It’s easy to look at Cristian Pache’s offensive statistics and assume he’s just a 23-year-old rookie who is overmatched at the big league level. However, a deeper look into his numbers will tell you that’s not the case at all.
Baseball has always been described as a game that involves some form of luck. When it comes to Pache’s .169/.210/.240 slash line through 49 games entering Thursday, the Statcast numbers show that he’s one of baseball’s unluckiest hitters.
The discrepancy between how well Pache has been hitting the ball and how much he’s been rewarded for it is quite remarkable. Entering Thursday, the gap between his actual batting average and expected batting average (xBA) of .259 is the biggest difference of any hitter in the Major Leagues. When it comes to wOBA, his actual .208 mark, as opposed to his expected wOBA (based quality of contact + strikeouts + walks) of .292, is the third-biggest difference in the Major Leagues. Even his .377 expected slugging percentage (xSLG) is significantly higher than his actual number.
An example of Pache’s bad luck showed up in Tuesday’s game against the Astros. In his first at-bat against right-hander Cristian Javier, the A’s center fielder scorched a ball 106.8 mph off the bat that had an expected batting average of .400, yet it resulted in a sharp groundout to third baseman Alex Bregman.
Pache is consistently making hard contact, ranking in the 81st percentile of all Major League hitters in average exit velocity and 75th percentile in hard-hit rate. These are all numbers A’s coaches have gone over with him as a reminder that the approach at the plate remains a solid one.
“I think he’s been dealing with it and going through it tremendous,” A’s hitting coach Tommy Everidge said of Pache. “He shows up with a smile. He’s always working and he’s kept trying to get better. He’s walked more and laid off some more sliders.”
So what might be causing Pache such poor luck? One key factor is his launch angle. Among qualified Major League hitters, Pache’s average launch angle of 3.5 degrees ranks 11th lowest in MLB (minimum 75 plate appearances). This means that despite the hard contact, he’s frequently hitting the ball on the ground.
How does one correct this flaw? Everidge says it should be an easier fix for Pache now that he’s increasingly started directing his balls in play to center and right field. The last piece of the puzzle is to get more lift on his swings, something the two have been working on constantly over the past couple of weeks through extra pregame work in the hitting cage.
“The drill we’ve been doing is throwing it inside where he has to get his hands out,” Everidge said. “When he does that, he’s behind the ball and it just naturally carries better. It’s not just trying to lift. It’s doing it the right way. The way he’s barreling it, he’s not overmatched. We just need to clean that up a little and then we’re good.”