Max Kepler burst onto the scene with 17 home runs in 2016 and expectations were that he could potentially hit 20 to 25 home runs with a .270 average. Unfortunately, 2017 was pretty similar and he didn’t exactly take the next step. We are almost into June and while I can’t say he has taken the next steps, he has definitely shown improvements across the board.
Kepler didn’t blow us away with his counting stats in Mar/April but did have a .299 average. This month, he has similar counting stats but is hovering around the Mendoza Line. So where are these so-called improvements? Well in Mar/Apr his walk rate was 8.4% and his strikeout rate was 9.5%. Now we jump forward and his walk rate for this month has actually increased to 13.5% while his strikeout rate has also increased to 17.7%.
Are these ratios legit and could he be looking at a potential breakout? Let’s dive into the season numbers.
He is off to a good start this season despite his low average in May. As I’ve mentioned before, after the first two months of this season the strikeout ratio is starting to creep up to the number he had last season. Overall the numbers that we see here look great, but his Mar/Apr has helped make his walk and strikeout ratios look better than what they actually are. Let us check out his plate discipline numbers to see if there are potentially any improvements.
Kepler has made steady improvements each year he’s been in the big leagues. He is laying off pitches off the plate a bit less than in past years at 26.8%. This is as shown in May where it’s actually lower at 24.0% compared to 29.8% in Mar/Apr. He is also swinging more and is making a lot more contact at pitches off the plate. Unfortunately, this month his o-contact percentage has fallen to 64.0% from 75.4%. Swinging strike rate has gone down and that is true for this month as well. Contact has gone up so let’s see where the ball is going.
The ball is either going on the ground or in the air. These numbers are sort of similar to last year but he is making a conscious effort to hit more fly balls at 46.5%. This month alone he is upping that total with 53.0% fly balls and 34.8% ground balls. His contact rate is good and that’s what you want to see most players do, good amount of hard contact while keeping the soft contact low. Statcast shows that his xAVG is .265 and his xSLG is .526. His average exit velocity and launch angle have gone up a tad bit from last season to 90.9 MPH and 15.2°. He should be doing a bit better and is definitely better than what this month indicates.
Max Kepler is making small improvements here and there and by the end of this season, we may not have seen the best Kepler. He is only 25 years of age and we are watching a young guy continue to learn and get better. Depending on where he slots in the Minnesota Twins, he could be a good flier to take a chance on.