Ty France cares not for depressed offensive environments.
The 27 year old first baseman has hit .324/.401/.465 with a wRC+ of 165 through his first 163 plate appearances this season. That batting average is a full 90 points higher than the league average — his OBP is 94 points higher and his slugging is 89 points higher — this season. On top of all that, France’s 46 hits are good enough to tie him with Manny Machado for second on the hit leaderboard this season (they are one hit behind Rafael Devers for the top spot).
Among AL first baseman he has the second highest batting average, on base percentage, wOBA, and wRC+. His slugging percentage of .465 is only good for fifth. The right handed bat has been a consistent presence for the M’s in the middle of their lineup so far this season and he has come through in some clutch moments.
All of this leads me to wonder how the hell France has hit so well this season despite the fact that most of his peers appear to be swinging a pool noodles at the plate.
France currently has the second hardest hit rate of his career — the previous high came in 2019 when he only had 201 PAs — despite the fact that his barrel% is the lowest it’s ever been. Which is actually really impressive when you think about it; despite the fact that he isn’t getting the meaty part of the bat to the ball that often he’s still tearing the cover off of it.
But the most impressive part about his production thus far, and what makes me believe it is sustainable long term, is the fact that he’s continuing to make an effort to hit the ball to the opposite part of the diamond. Every season he’s been in the big leagues, he’s put the ball in play to the right side of the field with more emphasis. In 2019, 20.6% of contact went to the opposite side; this season that number stands at 24.4% — a .8% increase from ’21.
The only “concern” I have about his his opposite field contact this season is that he hasn’t hit the ball to right with consistent power.
While I don’t foresee this being a major problem for France as the season moves along, it’ll be interesting to see how other teams change their defensive approaches while the shift is still allowed. As you can tell by the spray chart, he’s clustered a bunch of infield hits to the right side of the infield because of said shift.
Another place that France has defied expectations this season, particularly when it comes to how bad offense has been, is the fact that he’s got an extraordinarily high percentage of fly balls to turn into home runs (16.1%, it’s also the highest of his career thus far). Now part of the reason that number is that high is because he just isn’t hitting that many fly balls this season — a career low of 24.4% — but he has seen an increase in percentage of line drives.
Because he of his increasing hard hit rate, these line drives are quickly finding holes in the defense. That’s how he’s been able to succeed in an offensive environment that has absolutely punished fly ball hitters. In fact, line drive hitters have been least impacted by the inconsistency in the baseball; and the fact that France has been able to adapt so readily to the current norm has made a huge difference for him this season.
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