Nico Hoerner is One of the Top Players in MLB Right Now

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Nico Hoerner Is One of MLB’s Hottest Players Right Now

Chicago Cubs

Collectively, the Chicago Cubs may not have had a great series against the Dodgers at Wrigley Field this weekend. But Nico Hoerner sure delivered one heck of an individual performance: 7-18, 2 HRs, one walk, one strikeout. The two homers — one on Friday and Saturday — were Hoerner’s first two of the season, as well as his 3rd and 4th extra base hit over a five-game stretch. The recent onset of power has really taken his slash line up a level: .355/.400/.473 is just a thing of beauty for a leadoff man, eh?

And the hits, oh they just keep coming. The good kind.

As of today, Hoerner (33) has the second most hits in MLB, behind only Ronald Acuña Jr. (34), who’s played in one more game so far. Meanwhile, Hoerner’s 20 runs and 9 stolen bases rank second. His .355 batting average ranks fifth. And he’s one of just 23 players with an OBP still over .400. He really has been nothing short of incredible.

I bring all of this up today, because Hoerner just reached the 100 plate appearance threshold. And through that mark, his 1.2 WAR is tied for 9th best in MLB. Yep. Right now, Nico Hoerner is performing like one of the best players in the entire league.

Rank Among MLB

  • 1.2 WAR (t-9th)
  • 142 wRC+ (34th)*
  • 1.2 BsR (t-12th)**
  • 1.6 DEF (27th)***

*Sixth highest (min. 100 PAs)
**Third highest (min. 100 PAs)
***Third highest (min. 100 PAs)

In terms of results, Nico Hoerner has been one of the top-10 most valuable position players in MLB. And that’s with a shift to second base, where his defensive “value” is reduced in the WAR metric. If he were still doing his thing at shortstop, it’s fair to guess that his WAR total would be even higher with the positional advantage. That doesn’t really “matter,” I’m just trying to give him as much credit as he deserves.

For the most part, I think everyone is aware of how good the results have been. So then, I’m here primarily to share some love on the underlying metrics. Which are just beautiful. Hoerner may have taken some serious developmental steps forward (he’s only 25 after all!).

Line Drive Machine

Nico Hoerner has always been a good line drive hitter, but this season, he’s taken his game up to a new level: 25.6% (top-30 in MLB). And he’s managed to do that without adding to his groundball rate (relative to his career), while going right back up the middle a TON: 41.9% this season (33.8% last year).

Call me old fashioned, but there’s something so perfect about line drives up the middle. It feels like that’s what you’re always supposed to be doing. Or at least what Nico Hoerner should always try to be doing, given his skillset.

Quality Contact

And while Hoerner hasn’t been tearing the cover off the ball relative to the league, his 88.1 MPH average exit velocity is up a full MPH compared to last season and his career. His 38.4 hard% is WAY up versus last season (32.9%) and his career (33.2%). And his soft contact rate is down to just 12.8% (league average is 15.9%).

All of that combined has his expected batting average up to .352 (top 1% in MLB)! That’s right. Hoerner is more or less EARNING his lofty .355 batting average.

Better Splits

For his career, Nico Hoerner has been pretty close to split neutral, with just slightly better numbers against lefties (104 wRC+) than righties (102 wRC+). But he’s taken both marks up significantly this season against lefties (164 wRC+) and righties (134 wRC+).

I’m especially excited to see improvements against right-handed pitching in both strikeout rate (nearly halved it!) and hard% (25.1% –> 28.8%). He’s been a tougher, more well-rounded hitter to face for any pitcher.

Plate Discipline

But perhaps the most exciting “under-the-hood” type development for Nico Hoerner this season is his plate discipline. Hoerner has always been tough to strike out (career 12.5%), but he’s on a whole new planet this year: 7.0% through 100 PAs! SEVEN. Yes, that means he’s struck out just 7 times in 21 games. That is absurd. And here’s how he’s doing it:

  • Out-of-Zone Swing rate: 27.8% (career: 35.3%)
  • In-Zone Contact: 96.9%, 5th in MLB (career: 93.2%)
  • Whiff Rate: 3.6%, 2nd in MLB (career: 7.0%)

To put that into words: He’s hardly ever swinging at non-strikes, he’s making an absurd amount of contact on would-be strikes, and he’s basically always making some contact any time he does decide to swing.

Combining *this* level of plate discipline with harder/better contact and it’s not hard to believe that he’s actually found a new level as a hitter. And while he hasn’t walked a TON this season, he’s walked enough to maintain a 19-game on-base streak, having failed to reach base in just ONE game this entire year (against Brandon Woodruff in Game 2 of the season).

Because of how long he’s been around – and how good he has generally been – it’s probably been a little too easy to sleep on possible offensive improvements from Nico Hoerner. But remember, he STILL hasn’t reached the 1,000 plate appearance threshold for his career. And he’s just 25. I certainly don’t think he’ll be a .350+ AVG, .400+ OBP, .450+ SLG guy for the entire season. But right now, he is, and he’s got the sort of advanced metrics to support it.

Author: Michael Cerami

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