Diaz has nine more days to prove his worth

Hard-hitting right-hander has trial in Encarnacion's absence

Alex Hooper
August 12, 2018 - 7:18 pm
Cleveland Indians designated hitter Yandy Diaz (36) triples during the ninth inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – Exit velocity is not the end all, be all. This we know.

Yes, including the sabermetric community.

What does not seem to be common thought is that Yandy Diaz needs to be a part of the Cleveland Indians active roster. At the least, it is not common within the Indians organization.

The 27-year-old will have 10 days to hit himself into a place on the roster, though nothing is guaranteed. Through day one, the attempt has been a rousing success.

Diaz posted a 3-for-5 day on Sunday with three singles and two runs batted in. A fine day, right? Consider that Diaz had three of the five hardest-hit of the day.

By now, even passive fans have for sure heard the case for Diaz based on his hard-hit batted-ball profile. The righty ranked 7th in average exit velocity (91.5 mph) in 2017 among those with 100 batted ball events, in between NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, and NL MVP third-place Paul Goldschmidt. Diaz sat in 2nd entering Sunday, with a minimum 10 batted balls, given his four appearances.

What separates Diaz, Stanton and Goldschmidt are their quality of contact. When factoring in the launch angle in 2017, Goldschmidt ranked 11th with a .402 xwOBA, while Stanton ranked 16th at .397. Diaz finished tied for 135 with a .338 xwOBA because of his propensity to smack the ball into the ground.

That has changed in 2018.

Though Diaz does not have enough batted ball events at the Major League level to make any sort of a point that his profile has changed, his minor league numbers say otherwise. Things have not been perfect at Triple-A Columbus, but Diaz has dropped his groundball rate from 63.5% in 2017 to 52% in 2018, while elevating his flyball rate from 16.9% to 28%. He has gone from 3.76 groundball per flyballs to 1.86.

Through the obvious change in approach at the plate, Diaz has sustained his linedrive rate (19.7% to 19.9%), and continued his dominance of the International League. Diaz still carries an elite 16.4% walk rate, and has produced 131% of the value of the average International League player.

For now, Diaz has carried the same profile back to the Majors, and the success has followed through a minute sample size. There is no reason to believe the profile will go anywhere, as Diaz’s approach has been consistent.

While he may never have the line drive and fly ball rates to replicate Stanton and Goldschmidt, his elite ability to hit the ball hard will make him an above average ML hitter.

He may already be there, he just needs the chance.

Again, you must go back to the Indians to ask why. Diaz has played 20 innings in the outfield at the major league level, but has never been great at the position. Yet if you ask anyone in-house, it sounds as if he is completely incapable of filling the void.

“Well I don't think he did very well in left field, so if you put him in right field it will be harder,” Manager Terry Francona said on July 24. “I don't want to make an argument, I hate to talk our players down ever. I think you'd be asking a lot of him to go play right field.”

At the same time, the Indians have run Melky Cabrera out in right for 200 innings, where he has registered -3 defensive runs saved and a -9.1 UZR/150. Over 1174 1/3 innings for his career, Cabrera is -13 with a -5.9 UZR/150.

The team obviously does not value defense too much in right field, but how much worse would things be if it were Diaz?

Perhaps a lot. While defensive metrics require large sample sizes to draw conclusions for – usually 3000, which would render even Cabrera’s numbers not enough – Diaz has posted a -1 DRS and -1 UZR in 20 innings in left.

Should Diaz be so incapable of playing the outfield, where he hasn’t played at all in 2018, the option remains to play him at third, shifting Jose Ramirez to second, and Kipnis to the outfield.