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Prospect Watch: Three stats that explain the slow MLB start of Tigers rookie first baseman Spencer Torkelson

Prospect Watch: Three stats that explain the slow MLB start of Tigers rookie first baseman Spencer Torkelson

Detroit Tigers first baseman Spencer Torkelson was one of the preseason favorites to win the American League Rookie of the Year Award. Not only did he have the pedigree that stems from being a recent No. 1 pick, but he was assured a wealth of playing time after cracking Detroit’s Opening Day roster. (Counting stats tend to win awards, after all.) 

Torkelson has indeed played most every day throughout the first third of the season, yet you would be justified in writing off his chances of winning much of anything this fall.

Through Torkelson’s first 50 big-league games, he’s batted .194/.296/.316. FanGraphs tracks a statistic called wRC+ that adjusts for ballpark and other variables; according to it, Torkelson is tied for the indignity of being the worst-hitting first baseman in the game. This isn’t a matter of misleading topline results, either. 

To prove as much, let’s examine three aspects that explain why Torkelson has disappointed to date.

1. Poor component measures

At the risk of oversimplifying hitting, you generally have to do one of two things on a consistent basis to produce at the big-league level: either you hit the ball hard often or you hit the ball at an optimized angle that allows you to find holes in the opposition’s defense. 

Torkelson has done neither.

Through those first 50 games, Torkelson ranks in the 28th percentile in batted balls hit 95 mph or harder and in the 16th percentile in balls hit between 10 and 30 degrees. Mind you, that’s among players with 100 plus trips to the plate, meaning we’re not stacking the deck by comparing him to individuals with small samples working in their favor.

Torkelson, to his credit, has drawn his share of walks. Again, though, it’s hard to be a productive big-league hitter if you’re not doing one of the two things mentioned above on a consistent basis.

2. Underwhelming flyball distance 

It would be reasonable to think…

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