Phillip Ervin got out to a great start in 2015 for the Daytona Tortugas. The 2013 1st round draft pick needed a strong start in the worst kind of way after struggling for almost the entirety of 2014. On the season he’s hitting .266/.348/.430, good for an OPS of .778. At face value, a .778 OPS doesn’t sound all that impressive, but when you consider that the league average OPS is just .654, it really puts it in perspective how pitcher friendly the Florida State League is. Ervin’s performance landed him inside the Top 10 of my just released Cincinnati Reds Midseason Top 25 Prospect List.
Ervin destroyed the baseball in April. As in he hit .346/.429/.692 with six doubles and seven home runs. The league had meetings about renaming the MVP Award after him. Things have really slowed down for Ervin ever since the calendar flipped to May. In 40 games since April ended, the outfielder has hit .226/.308/.302 with just six doubles and two home runs. Let’s take a look at the two stretches:
Two things really jump out from the two stretches. The power and the batting average on balls in play. Is there anything that we can dive deeper into to try and find out what is leading to such a difference?
In the past, Phillip Ervin has been a pull heavy hitter. In April, he was a very pull heavy hitter. Then things changed. In April, when Ervin got the ball into the outfield, it was pulled 51% of the time. Since then, when the ball has reached the outfield, it’s only been pulled 35% of the time.
All nine of his home runs have been pulled to left or left enter. Only one of his 12 doubles has gone to right field. The power has disappeared from Phillip Ervin’s bat because he’s pulling the ball significantly less than he did early on and in a pitcher friendly league like the Florida State League the only way you are likely to hit for power is to pull the ball.
Given how much that Ervin has pulled the ball throughout his career (coming into 2015 he had gone to left field just 11% of the time), to see it swing so much to the opposite field would suggest that pitchers figured out they can’t pitch him inside or middle-in and have put it in the gameplan to pound the outer third of the plate. Ervin has gone with that it would seem and is hitting the ball the other way a lot more often than he ever has before.
Using the entire field isn’t a bad thing, but unless you’re Joey Votto (or a few other very select hitters), you aren’t going to hit for much power by using that approach. It will generally help a player hit for a better average as defenses can’t shift one way or the other, but very few can hit for power using the entire field. For Ervin to hit for more power he’s going to have to get back to pulling the ball more, but it is nice to see that he can go the other way after a pull heavy approach in the first two years of his career.
The start of the year was incredible for Phillip Ervin, but hardly anyone is as good as the level he was playing at. He’s struggled some since then, but he’s not as bad as his numbers suggest he’s been since either. Overall he’s been a strong bat this season, even though it’s come in a rather inconsistent way. He’s showing signs of things he didn’t show in a lost 2014 season and that’s a real good sign for the future.