Donovan Solano has been a pleasant surprise for the San Francisco Giants this season. He was not known for hit bat previously, but his performance at the plate is why the Giants will likely bring him back next season.
Solano has split time at second base and shortstop for the San Francisco Giants, and he has earned more playing time as the season has worn on.
The 31-year-old journeyman has an impressive .337/.367/.467 line for a 120 OPS+ in 196 plate appearances in 2019. To say this type of production is a surprise is an understatement. Prior to this season, Solano had .257/.306/.331 line in 1,068 plate appearances that spanned five seasons. Simply put, he’s been a different hitter this season.
On the surface, Solano has benefited from a .411 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which is extremely high. It would be easy to attribute his breakout season to good fortune. Luck may very well be a factor, but how he is hitting the ball is even more important than that.
In what is now a large sample, Solano has become a line drive machine. In fact, he has recorded a line drive in 35.2 percent of his batted balls. In addition to this, his ground ball rate is at 35.2 percent while his fly ball rate is at 29.7 percent. All of those are healthy rates.
While many hitters are focusing on creating loft in their swing, line drives are still a nice way to generate a high batting average. This is exactly what Solano is doing, and why his BABIP may be a result of a good swing path.
Not surprisingly, Solano leads all San Francisco Giants hitters by a pretty large margin in line drive rate with a minimum of 100 plate appearances. At 35.2 percent, the utility infielder’s rate is seven basis points higher than the next highest, which is Alex Dickerson at 27.8 percent.
However, Solano’s line drive prowess is impressive beyond just a team comparison standpoint. Among qualified hitters, no player in baseball has a higher line drive rate than the one Solano is producing.
In fact, Whit Merrifield‘s 28.4 percent line drive rate and Freddie Freeman‘s 28.0 percent line drive rate are the highest in baseball this season. Solano is out-performing them in this regard. The one caveat here is that Solano does not have enough plate appearances to qualify as the leader in this category.
Does this mean Solano has figured out hitting and will be a perennial batting champion contender for years to come? Not necessarily. Though after signing him to a minor league contract this past offseason, the San Francisco Giants would surely take it.
Solano’s strong season is partly due to a .411 BABIP. And, whenever a BABIP is that high, it is often believed that the player has benefited from unusual luck.
While that may still be a factor in Solano’s case, it cannot be ignored that his swing has generated different batted-ball results this season. It could be due to a mechanical adjustment or a change in approach, but Solano has become an extreme line drive hitter.
The San Francisco Giants front office has cast a wide net this season in an effort to find low-cost talent, and utility infielder Donovan Solano has been one of the biggest success stories.