Padres second baseman Jedd Gyorko turned in a heck of a rookie season in 2013. He led all rookies in the MLB with 23 home runs, ranked second with 63 RBI, and finished in 6th place in National League Rookie of the Year voting. Padres fans are hoping for a great sophomore season from the young slugger. Similarly, fantasy baseball junkies are wondering if we will see a step forward or a step backward from Gyorko in 2014. So, let’s dive into it.
Nothing about Gyorko’s game has been more consistent than his power batting. He slugged .552 with 24 home runs in 140 minor league games in 2011, followed up by a .547 SLG with 30 home runs in just 126 games in 2012. He then proceeded to record a .444 SLG as he crushed 23 home runs in 125 games with the Padres in 2013. Gyorko’s 162-game average would have yielded him 30 home runs in his first Major League season.
Those 23 long balls all came after a very slow start to the season, as Gyorko went homer-less in 25 games in April. This raises the idea that he may have had some trouble finding his power stroke so early in the season. If he can have a hotter start in 2014, he may be able to accumulate better power numbers on the year.
Gyorko’s 15.9% HR/FB (home run to fly ball ratio) is above average and is certainly sustainable. His 39.8% fly ball percentage makes sense for a hitter like him, and it’s probably not going to change way too much. His power is consistent and has been for a while. It’s expected that in a full Major League season he’d crack out about 25 to 30 homers, and nothing about his numbers says that he can’t do it.
Gyorko’s home ballpark in San Diego, which some may imagine would hold him back from hitting the long ball, doesn’t seem to be an issue going forward. After they moved in the fences at the previously pitcher-friendly PETCO Park before the 2013 season, the park became more neutral for producing offense. In terms of home runs, the ballpark ranked 17th last year. It’s no hitter’s haven, but Gyorko made it his home. He smashed 13 homers last year in his 62 games at PETCO, a few more than his 10 homers in 62 games on the road. For his sake, it’s good to see that he can produce both at home and on the road.
Gyorko’s .249 batting average in 2013 was not good, but it wasn’t so awful that his power numbers couldn’t make up for it. Regardless, a .321 career batting average in the minors leads one to believe that he can someday record a higher average. Some level of batting average improvement in 2014 is possible, but it remains to be seen how much.
Gyorko batted .284 in his first 60 games prior to going on the disabled list with a groin injury in early June. He was red hot at the time, batting .323 in the 20 games leading up to the injury. When he returned from the DL in July he batted just .111 in his first 19 games back. This was easily his biggest average slump of the season, but he was able to pick himself up and bat a decent .258 in his final 46 games after that.
While this could seem arbitrary, it does bring forth the idea that he may have just been getting his timing back after the injury. That 19-game slump killed a batting average that seemed like it could have finished in a much more respectable .260 to .270 range. Without that tedious injury break in the middle of the season, he may have a better chance at keeping a higher average.
His .287 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) last year was lower than it had ever been for him. Regardless of his reputation of being a slow poke, he’d normally posted a BABIP well over .300 in the minors (as high as .344 with Triple-A Tuscon in 2012). His 22.5% line drive percentage last season speaks volumes about his ability to make hard contact and it brings even more confusion to his BABIP being below normal. Hitting line drives at the rate that he had been should have yielded a higher BABIP and probably a higher batting average to go with it. Luck may not have had everything to do with his batting average, but if his BABIP rises in 2014, it can help him out at least a little bit.
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What’s holding Gyorko’s batting average back more than anything is his high strikeout rate. Last year he recorded a below average strikeout percentage of 23.4%, as he struck out 123 times in 125 games. Contrarily, the second baseman’s strikeout rate was just 17.4% from 2011 to 2012 in the minors.
Gyorko was aggressive in his rookie season, and had some issues keeping up with big league pitching. His 13% swinging strike percentage was far too high (league average was 9.3%), and he batted an awful .165 in 2-strike counts. He was swinging at too many pitches that he couldn’t hit; missing on 54.5% of pitches he swung at outside of the strike zone (league average is 66.6%). He was anxious at the plate and it showed. Improvement in this facet of his game will come in time, and I do expect him to strikeout a little bit less in 2014.
All of these things considered, Gyorko’s average should head upward to the .260’s range. A .265 batting average would be my best guess, and .275 is probably the ceiling at this stage in his career.
Last year, he scored 62 runs and had 63 RBI in his 125 games played. In a 162-game average, this would have come out to 80 runs and 82 RBI. Unfortunately for him, the Padres offense seems very similar to last year, and probably won’t improve much in 2014.
The Padres ranked 24th in the MLB in runs scored last season. It’s not the worst offense to be playing in, but there hasn’t been many offseason moves to predict a much higher run total for the team. Gyorko should find himself in the middle of that lineup, perhaps batting clean up quite a bit. This could help him to break 80 RBI’s on the season, but I’d be hard-pressed to believe that he’d score much more than 70 runs. He’s in the best position to bat in runs on that whole team, and he should get his chance to do it.
I do not see a sophomore slump in the cards for Gyorko. If he can play at least 150 games, I think he hits 25+ homers with 70 runs, 80+ RBI, and around a .265 batting average. This would easily make him a top-10 second baseman and a steal of a pick around the 9th or 10th round in re-draft leagues. He should also solidify himself as the best hitter in the Padres lineup.