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Brett Baty is a step away from greatness

Brett Baty’s second tour in the big leagues has been very good so far, but he is an adjustment away from a full on breakthrough.

Cleveland Guardians v New York Mets - Game One Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

Brett Baty is good. After a rather tumultuous 2022 debut in which he was, well, kinda bad (71 wRC+) outside of his home run in his debut game in Atlanta, he did not make the Mets’ 2023 roster—despite almost certainly being the best option to do so throughout spring training.

He was laughably good in Triple-A this year, hitting an MLB The Show-esque .400/.500/.886 across 42 plate appearances before basically forcing Billy Eppler to reverse course and bring him up. He was much better than his 2022 audition thus far in 2023, hitting .258/.343/.430 (120 wRC+), making himself a staple of the Mets lineup day in and day out.

His Baseball Savant page looks like this:

Baseball Savant

He is doing a number on the ball every time he hits it. His chase rate—maybe my favorite little red circle pictured above—is excellent despite his relative inexperience at the major league level. Even the defense, which was largely the cited as the reason he was kept down in the first place, has been excellent statistically and has looked up to par watching the games. He has slight platoon splits (104 wRC+ against lefties, 124 against righties), but it is not significant enough to bench him, and is also completely due to his walk rates, as he is only walking 4.6% of the time against southpaws, as opposed to a solid 11.9% against righties.

So if everything looks great to the eye and is supported through the numbers, and if he is already above average at the plate relative to the league—why is this article being written?

It is due to one flaw:

This tweet, plus a myriad of messages on various internet forums during Mets games by our beloved friend and Amazin’ Avenue contributor Dave Capobianco, all of which basically say “PLEASE HIT THE BALL IN THE AIR” are the inspiration for the article, and they state one thing: Brett Baty has a ground ball problem.

For the season, his ground ball rate sits at a hefty 49.3%. That is too high. The league average, at the time of this writing, is 43.4%. To get a sense of context, it was 43.1% last year, and 43.3% in 2021, so a 49.3% ground ball rate is always going to be too high. As one would imagine, this has hurt his fly ball rate, which sits at 26.8%, well below the league average of 37.2%.

If Baty had enough at bats to qualify, he would be tied with Dansby Swanson and Christian Walker for 30th in MLB in wRC+—an impressive feat for our Baby Met—but his ground ball and fly ball rate are against the grain.

Only four players in the top 30 in wRC+ have a higher ground ball rate—Juan Soto (56.7%), Tommy Edman (53.7%), Ronald Acuña (53%), and Mets legend J.D. Davis (51%). Brandon Nimmo (49.7%), Nick Castellanos (49.2%), and Corbin Carroll (49.1%) are the only other players with a 49% or higher ground ball rate. The rest of the list is mid 40% and below, with the exception of Brandon Marsh (47%).

This is to say two things: you can absolutely succeed with a higher ground ball rate, but chances are you will be better the lower it goes. Players like Edman, Acuña, Nimmo and Carroll are also very fast individuals, so their success rates on ground balls is higher than some slower players. Players like Soto, Acuña (again, despite the foot speed), Davis, and Castellanos would all likely want to put the ball in the air more, despite getting the results they are getting, because they all have exceptional power. A home run is better than a single.

On top of that, Baty’s 26.8% fly ball rate would be one of only three batters in the top 30 with a sub-30% fly ball rate: Davis (23%), and Castellanos (24.6%) are the other two; both of which would surely want to elevate the ball to do more damage. That 26.8% fly ball rate would clock in a eighth worst amongst all qualified hitters — he is not only lagging behind his peers within the top 30 of wRC+, he is lagging behind most of the league as well.

Maybe the most eyebrow-raising part of the Great Brett Baty Ground Ball Debate is that this is not a new problem — it is something he struggled with in the Minor Leagues as well, and was a part of his scouting reports as he rose through the ranks.

In 2019, his draft year, he played games at the now extinct level Rookie ball with the GCL Mets and in Kingsport before getting promoted to Short Season Brooklyn to end the year. He played 42 of his 51 games that season in Kingsport, so we can safely ignore the stats from the other two levels. In Kingsport that year he had a ground ball rate of 46.9%. 2020 was lost to COVID, and he came back to organized baseball in 2021 at what was now High-A Brooklyn. He promptly hit the ball on the ground at a 51.6% clip in 51 games, before getting promoted to Double-A Binghamton for 40 games, where he hit the ball on the ground at a whopping 61.2% clip, which is staggeringly high.

He returned to Binghamton to start the 2022 campaign and significantly cut his ground ball rate, lowering it all the way to 42.6%. He spent 89 games there that year, one would assume hitting a plethora of developmental goals before getting a handful of games at Triple-A Syracuse, and his eventual call-up to the major leagues.

His minor league data suggests a few things: his ground ball rate has steadily been higher than you would like, but he has lowered it when he has repeated levels in the past, most notably when he dropped his ground ball rate around 20% when he returned to Binghamton at the beginning of the 2022 season.

Despite all the ground ball and subsequent fly ball issues, Baty has been a good Major League player for the Mets thus far — a 120 wRC+ does not lie. However, he is doing himself a disservice by keeping the ball on the ground as often as he has done in the Minors, and now in the Majors. While he is already good, a player who has shown to have plus raw power due to his exit velos — both average and max — coupled with his bat-to-ball skills, could blossom into something more than the good hitter and player he already is; he could blossom into a legitimate star.