When the Toronto Blue Jays sent Randal Grichuk to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for Raimel Tapia, their intentions were clear.
A fast, high-contact left-handed hitter, Tapia offered a radically different skill set than Grichuk, which was important as Toronto looked to balance its roster before the start of the year. Except now, about a quarter into the 2022 season, Tapia’s previously neutral approach to the plate has become one of the extremes.
Instead of rolling with his ground-heavy offensive profile, which worked in Colorado, Tapia changed into a hitter. MLB’s leader last season in rushing ball percentage (68%), the 28-year-old reduced that rate to 45.1% in 2022, while his fly ball and line driving rates returned to league standards.
It’s a 180 degree turn from who Tapia has been in recent years. In theory, those splits should make him a better hitter, but the numbers haven’t translated into success — his .228/.261/.276 slash line in 38 games reflects that.
Advanced stats aren’t favorable to Tapia either. His walk rate has gone from 7.5% in 2021 to just 4.4% this season, and his strikeout rate has gone from 13.1% to 19.9% in 2022. It’s obvious the Blue Jays are re-doing Tapia’s swing, and he’s still comfortable with it.
“He’s adjusting, I think, trying to free himself a little bit more,” Blue Jays assistant batting coach Hunter Mense said. “He’s very hit-oriented, in that he just wants to move balls in play and hit balls on the ground, I think, in Colorado.
“So [Jays hitting coach] Guillermo [Martinez] did an amazing job helping him break free to drive balls or try to drive balls in the air.
Tapia’s release process was aided by the outfielder’s excellent feel at home plate, Mense said. During a game, Tapia will move around the batter’s box until he feels comfortable, and that willingness to adjust his approach so often is rare for a batter these days.
“The adaptability and the competitiveness that you see in these situations,” Mense said, “sometimes guys have a hard time doing it because they’re so determined in one way, and they’re worried about what’s going to happen. pass if they move away from it. . Then [Tapia] is good to be able to make these adjustments on the fly.
Tapia’s slyness on the plate is the origin of his nickname, “The Crab”. Although he owns a farm in the Dominican Republic that is home to many crabs, it’s the way Tapia wiggles his elbows in his batting stance – mimicking the opening and closing of a crab’s claws – that earned him its crustacean nickname.
Now the Blue Jays hope to translate all that energy and movement into legitimate results at home plate. At a slim 6-foot-3, Tapia packs a surprising amount of power into his swing, using his long arms to create plenty of torque on balls close to his body.
Mense estimates Tapia has hit between seven and ten balls this year with an exit speed of between 106 and 109 miles per hour. This mark is supported by Tapia’s improved average output speed, which increased by a touch to 86.4 miles per hour. The liberated and tougher approach is not without pitfalls, however.
Tapia is chasing throws out of the box at a career high. Only the Detroit Tigers’ Javier Baez chases more frequently than Tapia’s 44.7 percent, and Tapia’s 68 percent chase rate with two strikes is a surprising career high.
“That’s probably the most important thing,” Mense said. “He’s hunted a lot in his career, but not as much as this year. And I think it’s just that he takes more risks and wants to try to catch a few more balls in front, and so he commits to throwing a little earlier.
Mense explained that the Blue Jays are comfortable with Tapia chasing and breathing more because it shows he’s trying to do a little more damage with each shot. When runners are on or he hits in a clutch situation, it’s normal for him to widen the area because, at the end of the day, his contact ability is his best tool. Mense cited Tapia’s nine-pitch sack steal against the Boston Red Sox on April 27 as a good example of his swing-focused approach paying off.
A strong support structure has also helped Tapia accept these adjustments, even if they are not yet working. That’s not to say Tapia’s coaches in Colorado haven’t been supportive, but he feels a unique connection to the Toronto staff.
“Here I feel the chemistry with the coaches, like I said, with [Guillermo] and Hunter,” Tapia said through a team interpreter. “It’s their confidence. They give me confidence, and when you give that to a player, you have succeeded.
The instructions are there – they’ve been there all season – now is the time for the batter to execute, because this freefalling Blue Jays roster desperately needs a hot streak from someone like Tapia.
“He has an innate ability to be able to hit the ball, and he will come back to it,” Mense said. “It’s just a matter of time.”
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