This has been a whirlwind season of questions, hasn't it?
First it was how bad the offense is. How many times would they get no hit? How many times would they strike out? Then, it was the bullpen, which was awful and losing games left and right. Then it was the starting pitchers, who couldn't even make it out of the first inning.
Not once, though, have we talked about third baseman Matt Dominguez. The 24-year old, finally given a starting job out of spring training, has been quiet in his work so far. He's flashed some leather on defense, but is struggling at the plate. He's not as bad as some of the Astros hitters, but he has not been good.
Overall, Dominguez has been worth 0.4 fWAR so far. That projects out to around 2 WAR for the season, despite the fact that Dominguez isn't projected to finish with an on-base percentage over .300.
So, it's time to take a closer look at how Matty D has done. He's now started 27 of Houston's 29 games at third base. Has his defense been as good as advertised? What has his bat really been like in this long-term playing time?
This is why Dominguez is ostensibly in the lineup. His glove is talked about as Gold Glove-caliber, but has that been proven out by his performance and the numbers?
Let's take this in two parts. First, we'll dive into the numbers as they're boring but effective. We'll get to the exciting stuff in a bit.
The defensive metrics have really loved Dominguez in his first 26 starts. He's already accumulated 6 Defensive Runs Saved, all on Plays Made. He's got a UZR of 4.7 in that short time, with most of that coming off his range, which is excellent for his position. Oh, and he's also made 14 out of zone plays already this season.
That's great, but where's the context? How good has he been in relation to the rest of the league? Well, Dominguez ranks first among all major league third baseman in DRS, first in out of zone plays, second in UZR and second in Fielding Runs.
The only guy who's been in his defensive league so far is Manny Machado, who the Orioles have said is really a shortstop who's just playing at third because they want to get his bat in the lineup. Dominguez is basically on the same level as a shortstop at third. That's impressive.
What about compared to recent "Best Defensive Third Basemen" winners?
Adrian Beltre has posted back to back seasons of 13 Defensive Runs Saved with 34 out of zone plays and UZRs around 11-12. This season? Beltre is at -1 DRS and -0.4 UZR with 11 out of zone plays. Methinks his numbers will perk up as the season goes along.
How about Evan Longoria? In his heyday, he was posting 20-22 DRS every season with anywhere from 33 to 63 out of zone plays made and UZRs of 15-19. Now, he's got 5 DRS with six out of zone plays and an early-season UZR of 3.1.
Defensive metrics are very hard to predict over the course of a season, so Matty D may not keep this pace up. But, if he does, he'll likely be in the running for a Gold Glove or Fielding Bible Award.
Can he keep it up? Let's see if he passes the eye test. Here are a few of his highlights from this season.
Here, we see both Dominguez' range and his great arm. He throws across his body as he's still moving towards the plate and still managed to nip the runner.
Again, how athletic is this guy? The anticipation he shows on this jump, combined with the presence after he lands to turn and quickly throw is phenomenal.
One last one, just because.
Your puny shift cannot contain Matty D. He makes plays no matter what! Again, his timing and anticipation are top-notch here, as his is arm.
Yes, Houston, Matty D is that good defensively. Prepare yourself for the indignant article in four months when he's snubbed for a Gold Glove.
There have been plenty of great athletes who couldn't get regular playing time because they can't hit. Dominguez is at least showing his bat has a little value. Through 106 plate appearances this season, Dominguez is hitting .242/.292/.303 with a weighted OnBase Average of .268 and a weighted Runs Created of 65.
That's not great, but Dominguez was also hurt by an early season slump. He's hit .273/.333/.341 in the last two weeks with a walk rate of 4.2 percent and a strikeout rate of 8.3 percent. His batting average on balls in play over that stretch is .300, which is about 25 points higher than his season average.
We're at the point now with Dominguez where some of his hitting stats should stabilize. He's close to seeing his walk rate and strikeout rate stabilize at 5 percent and 9 percent, respectively. That's not great and we could hope for his walk rate to perk up a bit to his minor league averages. But, it's also not a killer.
His line drive rate has also been very good at 23 percent. That stat stabilizes around 150 plate appearances, so we may need a bit more time to see if that's real. That kind of hard contact suggests Dominguez could see his meager batting stats stabilize somewhere around here.
We're also seeing that Dominguez may just be a contact hitter. He has a little pop (ZiPS still projects him for 10 homers, though he hasn't hit one this season). He doesn't miss much now, though his minor league strikeout rates were fairly high. Dominguez is also seeing a ton of pitches, up to 3.9 pitches per plate appearance this year.
This year, though, he's got a a contact rate of close to 85 percent and is swinging through just five percent of the pitches he's seen. Just take a look at this RBI double Dominguez hit below:
He didn't drive the ball with much authority, but is able to put it exacty where it needed to be to score the run. That's a nice piece of situational hitting by Matty D in a clutch situation.
He does the same sort of things here in this YouTube clip courtesy of MLB.
He hits this one with more authority, but doesn't try to do too much with the ball. He gets his single that scores a run by making contact and staying with it.
I'm fine with that kind of output from a guy hitting down in the order. The Astros obviously are too, as he's started most of the team's games at third base. Still, there are more questions about him, like what we can expect for the rest for the season and how his splits have looked so far. Should he be platooned more with another infielder? That's what we'll get into next time we check in on Houston's talented third baseman.