It’s been roughly a millennium since a star first baseman put on a Mariners jersey. Edwin Encarnacion is easily the best first baseman on to be on the roster this decade and we don’t even know how long he’s going to be here.
Let’s turn the calendar back to 2016. A 24-year-old Ryon Healy burst onto the season as a third baseman. Over 283 Plate Appearances, Healy slashed .305/.337/.524 with 13 home runs. He mashed 20 doubles (5 more than in 2018) while walking just 12 times. In the field, he made 9 errors and owned a .954 fielding percentage. Healy was worth 2.1 WAR and followed up a solid rookie campaign with a productive 2017.
His power numbers showed up in the form of 25 home runs over 149 games. He owned a .271/.302/.451 slash line over his first full season. His numbers seemingly evened out. He had a mere 23 walks but remained a productive force in the Oakland A’s lineup. Where he really lacked was in the field. At 3B, Healy owned a .857 fielding percentage with 11 errors in just 77 chances.
The A’s decided it was time for a change, moving Healy across the diamond to first base in an attempt to rekindle his value. There, he made another 2 errors for a .993 fielding percentage. Overall, Healy was worth 1 WAR in 2017, dragged down heavily by poor production in the field.
That offseason, due to a logjam at the corners, Ryon Healy was on his way to Seattle in exchange for RHP Emilio Pagan.
With the Mariners, well, we all know how that went. A .235/.277/.412 slash line had fans calling for Healy to be sent on his merry way. The power numbers were still there, however, as Healy muscled 24 home runs. He managed just 27 walks. For comparison, Mitch Haniger took ball four 70 times last season. Healy was so bad, Ben Gamel even saw some time over at first base (time in which Daniel Vogelbach could have had, just saying) a time or two.
So, as the dawn of the 2019 season draws closer by the day, we will soon find out just who the real Ryon Healy is. Diving into the numbers, there are some interesting trends in Healy’s game that could point to which Healy we should expect in the future.
His walk rate is bad. Very bad. Healy actually raised his walk percentage in 2018, as he walked 5.2% of the time. It will be interesting to see if a revamped coaching staff in 2019 will help Healy with his pitch selection but there is a reason to believe that Healy isn’t going to change in that regard. Jerry Dipoto did mention in the Pre Spring Luncheon that he would like Healy to work on his plate discipline, along with 2B Dee Gordon.
Healy did run an uncharacteristically low BABIP in 2018. He hit just .257 on balls in play, nearly 30 points lower than in 2017 and abysmal compared to his .319 BABIP in 2016. His career low BABIP came in the same year as a career-high hard hit percentage for Healy, which was roughly 34%. The culmination of these two stats seems to suggest that Healy was squaring the ball up more often than not but he was hitting it right at the defenders.
Delving a bit deeper, the numbers show that Healy was pulling the ball more often than usual, which has a good chance to have affected his hard-hit rates. Healy pulled the ball 44.8% of the time compared to 41.1% in 2017. Pair that with a career-low flyball rate at just 36.6%, the data seems to suggest that Healy was getting on top of the ball and rolling over to the left side more often than in years past.
Of Healys 24 home runs, only one ball left the field over the right-field fence whereas, in 2017, Healy hit 4 opposite field Homer’s out of his 25. He hit just .208 when hitting the ball to right field in 2018 compared to .300 in 2017.
Healy was also awful against left-handed hitters, which has been a strength throughout his career. He hit just .213 against southpaws compared to a .314 clip in 2017. That’s a drop of over 100 points, which is incredible over just one season, similar to what happened with his batting average to right field.
Alright, enough with the numbers. There are a few interesting facts outlined above that throw up red flags in Healys 2018 season but also show some positive signs for Healy coming into 2019. Basically, if we can see him start using the right side of the field again and with more authority, there is a good chance that we could see something closer to the 2017 Ryon Healy. He does more damage when he is using the whole field instead of just pulling the ball down the left field line.
Most of Healy’s longballs are out to left field, on his pull side. It would seem, based on his pull percentage in 2018, that he was selling out for more power and trying to get out in front of the ball.
Unfortunately, this resulted in him putting the ball on the ground more, rolling over and lowering his flyball percentage. He hit one less home run in 2018 than he did in 2017 when he was using more of the field. Healy would benefit from putting some more elevation in his swing to all fields instead of just out to left.
So, who is the real Ryon Healy? 2018 left a bad taste In the mouths of Mariners fans but I think Healy is more of the 2017 version than that of last year. If he can just start using the right side with a bit more regularity and maybe take a pitch once in a blue moon, there is a good chance that Healy could return to form and hit like 5 hole hitter instead of the bottom of the order type player.
2019 proves to be an interesting year for the Mariners at first base. With players like Edwin Encarnacion, Dan Vogelbach, Jay Bruce and Healy all on the roster, the M’s face some tough calls over the course of the next month.
If Healy wants to stay on the roster, he will have to improve on each of the things noted above. If he can do that, the Mariners may have a decent first baseman to saddle the load during the rebuild.