Pittsburgh Pirates: Potential Reasons for Concern About Jared Triolo in 2024

Pirates' rookie infielder Jared Triolo had an auspicisously high batting average on balls in play last season, but is it enough to panic over what he could do in 2024?
Sep 17, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Jared Triolo (19)
Sep 17, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Jared Triolo (19) / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Jared Triolo had an auspiciously high batting average on balls in play with the Pittsburgh Pirates last season, but is it enough to panic over what he could do in 2024?

One of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ most underrated top prospects going into 2023, Jared Triolo, made a name for himself in September of this past year. However, there were some worrying aspects to Triolo’s finale for the 2023 season. But is it enough for fans to be concerned about how Triolo will produce next year? Or is it a microcosm of a small sample size and making mountains out of molehills?

In September, Triolo batted .350/.458/.567 with a .440 wOBA, and 178 wRC+. The infielder had walked in 16.7% of his 72 plate appearances but also had a 29.2% strikeout rate. All of this is great production, aside from the strikeout rate. But you’re more than welcomed to find me someone who wouldn’t take a .350 hitter who had an OPS over 1.000 because he had a strikeout rate of nearly 30%. However, aside from the strikeout rate, one thing to note was the .514 batting average on balls in play.

He also had a very high BABIP in his first promotion to the big leagues. From June 28th through August 15th, Triolo had a .404 BABIP through 137 plate appearances. Part of the reason his BABIP went through the roof in September is because his exit velocity went from below 85 MPH all the way to 90.4 MPH. Meanwhile, he had a sub-3% barrel rate in June-August and a 12.8% rate in September, an uptick of over 10%. More hard-hit baseballs typically result in more base hits. But a rate of over .500 is insane. As some have pointed out, this is unsustainable.

So, is this enough to consider him a non-starter? Well, first, we are talking about a sample size of just 209 plate appearances. If you are taking a player’s BABIP from just over 200 plate appearances, you should be taking it with a grain of salt because you won’t get an accurate measurement in that small of a sample size.

The second thing to consider is that Triolo has always been a high-BABIP hitter. Triolo has 1476 plate appearances throughout his minor league career, a sample size more than large enough to get at least a somewhat accurate idea of what his BABIP should be. He hit .284/.370/.439 with a 122 wRC+ in those plate appearances with a BABIP of .346. Since returning from COVID in 2021, his minor league BABIP is nearly .360. 

This talk kind of mirrors the talk about Bryan Reynolds after his rookie season. Many were concerned that Reynolds would be a massive regression candidate after he had a .387 batting average on balls in play in 2019. But that completely ignores the fact that he had a .378 BABIP throughout his minor league career, which consisted of over 1000 plate appearances.

As FanGraphs notes, “A high or low BABIP is not necessarily a sign of luck, but a BABIP that is substantially different from one’s career mark usually is.” Triolo has been a guy who feasts off of a high BABIP, so it shouldn’t be a massive surprise if he keeps posting a high BABIP, maybe not .500+ high, but a high one nonetheless.

The third thing to keep in mind is that line drives and ground balls go for non-home run hits far more often than fly balls (home runs negatively factor into BAbip). Nearly 70% of Triolo’s batted balls this past season were liners (27.7%) or grounders (40.3%). Donovan Solano was very similar to Triolo, as they were both within 1% of one another in line drive, fly ball, and ground ball rate. Solano owned a .366 batting average on balls in play. Since 2018, only nine of 33 batters with 300+ plate appearances and a line drive rate of at least 27% have had a BABIP below .330.

One last thing is that even if Triolo regresses some, he could still be a good hitter. Yes, he had a .514 batting average on balls in play, and yes, that’s unsustainable and was mostly inflated by the fact that it comes in a sample size of just 72 plate appearances, and it resulted in an MVP-caliber wRC+ and batting average. But I’ll gladly take a .270 hitter with a 110 wRC+ from Triolo. That kind of hitting plus his defense could make him a three, maybe even four win player.

It’s totally reasonable to be concerned about Triolo’s BAbip. .440 is extremely high and has never been replicated in 500+ plate appearances. The closest comes at .433, and that was performed by Hugh Duffy in 1894 when Grover Cleveland was still President. The highest post-WWII era
BABIP in 500+ plate appearances is .408 by Rod Carew in 1977. But I don’t think fans should panic about it yet. It’s too small of a sample size to start with, Triolo is typically a BAbip merchant, and even if/when he regresses, he could still be a productive hitter.

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