Realistically, this post could be about Matt Duffy or Jake Marisnick, two complimentary pieces the Cubs added in the offseason that are absolutely punching above their weight this year. But Brett already gave Duffy some love in the bullets this morning, so I’m here to lay it on for the Marisnick. Hey, Jake … thanks for being great.
Throughout the season — but especially in the recent absence of Joc Pederson (wrist) and Ian Happ (ribs) — Jake Marisnick has stepped up and made a meaningful difference at the plate, on the bases, and in the field for the Cubs this year.
After going 2-6 with 2HRs and a walk in the series sweep against the Dodgers, Marisnick, a guy whose primary value is supposed to be his glove and speed, is now slashing .269/.356/.635 (162 wRC+) over 59 plate appearances this season. And if you reach back into last season, Marisnick is slashing .294/.355/.624 (161 wRC+) over his 93 plate appearances. It’s not a huge sample, but he’s producing every chance he gets. And he’s been an above average bat (102 wRC+) since the beginning of 2017.
So let’s take a peek underneath the hood, shall we? I want to know what’s sustainable, what’s not, what’s changed, and whatever else we can discover. And for that, we turn to Statcast.
How’s It Lookin, Data?
Starting with box #1, you’ll notice that his actual overall production (.416 wOBA) is significantly higher than his expected overall production (.351 xwOBA). So on the surface, you might surmise that he’s been lucky (and that’s probably a little bit true). However, there is still a lot here to like, including some data that explains why he’s theoretically over-produced in convincing ways. For example, take a look at the second number in box #2: Marisnick is currently sporting – by far – the best hardhit% of his career (41.2%), meaning that he’s hitting a higher percentage of balls in play over 95 MPH in exit velocity than ever before. And for reference, the league average so far this season is 39.5%.
Keep box #2 in mind, but take a quick peak at box #3 (14.7 barrel%) and box #4 (18.4 launch angle). Both of those represent high or near-high marks for his career, which, combined with his sprint speed, help support that first number in box #2: .465 xwOBAcon. That number is supposed to define his overall production based only on launch angle, exit velocity, and sprint speed. So when you take that number into consideration – and how much larger it is than his actual or even expected wOBA – you can start to see why his “overproduction” may have been earned (at least partly) by the quality of his contact and swiftness of his feet.
What that number excludes, however, is stuff like walks and strikeouts, which is where we turn next.
On the one hand, yes, Marisnick is striking out far too often overall (30.5%), and you’d certainly like to see that come down. On the other hand, he’s slugging a TON, which helps make up for it, and if you strip out just his first game of the year, when he struck out 3 times, his K-rate drops to 27.3%, which is well within a reasonable range for his overall production during that stretch. Interestingly, Marisnick is swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone than ever and making more contact with pitches in the zone than ever, so the trends there are actually pretty encouraging. We’ll just have to see where that goes. For now, it’s a knock against him, but something that could be on the doorstep of improvement.
And by contrast, his success laying off pitches out of the zone has actually led to the best walk rate (8.5%) of his career. That’s not a GREAT walk rate, but, again, with everything else he’s providing, it’s perfectly reasonable.
And, because it’s important, I’ll point out that his .333 BABIP, while high, is not too far away from his career .304 mark … or the .429 BABIP he posted in limited duty last year … or the .310 BABIP he posted over 120 games in 2019. And when you have a 35.3% line drive rate and a ton of hard contact, well … why wouldn’t it be elevated?
So add it all up and what do we have here? We have a guy with an excellent glove and great speed, who’s striking out less than ever and walking more than ever because of demonstrably improved plate discipline. We have a guy who’s also producing at an elite level overall (162 wRC+), albeit in a small sample, based on a ton of hard contact in the air. Oh, and this is all from a guy who may have already begun this offensive transformation over the last two seasons (and who is still just 30 years old).
I still don’t think it’s necessarily time to take away TOO many opportunities from Joc Pederson, Ian Happ, or Jason Heyward (each of whom have offensive, defensive, and just general upside), but Jake Marisnick should absolutely be in there against any lefty and should probably also occasionally (but perhaps consistently) rotate between all three outfield spots against righties to (1) give the other guys a break, (3) best play the matchups, and (3) get his glove/bat/legs in the game. Until he proves that this is all a mirage, how can you not?