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Inside the Numbers: A Close Look at Tommy Pham’s Troubling Slump

After Wednesday night’s loss to Cleveland and another 0-for night, a down but determined Tommy Pham told reporters that he planned to report to work on Thursday to solve the mystery of his malfunctioning swing.

The Cardinals are off today. But Pham has many things to do.

Important responsibilities that demand his attention. He does not have time for relaxation or rest. Not when he’s overloaded with frustration. How much fun could he have on a day off, anyway? Until Pham gets this slump out of the way … this typical baseball slump that expanded into an even larger SLUMP …  do you expect this proud and intense man to spend the day on the couch, watching Netflix and eating gooey butter cake?

Pham has a 2018 season to save.

He must reaffirm that 2017 was for real.

He has a trunk of sunken statistics to pull up to the league-average level, and go higher from there.

Pham must conquer this slump and wrestle the damn demons into submission. That requires the preparation of clicking through more video study, and sweating through hundreds of swings in the cage. So It’s the ballpark or bust … as in T. Pham’s head imploding.

As Pham told reporters late Wednesday: “I’m tired of using my off-days as work days. But I’ll be here. Right now, it’s tough for me to have mental clarity knowing I’m underperforming and to sit back and do nothing about it.”

As the Chairman of the Tommy Pham Appreciation Society, I feel bad for this man. I know how much he cares. He doesn’t just battle a slump. This is like a fight to the death, metaphorically speaking. Understanding his wiring, I also understand the reasons for this grim, glowering obsession.

The “Before” and “After” portraits of Pham’s rise and tumble are startling.

On the left side are his stats from the start of the season through May 11. That’s his first 32 games and 129 plate appearances.

On the right side are Pham’s stats from May 12 through June 27.  That covers Pham’s last 41 games and 169 plate appearances.

Batting average:  .343 …  .184

Onbase %  .450 … .231

Slugging % .593 … .291

OPS:   1.042 … .522

Park-adjusted runs created: 85% above league average … 58% below average.

Ground ball rate: 44% … 59%

Strikeout rate:  18.6% … 30.2%

Walk rate:  16.3% … 5.3%

Swinging strike rate:  7.2% … 10.8%

Contact rate:  81.3% … 75%

Contact rate on strikes:  92.5% … 86.8%

Chasing non-strikes:  21% … 25.6%

Line drive rate:  27.4% … 16%

Hard contact rate:  44.1% … 45.4%

At-bats per home run: 15.4 … 31.6

Batting average on balls in play:  .390 … .233.

OK, there are the widely disparate profiles. If you’re still with me, please note the big gap in batting average on balls in play (aka BIP). Pham has been stung by bad batted ball randomness, but not as much as you’d think because he’s hitting so many more ground balls. And Pham, who bats right-handed, is hitting a high percentage of those ground balls to the left side of the infield. Opponents scout this and know this, so Pham has become easier to defend. He’s lapsed into some predictable trends and habits. And none are good for his offensive health.

Here’s what I mean, and the only way I can explain is by sharing the numbers:

— Pham’s contact rate has slipped, and he’s chasing more balls out of the zone. And when there’s such a huge jump in strikeout rate, Pham only decreases his chances of drilling the ball and doing damage. And when he has all but dismissed the idea of trying to draw walks, he’s swinging at pitches that pitchers want him to go after.

— When Pham was on a big-time roll earlier, his pull rate was 39% … and during this terrible slump, that pull rate has climbed to 46,3%. That’s a big deal. Because as I noted, Pham is not only pulling the ball, but he’s pounding too many grounders to the third baseman, or shortstop.

— During his drought, Pham has had 40 at-bats — 25.3% of his total at bats during this time — end with a grounder to the left side. And when Pham hits a ground ball that qualifies as medium or soft contact, he has four hits in 35 at-bats (.114.) And he’s 5 for 40 overall on pulled grounders (.125.) His overall batting average on pulled balls in play is .195 (9 for 46). But he has pulled for three homers.

— When Pham was in his hot zone, he had fine results hitting the ball to the middle (or center.) Pham is batting .229 when he hits center during his slump; that’s because he isn’t getting enough hard contact. For example: during this slump, Pham has had only four at-bats end with a line drive to center. And he had two hits on the four at-bats, so the line drives are a huge plus. But of the 35 balls he put in play (center) during this skid, only four were line drives. Even when Pham hits ground balls up the middle he gets better results; 6 for 18 overall (.333) and 4 for 8 (.500) on hard-contact grounders.

— Pham has hit balls to the opposite field only 21% of the time as he’s struggled since May 12. And he’s put only 23 balls in play to the oppo side. But even during this difficult stretch Pham thrives when hitting the ball to right field and right center: 9 for 23 (.391) with three extra base hits and a 1.087. But he just doesn’t go there enough.

— Which brings me to my final observation: pitchers are working Pham on the outside corner because they know he’s gone pull crazy. And they are exploiting his bad tendency unfortunate change in hitting approach.

The particulars, cultivated from my Inside Edge account:

  • Pham is slugging just .098  (41 ABs) on outside pitches over the last 30 days, worst in MLB. (League average .374.)
  • He’s slugging  .062 (16 ABs) on fastballs away over the last 30 days, worst in MLB. (League average  .453.)
  • Pham is batting just .062 (1-for-16) on fastballs away over the last 30 days , worst in MLB. (League average .284.)
  • Pham has swung and missed at a rate of 70%  (7/10) on breaking balls down and away over the last 30 days .
  • He’s batting .098 (4 for 41) on outside pitches over the last 30 days, tied for worst in MLB. League average .245

Finally …

After Wednesday’s game Pham said his swing is too long, and loopy and he’s trying to get it right. We assume that this explains his increased vulnerability to fastballs over the last month:

On pitches of 94 mph over the last 30 days Pham is batting .138  (4 for 29), slugging .138, and has a .276 OPS that ranks third worst in MLB over that time.

Pham will get this figured out. He’s gone through much worse than this, and prevailed many times.

He’ll do it again.

Thanks for reading …

-Bernie

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