Omar Infante has had an up and down season thus far. Even with last night’s grand slam, Infante’s overall offensive numbers are quite down. However, there is plenty of reason to believe he’ll bounce back.
Coming into last night’s game, Infante was rocking a dismal 78 wRC+, which was good for 18th place out of 22 qualifying second-basemen. In other words: not good for anything.
Thus far, he has managed to survive increasing scrutiny–nose just above water–by posting good defensive numbers with solid baserunning, but his offense is dismal. It finally forced Ned Yost to drop Infante in the lineup from second to fifth or sixth.
After returning to the lineup after a 17-day stint on the disabled list, Andy McCullough mentioned that Infante was still wrapped in cold packs after games all the way into June. It showed in the batters box. He hit .137/.151/.196 in his first 12 games back. He was not making solid contact while simultaneously ripping his few line drives right into opponent’s gloves. He only mustered a .156 BAbip during that stretch.
This, of course, is the downside of having a hitter whose skillset depends heavily on the ball finding gaps. He rarely walks. His 5.5% walk rate is well below the league average of 8.4% during his career. This season, out of 168 qualified MLB batters, Infante ranks 30th in Contact%. He frequently puts the ball in play.
Without walks to stabilize his numbers, a simple stretch of good or bad luck will cause his numbers to fluctuate wildly. That’s what we’re seeing this season.
Infante’s LD% of 24% is nearly as good as last season’s 25%, when he hit .318. However, last year his BAbip inflated to .333, somewhat higher than one would expect with a good line drive rate. His .268 BAbip for 2014 is pure, rotten, dirty, Royals luck so far.
Infante’s offense is already trending upward. In fifteen games from June 8 through June 25, Infante has hit .300/.358/.400 because his BAbip has increased to .333 during that time. Batted balls that were previously being snagged by impressive defender dives are now falling for hits.
Some of the numbers indicate even better things in store for Infante if he can keep squaring up the ball. He’s being thrown less strikes and has not expanded his strike zone, so his walk rate has gone up to 6.7%. If his BAbip naturally regresses to his career .308 average, which is entirely plausible with a 24% line drive rate, his SLG should also rise dramatically as balls fall in those big Kauffman gaps.
There has been some trepidation about Infante’s long contract because he has started out badly. Right now, fans should not be concerned. Even though Infante has struggled in the time surrounding his injury, everything else is looking up for the Royals second baseman.