Just three days before Major League Baseball’s 2022 opening day the Rays went out and made a substantial roster move: Austin Meadows was traded to the Detroit Tigers.
While the move had several different roster implications, it seemed like getting 23-year-old infielder Isaac Paredes in return was a big reason why the Rays opted to pull the trigger. He made his presence known this past week as he blasted two 400+ foot homers against his former club.
When players are traded to the Rays, we often see internet takes such as “What are they going to unlock with this guy?” And while it does not always work out that way, it is interesting to monitor player trends after they settle in with new teams. It’s only been a couple of weeks so far for Paredes, but there are already signs of change in some of his approach metrics. Time for some digging in.
First off, it’s important to understand the type of hitter that Isaac has been in the past. Paredes has a great hitting track record in the minor leagues. He’s a career minor league .271 / .361 / .427 (125 wRC +) batter despite almost always being very young for his level. He also owns a career 10.6 BB% and a 13.4 K% in the minors, both of which are very strong figures.
Paredes also has amassed over 2,200 career plater appearances in the minors, which provides reliability to the great plate discipline and contact skills he has shown. These tendencies have shown up during his time in the big leagues as well. In other words, these two skills of his are legit.
Impacting the baseball is where Paredes has fallen short though, as he often posted below average slugging percentages and isolated power figures throughout his career. Many advanced Statcast metrics such as average exit velocity, hard-hit rate, and maximum exit velocity also point to Paredes being below average in the power department, but again his big league career is still very young.
To bring it all together, Paredes does a few things extremely well (plate discipline and contact) while other skills of his lag behind (power metrics). While you could argue that maybe he does not need to change a thing, and that his strengths were and are good enough for him to be a productive big league hitter right now, it looks like Paredes is indeed making some adjustments to try to tap into more power.
The first major difference for Paredes in 2022 has been the direction in which he’s hit the ball. Isaac is pulling the ball much more often with the Rays. In the past, Paredes has usually been one to use the whole field, and that is reflected in high opposite field percentages throughout his minor league career.
This year however, Paredes has pulled 59.3% of his batted balls in the major leagues, which is significantly higher than the 46.0 pull% that he posted across 2020 and 2021. Below is a rolling graph to break this down to a game-by- game level, via FanGraphs:
This suggests that Paredes is making a conscious effort to pull the ball more often, as he’s gone from below to now above the league average pull rate of about 47%.
This trend is also apparent in his time with the Rays AAA affiliate. He has pulled 57% of his batted balls in Durham too, which is something he has not done in the minors since 2018. Because of this shift in approach, he already hit 16 extra base hits in 147 plate appearances across both MLB and AAA this year.
Now, pulling the ball isn’t everything when it comes to hitting for power, you do also have to hit the ball in the air in order to rack up those extra base hits. Paredes is lifting the ball more in 2022 too. His fly ball rate is 55.6% in MLB this year, which is way up from his 36.7% mark across 2020 and 2021. Again, his MLB sample size is very small so far this year, but we’re seeing a similar trend in AAA for him too, where his flyball rate is up over 9% higher than where it was in AAA last year.
We can also pair these two trends and see that he’s already pulled 5 flyballs this year in the big leagues (which includes his 3 homeruns), that matches the total that he accumulated over his first two years in Detroit (around six times as many plate appearances as he has this year).
The upshot: Paredes is actively trying to do damage on more pitches than he used to. His previous approach seemed geared toward slapping grounders and liners up the middle and the other way, and now it appears as if he has a different mindset at the plate.
We can see evidence of this in his swing tendencies too. While Paredes’ overall swing rate has not changed much, he is targeting different pitches to swing at. Per Baseball Savant, Paredes has swung at 73.8% of the pitches that he’s seen in the upper two thirds of the strike zone this season. That mark is way up from his 58.2% swing rate on those same pitches from his days in Detroit.
This means that Paredes is swinging at pitches that result in flyballs (and ultimately extra base hits) more often than he ever has in MLB. To pull up an example of this, let’s go back to his first homerun in last Wednesday’s game against Detroit. Not only did Paredes take an aggressive swing on the pitch that resulted in the homerun, but he took multiple rips during that at-bat looking to do damage.
The first pitch of the at-bat was a curveball that missed down-and-in, Ball 1. The next pitch was an up-and-in fastball that Paredes was not going to let sneak by:
An aggressive hack for Isaac but he was a bit out in front on it, 1-1 count now. Both of the next two pitches were secondary offerings that missed out of the zone. On the 3-1 count Garcia came back into the zone with another fastball, and again Paredes was looking to drive a pitch up and out over the plate:
Just missed it again. This set up the 3-2 pitch which was another fastball by Garcia which missed badly over the heart of the plate, and Paredes with that same aggressive approach was finally able to barrel it:
This sequence of pitches encapsulates the new Paredes we have seen in a Tampa Bay uniform. He is swinging at pitches that give him a good opportunity to drive the ball. In previous years, Paredes may have let one or two of those fastballs go by, or instead may have been looking to slap something the other way. This is a new man on a new power mission.
What is exciting for Paredes is that he has not yet sacrificed any contact or plate discipline ability while trying to add power. He is still striking out at a sub-20% clip in both MLB and AAA, just as he almost always has.
The walks have not translated for him yet in MLB this year, but his chase rate is still sitting at a well above average mark, which bodes well for his future walk rate. His walks in AAA this year (11.5%) are also in line with his career norms, which is just another reason why he is likely to carry that skill to MLB this year.
To summarize, the early returns on Paredes’ new attack plan look quite strong, and there are all kinds of interesting metrics under the hood that serve as evidence. Now, there is of course a chance that Paredes takes this new pull-happy, flyball-heavy approach too far and actually hurts his overall production because of it. Up to this point though, there have not been any signs of that happening.
What does seem to be happening is a young hitter adjusting his approach to enhance his profile while also preserving the very good skills that are already in his toolbox. Let’s hope it continues.