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Jake Marisnick: The Real Most Valuable Player on the Astros.

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How sustainable is it?

MLB: Houston Astros at Detroit Tigers Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

You think that headline is crazy. Well, let me parse it for you carefully. While actually playing, Jake Marisnick on the field is the Most Valuable Astro. So far this year, he has contributed more wins while in the game than any other Astro in an equivalent time period.

Jake Marisnick has exactly 1.0 fWAR in 73 plate appearances. That comes to .0136 wins added to the team above that contributed by a hypothetical replacement player per plate appearance. The next most valuable player, George Springer, has 2.6 fWAR in 200 plate appearances. That comes to .013 fWAR per plate appearance. Jake contributes 6/1000’s more wins per game while on the field than runner-up George Springer. (Who leads the league in WAR)

By the way, this is second in the AL only to Mike Trout, at 0.14 fWAR per plate appearance. (70 PA minimum) He is sixth in the AL among all center fielders in WAR, all of whom have two to three times as many plate appearances.

How does he do it? To start with, yes, I’m leading with this, he is second on the team in hitting. Sit down Bregman, Brantley, Correa. If George is on base and we need our best hitter. Marisnick is our man. Marisnick’s wRC+ is second on the team at 158, just ahead of Brantley, 157, and Bregman, 156. On the Astros Marisnick is second in slugging at .597, second in OPS at .958, third in ISO at .284

Of course, Marisnick’s defensive excellence is unchallenged. The DEF component of his WAR rating, 1.9, is also the highest per plate appearance in the American League among center fielders, .026, just ahead of Byron Buxton’s .025. In terms of UZR/150 Buxton has the edge at 22.1, followed by Mike Trout, Leury Garcia, and then Marisnick at 19.8.

Of course, as far as hitting goes, it goes without saying that the excellence that Marisnick has shown in terms of results this year is a very small sample. As well as we know that Marisnick is a master outfielder, we know he has a career of impotence as a hitter. He has had hot streaks before but has never maintained them. Is there any reason to think this year is any different?

The short answer is, yes he will regress, but there is reason to think he has made genuine improvements in his approach. And there is even one aspect of his batted ball profile that is currently well below career average which, if he straightens that out, could even improve his power output.

Let’s start with the cautionary data. He has a ridiculous .415 BABIP. He runs fast (97th percentile) and he is hitting the ball hard, so a somewhat higher than average BABIP is possible in the long run, but .415 is unsustainable. According to Statcast his XBA (expected batting average) is .240, his expected slugging is .410, and his expected wOBA) (weighted on base average) is .306. Current numbers respectively: .313, .597, .405, all considerably higher than Statcast projections. But even the Statcast projections are above Jake’s career averages and very close to league average for an elite defender and base runner.

So let’s look at the areas of fundamental improvement. His K% has dropped from almost 36 to 30 percent. His swing % on pitches outside the zone has improved over last year, down two percent, but his contact rate on all pitches has improved dramatically, up 9% to 76.3%. His whiff percentage has dropped 4.6%. He is seeing more pitches in each plate appearance, 4.08 compared to a career average of 3.88.

His hard hit % by Fangraphs calculations is 34.8%. This is by far the highest in his career and nearly 9% higher than his career average. By Statcast figures the hard hit rate is 43.5%, compared to a career average of 31.8% and an MLB average of 34.2%

So in summary, Jake may not maintain his 158 wRC+ (58% above league average) based on his elevated BABIP and Statcast batted ball profile. However his contact data so far suggests more frequent contact and harder contact than normal for his career, and if it continues, presumably better than career average results in the long run.

And despite the hardest contact in his career, Jake’s home run output lags behind his one other plus year offensively, 2017. He only has .055 home runs per PA this year compared to .062 in 2017.

Here’s why. His average launch angle is 0.6 degrees. His career average is 12 and league average is 11. His percentage of “topped” balls is 37%, compared to a career average of 30%. Conversely Marisnick is getting “under” only 19.6 of his pitches, well below his average. His current ground ball rate is a ridiculous 48.8 %, almost 20% above his career norm. Even with his good hard hit rate, his barrel% is only 6.5%, the lowest since 2016.

Having hit home runs this year with exit velocities well over 110 MPH, and nearly 420 feet to right field, Jake has explosive power. If he can combine his new found contact skills with career average launch angles, this may be the year he blossoms into that five tool phenom we’ve all seen lurking in center field, waiting to bust out at the plate.

Get under the ball just a little Jake. You’re that far from being a superstar.