After going 5-for-5 with two homers on Mother's Day, Astros outfielder George Springer is off to the best start of his career, and he won co-American League Player of the Week honors for those efforts. He now owns a .323/.400/.652 slash line, with 15 home runs in just 42 games after hitting 22 for the entire 2018 campaign (in 140 games). He also leads the American League in slugging percentage (.652) and OPS (1.052). As a result, he already has 2.6 WAR (per Baseball-Reference), which is very close to what he accrued all of last season (2.7).
Springer is already a two-time All-Star and the 2017 World Series MVP, and the 29-year-old appears to be on course for the best season of his career. Let’s take a look at how he's doing it.
Crushing the ball
Plain and simple, Springer is absolutely crushing the ball. He has a 56.8 percent hard-hit rate, according to Statcast, which ranks third in the Majors among hitters with at least 50 batted balls. Last year, Springer had a 37.2 percent hard-hit rate, which ranked 96th of 186 batters with at least 300 batted balls.
That’s an increase of 19.6 percentage points, by far the largest increase of any batter who had at least 300 batted balls last season and 50 so far this season.
Not only has he increased his hard-hit rate and found himself among that leaderboard’s top five, he’s doing it all from a level that he’s pretty much never reached before. As you can see in the chart below of his hard-hit percentage by month since 2015, his 57.8 percent mark in April was higher than any other month of his career, and his current 54.3 percent for May is second. In other words, he’s never had a stretch quite like this.
Especially breaking balls
Obviously, to be hitting the ball this hard and this consistently, it stands to reason that Springer is performing well against most pitches. But one part worth delving into is what he’s doing against breaking balls.
Springer has a .804 slugging percentage in at-bats ending in breaking balls, the highest of 188 batters with at least 30 such at-bats this season. Not only is it the highest, it’s 23 points higher than the next-closest batter, which is Raimel Tapia, at .781.
Five of Springer’s seven hits over the weekend came on breaking pitches, including one of his home runs Sunday. He slugged .564 against breaking pitches in 2015 when he played in 102 games, but other than that, his numbers against those pitches haven’t been particularly notable in the past. Last year he slugged .475 in at-bats ending on breaking pitches, which was tied for 32nd of 213 batters with at least 100 plate appearances ending in those pitches.
And being less patient … ?
Something else Springer is doing more of is swinging at the first pitch. He has a 37.9 percent first-pitch swing rate up from 29.8 percent last year. Swinging more doesn’t always sound like a recipe for success, but for Springer, it has been.
He’s slugging .824 when he does put that first pitch in play, with a .412 batting average. Two of his home runs this season have been on the first pitch -- already halfway to his total of four such home runs last season. Last year, Springer hit .351 and slugged .614 on the first pitch.