Can Jedd Gyorko Bounce Back in 2015?


Two weeks into the 2014 season, the Padres made big news by signing Jedd Gyorko to a six-year contract. Well, compared to other Padres news at the time, it was big news. Compared to trading for Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, and Justin Upton in a week, it doesn’t seem quite as big. But at the time, Gyorko was one of the biggest names on the Padres. He was coming off a rookie year in which he led the team with 23 homers in just over three-quarters of season. For a team that had Chase Headley jerseys front and center at the souvenir stands, a young power hitter like Gyorko was a big deal.

It’s hard to believe that was less than eight months ago.

Gyorko finished the season hitting .210 with 10 homers and 51 RBI. And he’s signed through 2019. Should we be worried?

Well, yes and no.

2014 was a tale of two seasons for Gyorko. For the first two months of the season, until he went on the DL with plantar fasciitis on June 4, Gyorko was the worst hitter in all of baseball. He was hitting .162. His on-base percentage of .213 was thirty-eight points lower than the second-worst hitter in the majors. He was striking out in more than a quarter of his plate appearances. For 201 at-bats, Gyorko made Mario Mendoza look like Tony Gwynn.

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That’s a very long, very deep slump. Gyorko looked completely lost at the plate. He was pulling his shoulder out on nearly every swing. For most second-year players struggling like this, a trip to AAA is the prescribed cure. Go down, fix your swing, start hitting again, and we’ll see you in a few weeks, hopefully. But with the high-profile contract signing, the Padres didn’t seem very keen on sending Gyorko down. That plantar fasciitis injury came just in the nick of time. A more cynical writer might say the injury was invented just in time.

Gyorko was on the DL for seven-and-a-half weeks and missed 45 games.

When he returned, however, he was a different hitter. In the second half, he hit .260, nearly 100 points higher than in the first half.

But more importantly than simply lifting his average, Gyorko was being more selective at the plate. While in the first half of the year, he was striking out more and walking less than in 2013, after his return from the DL, his plate discipline soared.

His strikeouts dropped and his walks jumped, but not just to his rookie levels. He reduced his strikeout rate nearly 4%, and his walk rate climbed from 6.3% to 10.8%. Strikeout rate and walk rate have a high predictive value for future success, and these peripherals bode well for a solid return in 2015.

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In the final column of the chart above, however, is Gyorko’s home run rate. In his rookie year, Gyorko homered 23 times in 525 plate appearances, hitting a homer 4.4% of the time. During his troubling first half last year, that rate dropped nearly 50%, with five homers in 221 PA, a 2.3% home run rate. Despite his second-half resurgence, his power stroke did not return, again hitting only 5 homers in 222 PA.  So while Gyorko was a better overall hitter late last year than at any other point in his first two years, it was not reflected in his power numbers.

These are pretty small sample sizes, with just over two months of playing time included in both the first half and second half figures for last season. It’s possible that with a larger sample, Gyorko’s power would be right back where it was in his rookie year.

But in his final 119 AB of 2014, Gyorko only went deep once.

Now, it’s possible that the plantar fasciitis in his foot prevented Gyorko from strengthening his legs for two months, which could certainly have an effect on his power. It’s also possible that, after his dreadful April and May, he just focused on putting the ball in play, which he did quite successfully.

With nearly five months between the end of last season and this year’s spring training, we can only hope that Gyorko will have had enough time to work on his skills, his strength, and his mental approach, to continue his comeback from the depths of the hitting doldrums, and get back to swatting the ball over the fence on a regular basis.