The game of baseball is one of adjustments. You’ve heard it over and over – from managers, coaches, and players for your entire life. During the 2018 season Josh VanMeter began to make some adjustments at the plate and over the last 44 games of the year in Triple-A with the Louisville Bats he hit .310/.370/.600. And that was before the juiced baseball debacle of 2019. That was followed up with a .336/.431/.736 line in the first 30 games of 2019 with the Bats before he was called up in early May and sat on the bench for most of the next month-and-a-half, getting just seven starts in that time.
He’d go back-and-forth between Triple-A and the majors from mid-June through mid-July before being called up on the 17th of July and sticking around the rest of the year. VanMeter was solid, but unspectacular in that stretch as he got more consistent playing time. The power was there as he had 10 doubles, a triple, and eight homers in 207 plate appearances while hitting .240/.324/.437. He also went 17-for-23 in stolen base attempts between the two levels during the season. Combine that with his ability to play third, second, first, left, and right field and he’s got a good profile for a utility player at worst – but a chance to make more impact if he can hit for a little better average.
It might be time for another adjustment for Josh VanMeter, and as he told Jesse Borek of MLB.com, it might be time to get a little bit more aggressive.
One of the things that I want to do better is be a little more aggressive, especially early in the count,” VanMeter said. “I think that there were a lot of times last year where I was too passive. But it’s also kind of what got me there, from my experience at Triple-A. Last year, I was a patient hitter and took advantage of mistakes. Obviously, in the big leagues, there’s not as many mistakes. I definitely got to be more ready for pitch one than I was last year.
His walk rate of 11.2% in the Major Leagues matched up to his 11.4% that he had in Louisville. Both rates are well above-average. VanMeter didn’t expand the strikezone often, chasing non-strikes just 25% of the time in the Major Leagues last season – the league average rate was 31.6%. But as he notes, he needs to be more ready for the first pitch than he has been.
VanMeter saw a lower than average first pitch strike rate, just 57.7% (60.9% league average). But he also only swung at the first pitch 12% of the time. The average rate was more than twice that in Major League Baseball last season, coming in at just over 28% of the time. For the now 24-year-old VanMeter, swinging on the first pitch was great – he hit .462/.500/1.077 on the first pitch at a plate appearance with two doubles and two home runs among his six hits in 13 at-bats. That’s significantly better than the league as a whole, but the rest of the league crushed the first pitch, too – hitting .354/.364/.630. We should be sure to note, though, that these first pitch numbers only include times when contact was made.
Based on what we know about Josh VanMeter, understanding the strikezone is a strength of his. He’s walked at a good clip in the Majors and upper levels of the minors. And while his time in the big leagues is limited somewhat, the information we do have shows that he doesn’t chase non-strikes with any sort of frequency. But we do know that he swings at strikes at a much lower than average rate – just 58.6% of the time, which was the 15th lowest rate among 360 players with at least 200 plate appearances in 2019. The league average rate is 68.5%.
We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out. And it may not even play out in Cincinnati immediately for VanMeter, who is battling for a spot on the roster could wind up in Triple-A if he doesn’t grab a spot on the 26-man roster. But perhaps a slightly more aggressive approach could work out for the Indiana native who was one of the more patient hitters in the game in 2019.