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.

There are 16 comments

  1. Not4Nuttin

    Great piece and great analysis Toby. Thanks!

    Frankly, I wasn’t sure whether to chalk up his hot August to merely a hot streak or a real trend. This information makes it much easier to view it as a sign of improvement, than simply a hot streak.

    Great stuff and good news!

  2. NateW

    I’m loving the idea of a Fernando Martinez, Nieuwenhuis, and Nick Evans OF for Buffalo. Would be prudent to start him at AA I guess, but when have the Mets been prudent with position player prospects?

    Either way, I think it might be time for Jesus Feliciano to find a new organization…

  3. stickguy

    It would be nice to see the upper minors team actually have solid top prospects on it (supported by 2nd level semi-prospects like Evans) as opposed to just aging AAA retread fodder.

    And no, I don’t think I will ever be able to spell his name, so the dude needs a nickname, and soon!

    Hopefully he gets to play winter ball. And if he keeps up this hitting into ST, he either starts at AAA, or starts at AA with the expetation of moving up by mid season.

    Nice that he actually has the tools to play CF. Hmmm, they should be needing a new player there in 2012. That should work out about right!

    1. NateW

      I added the correct spelling of Nieuwenhuis to my browsers dictionary so when it is spelled correctly it doesn’t warn me… it is pretty brutal to try and remember.

      I completely agree with your first comment, that is what I was getting at with my Buffalo OF comment. In fact when you start to think about it there should be some quality prospects all over the Buffalo roster next year. Binghamton will not have a very strong pitching staff to start next year though, imo.

      You never know tho, at the start of this year Bostick, McNab and Nieve were in Binghamton… meaning Buffalo had a strong pitching staff filled with excess big league ready talent, right? Hmm…

      It is really a breath of fresh air that we can look at Havens and Kirk and realistically think about replacing expiring veteran contracts with internal everyday players. (I’m not saying Kirk will produce like Beltran, but then what other CF does…)

  4. theperfectgame

    How about “Captain Kirk”, ’cause his play has been out of this world?

    Hoy-oh!!

    If someone else can top this post on the embarrassing lameness scale, I will be thoroughly impressed.

    1. theperfectgame

      In all seriousness, nicknames are overrated, way too common, and way too lazy. Can’t he just be Nieuwenhuis? If he makes it to the Majors it will be fun to listen to Joe Morgan try to pronounce that name!

      Wow, I can’t believe I just used the words “it will be fun to listen to Joe Morgan” in sequence. Never thought that would happen…

  5. Chip Armonaitis

    Toby that is better work than anyone associated with Mets management has done in two years.

    Can you now tell us who cleaned up his swing so we can petition for him to work with David Wright to get his swing cleaned up and back to where it was three years ago?

    1. Toby Hyde

      I think Tim Teufel and hitting coach George Greer should get a lot of credit for Nieuwenhuis and some of the other nice offensive years in St. Lucie with Tuef getting bonus points for his work with Josh Thole last year.

  6. Chip Armonaitis

    Where does Teufel fit into the Mets plans, coaching wise.

    I mean he seems to have done a good job at St. Lucie, has some success stories in Thole and Nieuwenheis, and has the “played in the big leagues” pedigree. Greer a former college coach has no shot at a big league job, but I would think Teufel would be appealing to the Mets as a coach.

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