Jonathan India Is Hitting Like A Rookie Again

And that's a good thing!

You won’t find many baseball writers who were higher on Jonathan India than I was in 2021. This was true to the point where I declared him to be perhaps the best second baseman in baseball, even in the face of a position that featured the likes of Jose AltuveMarcus Semien, and Ozzie Albies. I was all in. Especially as India seemingly improved with each month of that year. Call it University of Florida bias.

The next two years did little to support such wild conclusions, however.

India struggled mightily compared to his rookie season. He was a below-average bat in a bad-to-mediocre Cincinnati Reds lineup each year. A wave of infield prospects threatened to end India’s spot with the club altogether. Trade rumors abounded, given that volume. Through all of that, though, he’s come out on the other side looking… almost exactly like a rookie again in 2024. Don’t mistake that for anything other than high praise, either. It is important to note, though, that he’s not quite as strong in some areas, but he’s showcased growth in others.

We’re going to use a sort of timeline here, centered around a loose framework of the Hero’s Journey. The archetypal journey follows a call to adventure, the abyss, and the return. There are far more intricacies (and stages) therein, but these seem appropriate ones in which to evaluate India’s rise, fall, and resurrection in such a short time.


The Call to Adventure


Jonathan India made the Reds’ roster out of camp in 2021. It marked his third camp with the team. The previous year, MLB Pipeline had noted the following about his offensive profile:

The right-handed hitter, despite otherwise pedestrian numbers, continued to show an advanced approach at the plate and excellent on-base skills in 2019, drawing a ton of walks at both levels. He has good swing mechanics and showed glimpses of the power that was on display his final year at Florida, especially to his pull side. India has average speed, but he’s an excellent baserunner who is aggressive on the basepaths.

That year, he hit .313, posted a .441 OBP, and ISO’d .292 in the exhibition season. With that, it’s no wonder the Reds defied the service time protocol of that particular era. As the season progressed, he only reaffirmed their choice.

India’s final slash on the year read .269/.376/.459/.835. He struck out a shade over 22 percent of the time but compensated well with an 11.3 BB%. His totals included 22 homers and a dozen steals. There was an approach there, too. He swung at one of the National League’s four lowest rates (39.0) and featured a top 20 whiff rate (8.9). It’s likely because of that that the Reds planted him in the leadoff spot for much of the year. He ended up with 468 of his 631 total plate appearances out of the top spot in the lineup. As the no. 1, he hit .275 and posted a .205 ISO.

With those numbers, it’s no wonder that India ended up running away with the NL Rookie of the Year award. He received 29 of 30 first-place votes. Miami’s Trevor Rogers received the only other one. India’s home run total trailed only Patrick Wisdom and his steals were behind only Jazz Chisholm Jr. His 98 runs scored were 19 more than the next closest, and he sat in the top 5-7 among NL rookies basically everywhere else.

He emerged as an elite hitter. But the fall came almost as quickly as the rise.


The Abyss


Jonathan India was not remotely the same hitter in the two subsequent seasons. He hit only .247 and reached base at a .333 clip. Those numbers were… fine, but also greatly disappointing given what he’d done in ’21. The power wasn’t there, either. He combined for only 27 homers across the two seasons. His combined ISO was just .147. FanGraphs’ wRC+ metric painted him as a below-average hitter in each season at a cumulative 98.

The term ‘abyss’ is likely a dramatic one. It’s not as if he fell off some cliff completely. However, he also ranked 131st out of 177 hitters with at least 800 PAs between the two seasons. There is, of course, plenty of nuance to both seasons as well, primarily on the health front.

The ’22 season was the more down of the two. A sophomore slump, if you will. He swung at more pitches, especially outside of the zone, and experienced a 10-point drop in his HardHit%. There were more flyballs, too. So it’s no wonder he faced a 20-point BABIP drop that year. And a 60-point ISO drop. Above all, though, there were the health issues.

FOX Sports lists 11 different injury occurrences for Jonathan India that year, four of which were hamstring injuries. He only appeared in 103 games as a result. While nothing was serious enough to cause him to miss extended time in one instance, there are also the factors that injuries of the nagging variety manifest at the plate. Most notable, perhaps, is a decrease in the quality of contact. It wasn’t a trend entirely dissimilar to the following year.

The volume of injuries wasn’t as high, but India dealt with a back injury and hit the Injured List with plantar fasciitis roughly mid-year. He was limited to 119 games. Many of the factors that made India such a success in 2021 were still there. Contact was good. Quality of contact appeared to be restored, but he still didn’t have batted ball luck, and the power was still more absent than in his rookie campaign. The months where the foot was especially troublesome were noticeable, too, given a huge decline in production across June & July before he missed all of August.

So, in the broad sense, Jonathan India’s production declined from his rookie season. If one were to look at the stat sheet alone, then you’re likely left wondering why that was the case. But health, above all, likely prevented him from reaching those same heights. It’s appropriate within our framing, since the hero’s ‘abyss’ generally includes some sort of loss or injury. Check!


The Return


The sentiment surrounding Jonathan India wasn’t super encouraging ahead of this season. He was still dealing with plantar fasciitis. Cincinnati was ready to deploy Elly De La Cruz, Matt McLain, Noelvi Marte, and Christian Encarnacion-Strand on their infield. To say nothing of their addition of Jeimer Candelario or Spencer Steer’s versatility. That’s a lot of talent to balance, and it appeared to signal India’s imminent departure via trade. Despite that, the Reds signed him to a two-year extension that carries him through next season.

Turns out, that was the correct move. McLain hasn’t played yet this season due to injury. Encarnacion-Strand is likely done for the year with one of his own. Marte just recently returned from a PED suspension. India has not only been an important part of the clubhouse, he’s been invaluable to their offensive production at large.

India’s strikeout rate is at a career-low (20.0). His walk rate is at a career-high (12.7). Average (.278) and OBP (.381) are also the best he’s shown at this level. His contact quality is just a shade beneath what he turned in during his rookie season, and he’s making more of it. An 82.9 Contact% is not only a career-best but sits 29th out of 145 qualifying position players. He’s on pace to eclipse 600 PAs for the first time since 2021, as well.

Furthering the resurgence is a return to a familiar spot in the lineup. India has played his last seven games (as of this writing) out of the leadoff spot. He’s appeared there sparingly in ’24, but this is the longest stretch of the season in that role. Since then, he set a Reds record with doubles in more than seven consecutive games. He’s run the streak up to nine thus far, with three games of multiple two-baggers within that. That led to some NL Player of the Week honors. Overall, he’s hitting .277 and pushing a .400 OBP in the leadoff spot. He’s also striking out under 16 percent of the time. An extended run atop the lineup could be on the horizon.

The only notable absence is on the power side. India’s ISO still sits at only .132. He’s on pace for 12 home runs. Fewer flyballs are a factor. He’s been hitting it on the ground more but is also hitting more line drives. Given the approach factors, though, you don’t mind it as a tablesetter.

In that regard, 2021 could prove to be the outlier. Everywhere else, though, Jonathan India appears to be… a very good hitter. He’s elevated the approach this year to not only return to his rookie form but exceed it. He’s swinging less and demonstrating a higher quality of contact. Cincinnati is a lineup loaded with future upside at the plate. They don’t need India to be his 2021 self. This version will do just fine.

Randy Holt

Randy Holt is a staff writer for Pitcher List & a depth charts analyst for Baseball Prospectus. He's a self-identified Cubs fan who has become more agnostic, instead obsessing about quality defensive baseball wherever he can find it. Randy has a sport management degree from the University of Florida, as well as degrees from Embry-Riddle & Arizona State. When not wasting away on the husk of Twitter/X, Randy is a high school English teacher & a baseball and golf coach.

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