Kirk Nieuwenhuis Can Now Pull A Baseball

It’s no secret around here that Kirk Nieuwenhuis did something differently in August.  On the morning of August 1, the left-handed swinging Nieuwenhuis was hitting .251/.342/.410 for St. Lucie with 22 doubles, four triples and ten HR in 3 66 AB.  Then he went crazy in August, hitting .345/.406/.647 with 13 doubles, two triples and six HR in 116 AB for St. Lucie.  So, prior to August, he hit an extra-base hit every 10.2 AB, while in August, he that dropped to an extra-base hit every 5.52 AB.  That’s right, he doubled his extra-base hit rate.

Baseball America has a theory, articulated last week, while naming Nieuwenhuis to his third-straight prospect Hot Sheet:

One possible reason for the hot streak is a new approach. Nieuwenhuis had showed opposite-field power early in the season, but he was vulnerable to being pitching inside. But the St. Lucie staff worked on cleaning up his swing. Not he’s able to turn on inside fastballs, taking a vulnerability and turning it into a strength.

Happily for us, this is an easily testable conclusion.  Did Nieuwenhuis pull more balls in August?  I went through 2009’s game logs and categorized every one of his extra-base hits as being to one of the three outfield positions.  The results are fairly striking.

Before 8/1

2B

3B

HR

Total

% of XBH to Each Field
LF

10

0

7

17

47.22%

CF

8

3

1

12

33.33%

RF

4

1

2

7

19.44%

Total

22

4

10

36

What really sticks out to me about Nieuwenhuis’ season through the end of July is just how often he went to the opposite field with power, but he pulled fewer than 1/5 of his extra-base knocks.

After 8/1

2B

3B

HR

Total

% of XBH to Each Field

LF

6

1

2

9

36.00%

CF

4

2

1

7

28.00%

RF

6

0

3

9

36.00%

Total

16

3

6

25

This second table includes Nieuwenhuis’s week with Binghamton to finish up the season.  Clearly, some of the balls that were going to left or center earlier, were now going to rightfield.

So the percentage of extra-base hits to rightfield were up, but how about his overall rate of pulling an extra base hit measured per AB?

Pre 8/1

Post 8/1

AB

366

148

XBH Rate to LF/AB

21.5

16.4

XBH Rate to RF Per AB

52.3

16.4

This is stunning.  Before August, Nieuwenhuis pulled a ball for an extra-base hit ONCE EVERY 50 AB, or a few times a month.  After August 1, he pulled an extra base hit once every 16 AB, or once every few games.  Now, he’s truly using the whole field, pulling the ball as much as he’s going the other way.  Note as well that in August, Nieuwenhuis’s was more likely to hit a ball the other way for an extra bases than he had been earlier, but the increase was hardly as marked as the increase in the number of balls he yanked.

Nieuwenhuis’ in-season transition was nothing short of remarkable.  Where once he almost never pulled a ball, by season’s end, he was making pitchers pay for coming inside, and rapping out extra base hits in every direction.  Add in the fact that Nieuwenhuis plays a solid centerfield; it’s about time everyone learned how to spell the man’s name.