Niko Goodrum: Hot start or true breakout candidate for Detroit Tigers?
Goodrum showing power, plate discipline early in 2019 season
DETROIT – In what has otherwise been a difficult and frustrating offensive start for the Detroit Tigers, there has been one true bright spot.
Niko Goodrum came out of the gate mashing this season, leading the team in most major offensive categories through eight games. He doesn't have a set position, but his ability to fill in around the diamond keeps Goodrum's hot bat in the middle of the lineup.
Goodrum's rookie season
The Tigers took a chance on Goodrum last offseason when he was dumped by the Minnesota Twins. He rewarded them with a bit of a breakout, hitting 16 home runs and 29 doubles to go with a .747 OPS.
In 131 games, Goodrum had a 2.0 WAR. Since the Tigers essentially got him for free, it was a fantastic pickup.
It's not unheard of for a player to have an outlier season, but Goodrum never really got an opportunity at the MLB level. The question was whether Goodrum could follow up his first successful season with another solid year, or even take another step forward.
Power and plate discipline
So far, Goodrum is on pace to destroy his 2018 numbers.
For a team that has only 18 extra-base hits in eight games, Goodrum already has six doubles, which leads the American League. His seven hits are good for a .318 batting average, which is 76 points higher than the second-place Tiger, Jeimer Candelario.
Perhaps even more important than the extra-base pop is Goodrum's seemingly improved plate discipline. After striking out 26.8 percent of the time and walking just 8.5 percent of the time last season, Goodrum has lowered his strikeout rate to 17.2 percent while raising his walk rate to 24.1 percent.
Goodrum obviously isn't going to walk in a quarter of his plate appearances, but the reduced strikeout rate is a major positive. He's got seven walks and five strikeouts through eight games, so he's seeing the ball extremely well.
Last season, Goodrum struck out three times for every walk. If he can cut that rate to two strikeouts per walk, his numbers would take a major jump.
The truly elite hitters in MLB have a rare combination of power and plate discipline. While nobody is arguing that Goodrum should be considered among the Mike Trouts, Nolan Arenados and Jose Altuves of the world, he's showing flashes of being a plus player in both areas.
Batted ball data
Goodrum's batted ball data backed up his solid season in 2018, as he sported a hard-hit rate of 36.6 percent and a soft contact rate of 15.9 percent.
This is Goodrum's age 27 season, so if he's going to have a breakout year, this is the most likely time for it to happen.
Batted ball numbers can be a bit wacky early in the season because there aren't many data points to take into consideration. But early indications are that Goodrum could hit the ball as hard or harder than he did last season.
So far in 2019, Goodrum has put 17 balls in play -- nine have registered as hard contact, eight as medium contact. He hasn't had a single hit register as weak contact through eight games.
One reason Goodrum is hitting for such a high average but still searching for his first home run: fly ball rate. He's only hit three fly balls this season, but they've been replaced by line drives, which explains the league-leading six doubles.
Goodrum probably won't replicate his 15.5 percent home-run-to-fly-ball rate this year, and if he's hitting fewer fly balls, his home run total could take a huge hit. But he's actually pulling the ball much more often, which could aid his home run total as a left handed hitter.
Again, batted ball data can change quickly this early in the season. The early returns have been positive for Goodrum, though.
As the Tigers continue to rebuild the rosters up and down their organization, Goodrum is in a bit of a unique spot.
He's not really considered a big part of the team's future like Candelario, Christin Stewart or some of the minor-league prospects. But he's under team control until 2024 and currently makes just $670,500 per season, so this could be a major steal for an organization desperate for offensive talent.
The Tigers have stockpiled pitching talent in the minor leagues, but there aren't many MLB caliber hitters. If Goodrum, a Twins castoff, can be a consistent contributor, it would be a coup for this rebuilding franchise.
It's only been eight games, and the Tigers have had some favorable pitching matchups, but Goodrum has succeeded in almost every single opportunity with the Tigers. The 2019 season could be a long one for Tigers fans, but Goodrum is shaping up to be an interesting player to watch.
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