After a terrific rookie season in 2019, in a predictable outcome, infielder Kevin Newman regressed for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2020.
Infielder Kevin Newman had a great breakout rookie season for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019. However, due to being in the bottom 5% of MLB in exit velocity and hard hit rate, regression in 2020 was predictable for Newman.
Well, that regression happened in 2020. Regression that was predicted on Rum Bunter this past off-season. What led to this regression? What went wrong for Newman in 2020? Should fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates be worried about Newman moving forward? Let’s dive into all of that.
Newman hit for a healthy .308/.353/.446 slash line to go with a 110 wRC+ in 2019. His 7.7% extra base hit rate was well below league average, however. In 2020, Newman’s numbers dipped to a .224/.281/.276 slash line and a 54 wRC+, this included his extra base hit rate dropping to 3.5%.
The biggest issue for Newman was his continued struggles to hit the ball well. After posting an 85.3 MPH exit velocity in 2019, this number was just 85.5 MPH in 2020. This put him in the bottom 7% of baseball.
Newman owned a hard hit rate of just 28.3%. Again, this was an improvement over 2019, but it remaiend below league average. Newman ranked in the bottom 9% of MLB in hard hit rate in 2020, not a recipe for a success.
Then there was a barrel rate. Newman posted an abysmal 0.7% barrel rate in 2020, a drop off from his 2.1% barrel rate in 2019. This ranked in the bottom 2% of baseball. Yes, 98% of MLB hitters barreled the ball more often than Newman. Not good!
Newman also hit the ball on the gorund too often in 2020. His 50.7% ground ball rate was a slight increase over his 50.0% ground ball rate from 2019. This was 5% worse than the MLB average ground ball rate of 45.3%. Hitting the ball on the groun is not a recipe for success for any hitter, especially a hitter like Newman that does not hit the ball hard.
The 2021 season will be all about hard, quality contact for Newman. To this point in his MLB career Newman has yet to prove he can hit the ball with the authority needed to consistently be an above average, or even average, hitter.
Another factor for Newman is the amount of middle infield prospects in the Pirate system breathing down his neck. Top hitting prospect Oneil Cruz could reach MLB level in 2021. This past June’s first-round pick Nick Gonzales could reach the Majors as soon as 2022. Then there is top-100 shortstop prospect Liover Peguero. With highly rated propsects breathing down his neck and having yet to show an ability to hit the ball hard, 2021 will be a vital season for Newman.