Results or Not, Nico Hoerner Doesn't Need to Change a Thing Offensively Right Now

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Results or Not, Nico Hoerner Doesn’t Need to Change a Thing Offensively Right Now

Chicago Cubs

Defensively, Nico Hoerner has been everything you could’ve reasonably hoped for at shortstop this season. He’s exceeded expectations with plenty of lateral range, a steady glove, and a strong(er than projected) arm. Offensively, however, he’s been just barely above average, which is already not particularly strong this season: .275/.298/.407 (101 wRC+).

But herein lies the problem of statline scouting. That’s not even close to the full picture.

Let’s start with just his most recent two games to illustrate the broader point. Here’s a look at the individual exit velocities and expected batting averages for the balls he put in play (working backward):

•   Forceout: 98.9 MPH, .440 xBA
•   Flyout: 97.8 MPH, .460 xBA (373 feet)
•   Flyout: 98.8 MPH, .420 xBA (341 feet)
•   Lineout: 95.0 MPH, .470 xBA (322 feet)
•   Flyout: 91.5 MPH, .010 xBA
•   Flyout: 99.1 MPH, .550 xBA (377 feet)
•   Single: 104.3 MPH, .750 xBA
•   Groundout: 104.4 MPH, .610 xBA

In his last 8 PAs, Hoerner has put the ball in play eight times, seven of which were above Statcast’s hard-hit threshold of 95.0 MPH, and only one of which had an expected batting average below .420. And despite all that wonderful contact (most of it elevated!), he managed … just one single (and a fielder’s choice he legged out and turned into a run on pure will, alone). That is truly horrible luck.

Outs are outs – and you can’t change the past – but if you simulated those exact same batted ball events over again, there’s a chance Hoerner would wind up with … well … let’s just say more than one hit (likely even some for multiple bases).

The point here is that I think he’s looked a heck of a lot better than his results would imply, and Statcast’s expected statistics agree (overall):

Actual AVG: .275
Expected AVG: .312 (top 9% of the league)

Actual SLG: .407
Expected SLG: .479

Actual wOBA: .313
Expected wOBA: .346

For a little extra context there, a .346 wOBA would put him just outside the top-50 hitters in baseball, tucked neatly between Austin Meadows and DJ LeMahieu (both of whom have a wRC+ more than 30% better than the league average hitter). Relative to shortstops, a .346 wOBA would put him just ahead of Francisco Lindor and just behind Jeremy Pena. And that’s because he really is hitting the ball better than he ever has before … even if the result may not be showing up on the stat sheet just yet.

This season, Hoerner’s 89.6 MPH average exit velocity, 8.8 degree launch angle, 38 hardhit%, and 6.3 barrel% are all FAR better than his career marks. And he’s accomplishing all of this, in part, because of good swing decisions and a *league-leading* 96.3% zone contact rate.

Hoerner could probably stand to be a little more selective (his O-swing rate is not horrible, but not particularly strong and his walk rate is minuscule), but that’s much less of a concern when he’s otherwise hitting the ball so often and with so much authority.

So the conclusion today? Literally don’t change a thing, Nico. Your plan of attack and overall execution is working just fine and the results will come in time. In the meantime, the production of his high-quality defense up the middle and the results he has obtained offensively still leave him as one of the top-40 players in MLB by fWAR. I’ll take that.

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami