SF Giants: Mixed results for outfielder Austin Slater in 2021
By Jeff Young
When the 2021 campaign began, the SF Giants envisioned Austin Slater carrying a heavy workload in the outfield, but the results have been a mixed bag so far. On the year, the right-handed bat has slashed .218/.319/.376 (96 OPS+) with four home runs and 12 RBI in 116 plate appearances while being worth 0.3 WAR. Furthermore, he has swiped six bags in seven chances, so he is providing some speed on the bases atop the lineup. These are all perfectly acceptable numbers.
SF Giants: OF Austin Slater’s concerning trend
However, a concerning trend has emerged. One that has stuck with him for the better part of five major league seasons, which is his platoon splits.
As a right-handed bat, Slater has generally handled left-handed pitching well. In fact, he has registered a .216/.396/.405 line with two home runs and five RBI against lefties in 2021. This comes with 11 strikeouts and 11 walks across 48 plate appearances.
These are solid numbers for a platoon hitter that teams could leverage against southpaws. With that being said, the Giants had hoped for a larger role for the 28-year-old, especially after he posted a .914 OPS in 104 plate appearances in 2020.
That larger role is going to be difficult for him to assume with how he has started the year against righties. Against right-handed pitching, he has slashed .219/.265/.359 with two home runs and seven RBI in 68 plate appearances. This comes with an unsightly 42.6 percent strikeout rate.
Even if he was hitting with a ton of power, that strikeout rate would be tough to tolerate. It is a trend that has followed him since he debuted with the club back in 2017. Across five seasons, Slater has generated a .666 OPS against righties with a 33.7 percent strikeout rate.
While his struggles against righties in 2021 are in small sample territory, they are not abnormal either. The Giants cannot continue to trot Slater out against right-handed pitching if these trends continue.
To make matters worse, the Stanford University product is not hitting the ball as effectively as he did in 2020. His 85.7-MPH average exit velocity is the lowest of his career, and his 5.6-degree launch angle is much closer to the angles he maintained when he struggled to find consistency earlier in his career.
Nevertheless, Slater has had some clutch moments in 2021 and he has handled a heavier workload in center field. His lack of usage recently, having started only two games since May 7, suggests that the Giants have taken notice as well. He has a lot of upside, so the coaching staff will give him every opportunity to work out of it, but these are trends to monitor as the season progresses.