Less is More for Tyler Naquin

The seasoned outfielder is taking a different approach in the box.

Last season the Cincinnati Reds made the playoffs for the first time since 2013, but much like their regular season, the lack of offensive output quickly ended any dreams of a postseason run. But the tides have changed for the Redlegs and now in a little under two weeks into the new season, the Reds hold MLB’s best record and rank among the top of the leaderboards offensively. They currently rank first in runs scored (69), tied for first in home runs (18), and third in wRC+ (131). The Reds are wasting no time at the plate, proving to skeptics that last year’s struggles was nothing more than a fluke.

One of the biggest contributors is Tyler Naquin. The former first round draft pick and Cleveland outfielder wasn’t expected to be starting for the Reds, but an impressive spring placed him on the Reds’ Opening Day roster, and a Jesse Winker illness provided him the opportunity to make some starts. Here’s how Naquin stacks up in the NL.


Naquin NL 2021 Hitting Ranks


Naquin is hitting .290/.389/.806 with a .543 xwOBA, 209 wRC+ and 11.1% walk rate. Additionally, Naquin has a .222 BABIP, which might give you a knee-jerk reaction, but it makes sense since five of Naquin’s seven hits have left the ballpark. His career high in home runs is 14, which he accomplished in 365 PA during his 2016 rookie season. He is on pace to break pretty much every personal record he’s set at the Major League level. Of course this kind of production is nearly unsustainable for any hitter that isn’t named Mike Trout, but I think there is some legitimacy to the Naquin’s mini-breakout.

For starters, Naquin has previously shown some solid ability to make hard contact, posting a 114.4 MPH max EV in 2019. It doesn’t take a ton of evidence for a hitter to convince us that they can hit the ball hard, and usually just a few hard hit balls do the trick. Across his career, Naquin has hit 18 balls harder than 110 MPH. It’s an arbitrary threshold, but my point is that Naquin’s potential isn’t hindered by an inability to hit the ball hard. He has strength in his swing and he’s already hit two home runs reaching 454 feet, surpassing his furthest homer of 439 feet from 2016. Producing that strength consistently, along with much improved plate discipline, has played a big role in Naquin’s early success.


New Approach


If we start with Naquin’s 2020 swing, we can identify some potential key adjustments.




Here we see Naquin with a lot of pre-pitch movement. His front foot is constantly tapping the ground and his barrel head tips back and forth a ton. The rhythm looks a bit sporadic at times but transitions into Naquin’s load really smoothly. This kind of pre-pitch movement is common among many hitters. I mean, the best hitter in the world—Mike Trout—has this same exact kind of pre-pitch movements. Unfortunately, batting stances can’t typically be designed with a cookie-cutter approach and perhaps this kind of rhythm just wasn’t putting Naquin in a solid position to be successful. Let’s see what his swing looks like this season.




We see the same upright stance, but now we nearly zero pre-pitch movement and a barrel that stays completely upright. There’s a slight lean back in his stance, similar to that of teammate Jesse Winker, that probably serves a purpose. Maybe it’s just to keep him loose in the box or perhaps it’s a cue similar to what I recently wrote about Joey Gallo. Regardless, Naquin has slowed down his pre-pitch movements drastically, proving that in his case, less is more.

As for the swing itself, it looks very simple and direct to the ball. He still gets great separation between his upper and lower body, but you can see a real attempt to minimize wasted movements. Take this breakdown from my friend Jules Posner (@julesposner),  a baseball writer for Forbes Sports who also works as a hitting coach.



Posner’s breakdown gets right at my point. There is less going on in Naquin’s 2020 swing, and in his particular case, it could be creating for a more controlled and efficient swing.

In my understanding and experience, pre-pitch movements, or lack thereof, play two roles in a hitter’s swing: timing and comfort. In the case of Naquin, I think this new approach is helping him reproduce his best swing consistently. As a result, Naquin holds a 78.3% hard hit rate and a 21.7% barrel rate. Nearly every Statcast metric of his puts him in the top 5% of the league. Of course, I can’t tell you with exact certainty why Naquin’s stance has changed, but I am hard pressed to believe there was intent to improve his pitch recognition skills. If this is true, we can see it in his ability to hammer pitches of all speeds. Take this 78 MPH hanging change-up that Naquin stays all over and crushes.




The pitch isn’t a great one, mainly because of its location. But, Naquin shows that the preceding 90 mph sinker, one that busted him inside, had no bearing on his ability to adjust to a 12 mph speed difference. Naquin versus pitch types is like something out of a video game.


Naquin vs Pitch Types


Again, it’s an extremely small sample size, but this season Naquin has yet to been bested by a certain kind a pitch.

What’s much more interesting to me is how different his plate discipline has been this season. Naquin posted a 3.5% walk rate in 2020, a 4.8% walk rate in 2019, and a 3.3% walk rate in 2018. But this season he has a 14.8% walk rate. Naquin is seeing more pitches he has the past three seasons, averaging 3.9 pitches per plate appearance. Looking at his past three seasons, we can see improvements across the board.


Naquin Plate Discipline


A previously aggressive approach has become much more passive. And by swing/take runs, Naquin is positive (6) for the first time since 2016, where he is unsurprisingly crushing pitches in the heart of the plate.

Tyler Naquin isn’t going to lead the league in hitting. The sample size in 2021 is much too small to really draw any predictive conclusions. And although he is just indisputably off to a hot start, I do (biasedly) think he’s made some intentional adjustments that might help him take that step forward as a hitter. How much of an improvement? Only time will tell. But nonetheless, Naquin made some changes in the offseason that have garnered some attention.


Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire | Feature Graphic Designed by James Peterson (Follow @jhp_design714 on Instagram & Twitter)

Kyle Horton

Kyle is a former Division 1 baseball player and Quinnipiac University alumni. Please follow him on Twitter @Hortonimo, he already told his mom that you did.

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