It might seem like the third time is the charm for Michael A Taylor. Handed a starting role when Adam Eaton went down with a torn ACL, MAT has nearly picked up where Mighty Mouse left off. Since getting plugged into a starting role in Center Field on April 29 through the end of Thursday’s game, Taylor is hitting .328/.369/.557. He’s getting on base and hitting for power, with four doubles, two triples and two home runs, a combination that has him hitting 41% better than league average. He has even swiped two stolen bases to zero caught stealing. Maybe it took a couple turns for Taylor to put it all together, and 2017 is where everything finally clicks?
Before diving into Taylor’s recent string of success, let’s step back and uncover why Taylor’s first two attempts at a starting job failed so spectacularly. Though Taylor hit the ball when he made contact, with a soft hit rate comfortably below 20%, hitting the ball in the first place proved to be a challenge. It’s not that Taylor chased pitches out the strike zone; he was about average in swinging at pitches not in the strike zone. Even though Taylor wouldn’t chase many pitches out of the zone, he still posted below average walk rates because opposing pitchers knew Taylor’s true weakness: contact. Taylor was aggressive on pitches in the strike zone, but his contact rate hovered close to 70% compared to a league average 80%. His swinging strike rate would get as high as 16% (league average is closer to 10%). Take an aggressive approach on pitches in the zone and a swing and miss profile and it’s no surprise that Taylor’s strikeout rates were consistently topping 30%. Hit the ball as hard as you want, but it’s close to impossible to be an everyday big-league player while striking out in 1/3 of all at bats.
Fast forward to 2017 and it certainly seems like Taylor has turned a corner. There is no denying he has been a valuable member of one of the best offenses in baseball over the last 16 games he has played in. However, Taylor hasn’t actually made any changes that would indicate this success is here to stay.
Taylor’s still not walking much and his strikeout rate is now at 37%. He is doing a good job of laying off pitches out of the strike zone and he has been a little more selective when swinging at pitches in the strike zone, but his contact rate is an abysmal 65%. With a swinging strike rate north of 16%, there is no indication that Taylor’s strikeout rate is anything but the real deal. Taylor is hitting the h*ck out of the ball when he does make contact, which has likely been the key to his small sample size success: BABIP luck. Over the course of his career, Taylor has had about average BABIP luck, with BABIPs hovering around the league average of .300. During his time as a starter, he’s running an entirely unsustainable .514 BABIP. As soon as some of those hard hit balls start finding defenders, the MAT of old will make his return.
Taylor has been impressive in stepping into Eaton’s spot, hot streak or not. But the Nationals can’t count on Taylor keeping this up. Luckily for Taylor and unfortunately for the Nationals, there isn’t an internal option ready to take his place. Dusty Baker has been willing to give Brian Goodwin some chances of late, but between his TOOTBLANs and struggles at the plate, he hasn’t made a case to see more playing time. Behind Goodwin, the exciting outfield prospects in the Nationals’ system are still a couple years away, with Victor Robles still in High A and Andrew Stevenson struggling at AAA. It’s no surprise to see the Nationals getting linked to the Royals’ Lorenzo Cain. Mike Rizzo clearly recognizes that Taylor isn’t the long term in answer for the Nationals’ run in 2017. Until something significant changes, though, it’s Taylor’s spot in Center. Let’s hope MAT can keep this unsustainable hot streak doing a little longer before MKT rears his ugly head.Tags: Michael Taylor, Nationals, Nats, Washington Nationals