Connor Joe is playing like the first-round pick the Pirates likely expected him to play like back when they drafted him in 2014. Last season with Colorado, Joe was a below-average hitter, only slashing .238/.338/.359 with a .314 wOBA and 88 wRC+. Joe showed off plus plate discipline with an 11.8% walk rate, 20.8% strikeout rate, and above-average remarks in both whiff and chase rates, but that's about all the positives that Joe brought.
But so far this year, Joe is batting .328/.423/.590 with a .434 wOBA and 174 wRC+. Joe is still walking at a respectable 11.3% rate with a 21.1% strikeout rate, but he has upped his isolated slugging percentage from a meager .121 to .262 this year. Now granted, Joe is overperforming to a degree. He has a .409 batting average on balls in play, which will likely flatten out as he gets more playing time.
But the expected statistics still paint a very good picture. Joe still has an expected .282/.383/.481 batting line and .379 wOBA. That would be comparable production to Bryce Harper's last season. So what has Joe improved this year compared to last season to make him so effective out of the gate?
Well, for one, Joe has upped his exit velocity from just 85.3 MPH (bottom 5th percentile) to 91.5 MPH (top 79th percentile). His hard-hit rate has skyrocketed from 33.8% to 54.3% (top 92nd percentile). Joe has also become much more selective at the plate. The outfielder/first baseman has always shown off a patient approach, but his swing rate is just 34.4%, which is nearly 10% lower compared to last season. He's only swung outside the strike zone 14.3% of the time, a 7.4% decrease from 2022.
Joe has been a nice surprise for the Pirates. Even if he plays to his expected statistics, he'll still be an extremely valuable hitter. The overall improvements he's made should help him in the long run. Hitting the ball hard was where Joe struggled, but he's improved in that department while becoming a more patient batter.