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What Is Different About Cory Spangenberg?

Very quietly, there has been a Padre who is putting together a very nice season. Going into Wednesday’s action, Cory Spangenberg was hitting .273/.325/.425 with 12 home runs, 47 runs batted in 371 plate appearances. He’s compiled a 98 wRC+ and 1.2 fWAR,which is not great, but definitely something that has been valuable to the team.  An even if it isn’t quite what the team expected when they drafted him 10th overall in 2011 draft, when you look at the scouting reports coming into his rookie season, it seems that he’s becoming almost exactly what they envisioned. Here’s what Baseball Prospectus had to say prior to 2014:

Selected 10th overall in the 2011 draft, Spangenberg is on the cusp of the major leagues, but his profile as a player is closer to below average than anything of impact. The speed is a weapon, but the bat plays light, with a slappy, soft approach that doesn’t force fear on any pitcher. The bat could improve—at least enough to play in some capacity—but the impact talent you would expect to find with a top ten pick has yet to materialize at the professional level, and given the offensive projection, Spangenberg seems unlikely to ever live up to his lofty draft status and initial hype.

What’s interesting is that the weapon they are referencing – the speed – hasn’t actually showed up for Spangenberg while he has been in the majors. This year, he has 8 stolen bases and will probably easily eclipse his high of 9 he had in 2015. Yet, what’s more interesting to me is the power he is showing.

It’s hard to compare numbers for Spangenberg since he’s only had one season’s worth of regular at bats (2015), so all of his other numbers suffer from the “small sample size” argument. Still, when you look at his 2015 and 2017, there are obvious differences. For example, for a guy who wasn’t supposed to hit for much power, Spangenberg has hit for 26 more points of slugging percentage this year compared with 2015. Well, just look at this:

  SLG K% BB% Pull Oppo. FB% GB%
2015 .399 21.7% 8.1% 33.1% 33.9& 24.5% 50.5%
2017 .425 27.0% 6.7% 41.0% 26.6% 28.7% 49.1%

You can see what the difference is: Spangenberg is sacrificing a lot of his swing for more power, in conjunction with the movement that is happening around the game. The results are pretty clear just by looking at the stats. He’s hitting more fly balls and fewer ground balls. That leads to a jump in his pull percentage, meaning he’s actively trying to put the ball in the air more to the pull side.

Take a look at the difference in his launch angles in 2015 and in 2017 to see the noticeable difference between the two.

2015 Baseball Savant

2017 Baseball Savant

This year, he’s hitting balls at a higher elevation that he has in the past. It’s leading to more extra base hits, which invariably leads to more runs. In fact, Baseball Reference has him listed as third on the team with 49 runs created even though he has the fewest plate appearances among the top five players on that list. While he might not show up among league leaders, he’s definitely been a valuable piece for Andy Green and company.

Now, in order to throw some cold water on this are two issues. One is that if you are a believer in the BABIP gods exacting revenge on a player with too high of a number, I have some bad news for you. Spangenberg’s number of .352 could mean that some regression is coming. Since it isn’t too far above the league average, there probably won’t be a cratering of statistics as usual, but expect some regression coming.

Another fact is that there isn’t one fielding statistic, basic or advanced, that has a favorable view of him with the glove. He came up as a second baseman, advanced through the system as a second baseman, and handles the hot corner like a second baseman. However, with one of the team’s better prospects already at the keystone in Carlos Asuaje, they needed to find somewhere to put his bat, so to third base he went. Although, with the demotion of Hunter Renfroe and the success of Yangervis Solarte, Spangenberg will likely find himself in the outfield for a spell.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. His bat has been a pleasant surprise this season, helping the team outperform its Pythagorean record by eight games thus far. When a team is rebuilding, these are the kind of performances it needs to keep its head above water. While it likely won’t mean he blocks a player that could be promoted, he is a cheap addition that is still under team control for three more years. In that time, he can be utilized as a utility player to keep his bat in the lineup and substitute for any players that might be struggling in their promotion to the big leagues. There is a lot of value in that. He’ll be nice to have around for the foreseeable future

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