San Francisco Giants outfielder Austin Slater has had an up-and-down career since he debuted with the team in 2017.
In previous years, Slater has struggled with getting enough loft on his swing. That’s not surprising from a Stanford alum, as Cardinal hitters are often taught to focus on hitting ground balls or line drives.
Case in point, in 2018, Slater posted a 63.1 percent ground ball rate. That’s extremely high and would have been the highest rate in baseball among qualified hitters if he had accumulated the requisite number of plate appearances.
Meanwhile, the prevailing hitting philosophy around baseball is to get the ball in the air so as to best utilize a player’s power. Slater wasn’t doing that with his high groundball tendencies.
Since then, Slater has worked on his swing mechanics and the results are showing that the work he put in has paid dividends. So much so that the San Francisco Giants may now be wondering exactly how Slater fits into their long-term plans.
In 118 plate appearances this year, Slater has lowered his ground ball rate to 48.5 percent this season. However, he is doing much more than just getting the ball in the air at a higher frequency.
His hard-hit rate sits at 51.5 percent, which is great.
Among qualified hitters, no player has a hard-hit rate better than 51.5 percent. Christian Yelich is the closest at 51.4 percent. So Slater is not only hitting the ball hard more often, he’s doing it with a great frequency than just about any other player in baseball.
Amid his contact improvements, he has also shown improved plate discipline this year. His strikeout rate remains high at 28 percent, but he has mixed in a 14.4 percent walk rate as well. Even when he is not getting hits, he is still finding a way to get on-base.
The 26-year-old has really put on a nice show against the Arizona Diamondbacks this week in the hitter-friendly confines of Chase Field. In three games, Slater is 5-for-7 with two RBI, two runs scored, and two walks. That is a lot of productivity in only nine plate appearances.
The San Francisco Giants do not have the type of lineup where a .920 OPS should be flying under-the-radar, but it seemingly has.
With only six weeks remaining in the 2019 season, Slater has built a pretty compelling case that he should be in the Giants future plans. On the year, he has posted a stout .293/.407/.515 line for a 144 OPS+.
Since he has only hit three home runs, on the year, the question will be whether he can produce enough extra-base power as a corner outfielder. Despite the lack of over-the-fence production, nearly half of his 29 hits have gone for extra bases.
While the Giants evaluate their future outfield plans, they will also appreciate that Slater is doing good things on both sides of the ball:
The San Francisco Giants suddenly find themselves with a surplus of young outfielders.
Austin Slater has put himself squarely in the mix for a long-term role with the team.