Pittsburgh Pirates: Daniel Vogelbach in Line to Bounce Back

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - SEPTEMBER 05: Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Milwaukee Brewers hits a walk-off grand slam against the St. Louis Cardinals at American Family Field on September 05, 2021 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Brewers defeated the Cardinals 6-5. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - SEPTEMBER 05: Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Milwaukee Brewers hits a walk-off grand slam against the St. Louis Cardinals at American Family Field on September 05, 2021 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Brewers defeated the Cardinals 6-5. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images) /
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Newly signed Pittsburgh Pirates designated hitter/first baseman Daniel Vogelbach could be in for a strong bounce back season in 2022

The Pittsburgh Pirates recently signed a designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach on a low-risk one-year deal. It wasn’t that long ago the slugger was an All-Star. In 2019, Vogelbach batted for a solid .208/.341/.439 line, .333 wOBA, and 112 wRC+. However, he’s seen that fall to a .215/.343/.385 line, .322 wOBA and 100 wRC+ since then.

Although his 2020-2021 numbers come out to a league-average batter, his power completely disappeared. He had 30 home runs and a .232 isolated slugging percentage in 2019, but just 15 in his last 394 plate appearances and .170 ISO. But the underlying numbers give hope that Vogelbach can find that power stroke and have a quality season at the plate once again in 2022.

Despite only having a .163 isolated slugging this year, Vogelbach put on his best display of raw power yet since arriving in the major leagues. Vogelbach had a 91.4 MPH exit velo and 48.7% hard-hit rate, both of which were career bests. His 114.3 MPH max exit velocity was in the top 92nd percentile.

Among batters with at least 100 batted ball events last year, his exit velocity ranked 41st, tied with Bo Bichette, Freddie Freeman, and just above Jorge Soler and Max Muncy, while also ranking 41st in hard-hit rate. In terms of exit velocity and hard-hit rate, he was almost identical to guys like Matt Chapman (91.6 MPH/48.8%), Ketel Marte (91.1 MPH/48.4%), and Teoscar Hernandez (91.8 MPH/49%).

Another positive step forward Vogelbach made was strikeouts. His K-rate has gone down by about 2% every year since 2019. He went down on strikeouts 26.7% of the time during his All-Star season. Then in 2020, he only struck out 24.3% of the time. Last year, he cut that down to an above-average 22.1% mark.

So what went wrong for Vogelbach in the power department? He’s striking out less, making more contact, making more hard hit contact, and posted a career-best walk rate in 2021 (16.7%). Everything, but his fly ball rate has moved in the right direction. In 2019, he had a 44.8% fly ball rate, the 11th highest among batters that year with at least 500 trips to the plate.

This past season, however, that was cut down by nearly 10%, all the way to 35.4%. Meanwhile, his ground ball rate has jumped from just 33% to 44.3%. This massive turn in batted ball rate is reflected in his launch angle dropping from 17.1 degrees to just 11.7 degrees.

The likely cause of this decrease was his injury in June. Vogelbach strained his hamstring in late June, which kept him out until September. Vogelbach looked like he was starting to turn things around with a 42.1% fly ball rate and .213 isolated slugging percentage in the month leading up to the injury. Upon his return, Vogelbach’s ISO fell to just .135, and his fly ball rate dropped to 31% from September throughout the rest of the season.

Having the ability to have Vogelbach DH most of the time also helps preserve his health. It was the first time he played more than 61% of his games at first base since 2017 and only played the field in 436.1 total innings between 2019 and 2020 (only 15 of those innings came in 2020). He’s mostly served as a designated hitter for the last handful of seasons, even in the minor leagues.

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If Vogelbach can get the ball in the air more he could be a .220/.350/.450 hitter. The guy has more than enough power to send it to the Allegheny River when he gets ahold of one. He walks a ton, and even hitting in the .210-.230 range would put his OBP in the .330-.360 range. The progress he’s made in the strikeout department is also very promising.

Vogelbach is  an easy 25-30 home run candidate if he can put up a fly ball rate around 40%. If he’s fully healthy and plays mostly a designated hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates you could easily envision him reaching that mark.

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