Pulling Away: Nolan Arenado’s Ascent Into The Hitting Elite

PITTSBURGH – In his second at-bat of a 10-5 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 23, Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado took D’Backs starter Chase Anderson deep in the 4th inning to the tune of 412 feet, giving the young Rockies slugger his 18th home run of the year – tying his career-high set last year.

Six days later, Arenado is the current National League Player of the Week after an incredible run in which he hit .391/.440/1.348 with seven home runs, 14 RBI and 10 runs, including three multi-homer games. Arenado also extended his hitting streak to 15 games and set a franchise record for consecutive games (12) with at least one hit and one run scored.

For the season, Arenado is hitting .293/.326/.632 with 24 home runs, 68 RBI and 49 runs scored. The 24 HR’s are good enough to rank him third in MLB, one behind Todd Frazier, three behind Giancarlo Stanton and tied with Bryce Harper atop the Home Run Leaders, while the 68 RBI leads MLB in that category.

While we all knew Arenado was a good hitter – he of the 28-game hitting streak at the outset of last year  – the power is something that has seemingly been there, but is now showing itself at an elite level.

The means to Arenado’s hitting success isn’t really a secret or some hidden stat, either. Since the outset of his career, he has always had a propensity to pull the ball or hit it to straightaway center. He does not try to go the other way because when he crushes the ball when he hits it to center or left field.

Before we look at his spray charts, let’s look at his home/road splits (because when one analyzes a player who plays for the Colorado Rockies, we must – of course – first look at his home/road splits)

In 37 games at home, Arenado has hit .287/.309/.580 with nine home runs, 31 RBI, 26 runs, including 21 extra base hits.

In 36 games on the road, Arenado is hitting .299/.342/.686 with 15 home runs, 37 RBI, 23 runs, including 23 extra base base.

Clearly the ‘Coors Field Advantage’ does not figure greatly into Arenado’s numbers. The fact he is hitting that well on the road tells you something about just how well-rounded a hitter he has become.

In April, FanGraphs took a look at Arenado’s swing and had this analysis (emphasis mine):

“His hands get in front of his back elbow super early in his swing, so he doesn’t get into the zone as deep as some of the best hitters. However, he seems to make up for it by pushing his top hand out toward the pitcher, almost locking it out like Chase Utley does to stay on the ball. Most guys whose hands move forward as early as his tend to let the barrel come around and across the ball, so they either are dead-pull, cut their swings off, or both. He manages to still drive the ball around the field despite a different entry into the zone, though it does look almost forced. There has to be some kind of conscious thought going on there.”

So just how well does Arenado hit the ball when he is pulling it?

The answer is very, very well

In 2015, he is hitting .425/.421/1.035 (40 wRC) when he pulls the ball. Arenado has seen his pull rate go from 36.2% in March/April, to 48.2% in May to 53.3% in June. Moreover, he has a line of .455/.468/.924 (with a .423 BABIP) with runners in scoring position.

Here is a look at where all his extra-base hits have landed this year:

Nolan Arenado
Nolan Arenado Spray Chart courtesy of Baseball Savant

When it comes to pulling the ball, there really isn’t anything that Arenado can’t hit.

A big, looping 76 mph curve from Madison Bumgarner?

(of which the 2014 World Series MVP said, “I thought it was a good pitch. He’s just on fire. It’s even more than that. He’s a really good, special player.”)

A 77 mph changeup from Jeremy Hellickson?

Or a 95 mph fastball from Clayton Kershaw?

Not only can Arenado hit home runs against the best pitchers in the league, he can seemingly hit every kind of pitch!

Here is how Arenado has fared this year against nine different pitches.

We can see how he tends to pull the ball or hit it straightaway no matter what the offering, whether it’s an off-speed pitch or the gas.

Nolan Arenado (2)
Nolan Arenado Spray Chart of every pitch, courtesy of Baseball Savant

When he does go the opposite way, as Dan Farnsworth noted above, “he manages to still drive the ball around the field despite a different entry into the zone, though it does look almost forced.”

Here is Arenado going the opposite way, ripping one over the head of Giancarlo Stanton for a two-run triple. Notice how the swing does look somewhat ‘forced’ as opposed to the three swing above where the ball is pulled or hit straightaway. Perhaps we can chalk this one up to the ‘Coors Field Advantage’

Source: FanGraphsNolan Arenado

But as Sarris notes in his FanGraphs piece

In the end, Arenado is not going to change completely, he’s only going to improve. “I can’t take away what I am entirely as a hitter,” Arenado said, even as we discussed the different ways he was adjusting to major league pitching.