We’ve all known for a while that Kyle Tucker is one of the best players in baseball. I mean, he receives loads of attention from Astros fans claiming him as one of the best players in baseball. That isn’t a secret. Rather, it feels as if Tucker is under-appreciated on a league-wide scale. Since 2021 — Tucker’s first full season — he is 14th in wRC+ (140) and 15th in fWAR (13.7) among qualified position players. Among qualified outfielders, he is eighth in wRC+ and fourth in fWAR. Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts, and Juan Soto are the only outfielders with a higher fWAR than Tucker since 2021. Whenever your name is listed among those three players, the baseball-viewing public ought to pay more attention. I feel like that is becoming the case with Tucker’s performance in 2023.
According to FanGraphs, Tucker has been worth about 4.2 wins this season alone (120 games). Only 12 position players have been worth more wins since Opening Day. With Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez spending copious amounts of time on the IL, Tucker has become the mainstay in a lineup that has experienced numerous peaks and valleys. But he has been the constant, the one and sometimes only reason why the offense kept chugging. He’s also in pursuit of a 30 home run, 30 stolen base season. For those keeping track, he remains only six dingers and six swipes away from that goal with 40 games left.
There is little doubt that we’re watching one of Tucker’s best seasons as a hitter to date unfold. Batting .297/.377/.526 with a 146 wRC+ entering Thursday, the Astros’ outfielder has continued his ascent among the top hitters of the game. One part of his overall success can be linked to his improved performance against fastballs, specifically four-seam fastballs (plus-19 Batter Run Value) compared to last season (plus-16 Batter Run Value).
Kyle Tucker’s Numbers, Four-Seam Fastballs
Tucker’s success against four-seam fastballs isn’t anything new. But his improvement compared to last season is notable. First, he is slugging better against the offering, with 12 doubles and seven home runs this season off of a four-seam. Last season, he had 12 doubles and nine home runs in nearly 100 more plate appearances. Second, there are the shift restrictions now in place, effective this year. As noted by Mike Petriello in July, the left-handed Tucker was estimated to have picked up to 12 hits thanks to the new positioning rules. To be clear, this estimate isn’t limited to a specific pitch type. But we can speculate how the new positioning rules are possibly impacting Tucker hitting against four-seam fastballs by pitch-specific BABIP (four-seam numbers below).
- 2023: .372
- 2022: .297
- 2021: .321
That said, BABIP does require a large sample (generally about 800 balls in play) for stabilizing purposes. Also, take into account that Tucker’s .300 BABIP is more in line with 2021 — his first full season — than 2022 when he had a .261 mark. It is certainly possible that he simply regressed towards the mean. But I do think the shift restrictions have played a role in his BABIP rebounding to some degree.
Following an offseason when extension talks weren’t particularly close, Tucker continues to prove his worth. While his defensive metrics have tumbled a bit following last season’s Gold Glove campaign, his bat has more than made up for it. And the price tag of his next contract only continues to increase.