of the plate:
So Paredes can punish mistake pitches from righties, which is a useful trait. But it doesn’t distinguish him from other lefty bats out there. Pitchers can't always hit their spots, but most can avoid the middle of the plate.
Look at how right-handed pitchers think of him: so far this year, they aren’t scared. They’re trying to work him outside and below the zone, given his tendency to chase, but they’ve come inside the zone enough to indicate they aren’t scared of him:
This means they don’t believe his breakout is for real. And unfortunately, neither should Orioles fans, at least not for awhile. Savor what Paredes has done so far this year, because it’s really helped the club. The runs he’s pushed across the plate definitely count. And with his above-average speed, he should maintain a good BABIP and ISO, turning a few singles into doubles, going from first to third on a single, and so on.
But he has to get on base in the first place, and nothing in his track record suggests he’ll continue to be this good. Steamer and ZiPS agree: the former projects him for an 81 wRC+ for the rest of the season; the latter, 83. If Paredes is still hitting this good in July, maybe August, fans will know to expect more from him than this.