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What’s the deal with Jorge Bonifacio?

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The peripherals have improved, and the results have been much worse. What gives?

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I’m gonna be honest with you, I have not been at all impressed with one Jorge Bonifacio so far in 2018. I was pretty happy with what we saw from Boni in 2017, a 99 wRC+ and 17 HR in his rookie season, but the results just simply have not returned since he was suspended for PED’s this offseason.

I was honestly thinking about writing an article detailing with my concern about Boni at the plate, and then I started digging, and I'm not sure what to think anymore. Here is a comparison of Jorge Bonifacio’s peripheral statistics between 2017 and 2018:

BB%:

  • 2017 - 8.3%
  • 2018 - 10.2%

K%:

  • 2017 - 28%
  • 2018 - 26.3%

BB/K:

  • 2017 - 0.3
  • 2018 - 0.39

Hard%:

  • 2017 - 32.2%
  • 2018 - 35.6%

Soft%:

  • 2017 - 20.2%
  • 2018 - 16.3%

O-Swing%:

  • 2017 - 31.5%
  • 2018 - 26.6%

Contact%:

  • 2017 - 70.7%
  • 2018 - 71.7%

SwStr%:

  • 2017 - 15.4%
  • 2018 - 13.3%

Average Launch Angle:

  • 2017 - 14.6*
  • 2018 - 19.2*

GB%:

  • 2017 - 39.3%
  • 2018 - 32.9%

Every single one of those statistics would lead you to believe that Jorge Bonifacio has been a better hitter in 2018 than he was in 2017. All 10 of them. 10/10. How on earth is it that Jorge Bonifacio has been so significantly worse then?

Well...there’s two things that we know are different in 2018 than 2017.

  1. The baseballs have changed. According to xStats over at Baseball Savant, there has been a -.027 point change in xSLG since the beginning of last season. That is to say, hitters outperformed their expected slugging percentages in 2017, and this season they are underperforming them. The HR record that was set by the MLB last season will not be touched in 2018, marking the first season since 2014 that the league will not see an increase in HR. I haven’t felt a baseball used in MLB games, but xStats and batted ball production is down all across MLB.
  2. Jorge Bonifacio is (theoretically) no longer using Performance Enhancing Drugs. While his plate discipline has improved, and he’s hitting the ball hard more often, he’s not physically hitting the ball as hard. According to Baseball Savant, Boni’s average exit velocity has decreased 2.4 mph since 2017. That’s not a huge number, but it goes to show that there are factors working against him in terms of how hard he is hitting the baseball.

Those two items stick out in my head in terms of obvious reasons that Boni has seen an overall decrease in production this season. In addition, his BABIP is down .021 points so maybe he’s been a bit unlucky, but there haven’t been many times that I've found myself thinking, “Man, that’s just bad luck for Boni on that swing.”

His spray chart may be the final piece to this puzzle. Here is Boni’s spray chart from 2017, followed by his spray chart from this season:

Boni 2017
Boni 2018

Head on over to FanGraphs and we find that Boni has pulled the ball 12% more often this season than he did in 2017. A .021 drop in BABIP doesn’t suggest that he’s been that unlucky, but there are a considerable number of base hits missing in his spray chart in the RCF region this season. For a power hitter, pulling the ball feels like it should be a good thing, maybe, but it just hasn’t translated at all for Bonifacio.

Watching Jorge Bonifacio play baseball is not exactly aesthetically pleasing. Some of his movements are painful to the naked eye, and so for me it wasn’t some big surprise that he wasn’t having much success this year. But when you dig a little deeper, the numbers suggest that there should at least be some correlation between his 2017 season and the season he’s had in 2018. The numbers aren’t there, and I'm slowly moving away from any real hope I had of Boni being a big league regular, but it might be interesting to at least see how he does for the first few months of 2019 before pulling the plug.