Intentional or not, Arenado expanding the field

Intentional or not, Arenado expanding the field

DENVER -- Nolan Arenado says he doesn't invest too heavily in advanced analytics to tailor his offensive adjustments, though improved plate discipline is a priority for the Rockies' third baseman in 2017.

From 2015 to '16, Arenado nearly doubled his walk rate from 5.1 to 9.8 percent, and his swing-and-miss rate on pitches Statcast™ perceived outside the strike zone dropped from 8.3 to 5.9 percent. After Wednesday's 6-0 loss to the Padres, he was 11-for-36 and had hit in eight of the Rockies' first nine games. Arenado didn't strike out until his 19th plate appearance.

"He has the ability to really manipulate his hands and get them in a spot where the barrel is in a good spot to make contact," Black said. "He's a guy that doesn't have a groove swing. He can hit all types of pitches in all sorts of locations. At times, it could be a little dangerous for a hitter, because you think you can hit everything. But if you combine that with an ability to control the strike zone, you're going to have a lot of success."

Arenado has no reservations about being a pull hitter. In 2016, he hit .413 and slugged .854 on balls he put in play to the left, which by no coincidence, is where he hit 38 of his 41 homers. On inside pitches Arenado swung at that Statcast™ perceived would be balls, he went 33-for-110, with 10 barrels. Only three others had as many barrels on such pitches.

Arenado has tied for the National League lead in homers each of the past two years, combining for 83, and of those, 27 have come on pitches Statcast™ perceived outside the strike zone -- an MLB high in that span -- and most of those pitches were on the hands.

Yet so far in 2017, although he says it's not necessarily intentional, Arenado has hit to all directions. In Tuesday's win over the Padres, he lifted just his third homer to right in the Statcast™ Era (since 2015). And on Saturday, Arenado launched a 431-foot homer to straightaway center in the first inning on a Clayton Kershaw curveball -- his trademark out pitch that has limited batters to a .164 slugging percentage against, an MLB-best among curveballs in the Statcast™ Era.  

Arenado's solo homer

"He's come a long way from when he first got called up," Kershaw said. "I think he's always had the talent, but he's really turned himself into one of the best hitters in the game, for sure."

Yet Arenado maintains he's not intentionally expanding the field -- "I don't want to change my game. I'm a pull guy," he said -- and his approach stands even in lulls. In the World Baseball Classic, Arenado struck out a tournament-high 11 times and finished 5-for-31 (.161) in eight games, a performance he chalked up to an untimely slump.

"I didn't play great, the way I wanted to, but it's helped me keep my nerves calm," Arenado said. "Every game there was super, super intense. And these first games we've played, they're big games, but they're not playoff atmosphere like the ones I was in. They're kind of just normal games. I'm able to stay calm. I've been through it before, intense games in tight situations, but I'm able to just stay calm and do my thing."

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.