When Should We Trust Jurickson Profar?

Are we finally looking at a sustainable emergence?

It’s wild to think about the Major League Baseball landscape 12 years ago. The Chicago White Sox were making the transition from Ozzie Guillén to Robin Ventura on the bench. Aaron Hill hit for the cycle twice in less than two weeks. The Oakland Athletics & Cincinnati Reds were division champions. Pablo Sandoval was the World Series MVP. Carlos Correa was the No. 1 overall draft pick. And Jurickson Profar was a top-10 prospect in baseball, making his debut as a 19-year-old.

Profar would go on to kick off 2013 as the No. 1 prospect in the sport. MLB Pipeline noted the following:

A switch-hitter, he’s learned to be dangerous with the bat from both sides of the plate. He has more power than you’d think with outstanding bat speed through the strike zone. He has a good overall approach at the plate, which should allow him to hit for average. He makes things look very easy in the field, using unparalleled instincts to allow his already plus range and above-average arm play up. His makeup, work ethic and leadership all would get an 8 on the scouting scale. Now all Texas has to do is find a place for him.

Fast forward another dozen years and Profar has demonstrated, well, really none of those things. Health didn’t help; he’s undergone multiple shoulder surgeries. Even still, his career slash from that cup of joe in 2012 through the end of last year goes .238/.322/.383/.706. He’s posted decent K/BB numbers, striking out 16.3% of the time & walking at a 9.8% clip. But there hasn’t been an actual impact to speak of, as he had a .145 ISO over that stretch. Notable counting stats include 87 homers and 47 steals. In short, he’s been fine.

But fine — in the bigger picture of prospect pedigree — carries with it a negative connotation. Profar has turned into something of a versatile journeyman. A good living, to be sure. He’s played seven defensive positions and has changed teams four times. Hard to imagine that outcome given the buzz around him at the beginning of the 2010s.


New Year, New (?) Jurickson


The 2024 season, however, has represented something else entirely for Jurickson Profar. The Padres are one of the league’s better offensive clubs. They’re eighth in the league in runs scored, maintaining a heavy on-base presence, and striking out at an elite rate (on the low end). Most important for our purposes, though, is that Profar has been a heavy factor in all of that.

Profar is walking at almost an identical rate to that which he’s striking out (13.7 K% vs. 13.2 BB%). He’s hitting .339, reaching base at a .431 rate, and has a .178 ISO. FanGraphs has him at a 2.2 WAR that ranks 11th, and his 1.8 bWAR is 23rd among qualifiers. Each figure already serves as the second-best mark of his career. He’s been an elite player thus far in 2024.

That’s a word we’ve never been able to use in proximity to Profar, despite the superlatives in his days as a prospect.

In a more specific team context, only Jake Cronenworth has posted higher power numbers and only Ha-Seong Kim has walked more. He’s been a catalyst for a very good offensive team.


Has a Corner Been Turned?


Of course, the question immediately shifts to what Jurickson Profar might be doing differently that allows for such a bump in performance to occur. Let’s open up the hood.

First is the BABIP. When you’ve got a player excelling in this manner, without a track record of it, one tends to look at the “luck” of it almost immediately. Because a .372 BABIP is high, yes, but he also has a .324 xBA. It’s not as if he’s doing anything outlandish, especially since he is hitting the ball harder overall.

Let’s analyze his approach. He’s at 4.13 pitches per plate appearance and a 45.8% swing rate. Neither is close to a career mark, let alone an outlier. Inside (70.7%) or outside (28.5%) of the zone, everything is pretty well in line with his career norms. He’s whiffing at 8.1% of pitches while featuring a CSW% of 22.4. Again, nothing out of the ordinary there. The contact rates are very much the same story, as an 82.3 Contact% is a shade lower than Profar’s career 82.7 clip. His approach seems normal.

As far as the quality of contact, Profar’s PC% (measuring weak contact) has dropped to 57.7% (64.6% career) against an Ideal Contact Rate of 42.4% (22.4% career). In turn, his comprehensive IPA% is up at 30.7%, almost twice his 16.4% career rate. Furthermore, Statcast has his HardHit% up at 40.3%, up from a 31.9% career average. While he’s absolutely making better contact, it’s not an outlandish figure in the broader MLB context. His IRC is 72nd percentile, while his IPA% is 84th. His Statcast HardHit% is 48th. There’s enough there to feel good about the contact rates within the context of his BABIP, while also not representing an unsustainable figure above his career norms.

But what is it that’s leading to that better contact? We already established that the approach hasn’t changed. As far as pitch type goes, though, he is swinging at more offspeed and breaking against fewer fastballs. He’s brought the whiffs down against the former two pitch types while jumping up the hard-hit rate against both. While there are some slight tendency changes, there also isn’t a ton to glean.

Zone tendencies offer at least some insight. Profar’s swing has been honing in on those spots where he’s historically posted a higher HardHit%. He hasn’t been more or less aggressive in the grander scheme, but showcasing intention within the zone is a potential factor. Even more notably, though, the launch angle has dipped. His average 11.7-degree LA is the lowest of his career. This was a point of emphasis for him in working with Fernando Tatis Jr (and Sr) over the winter. Leveling out the swing leads to more consistent quality contact and, subsequently, more positive results. Wild!

That might be the answer we’re looking for. Because Jurickson Profar remains largely the same player in virtually every way. But he’s refined the mental approach, toned down the launch angle, and focused on those parts of the zone where he’s had success. The answer we were seeking just became obnoxiously apparent.


The Trust Threshold


Before we make a determination as to the trustworthiness of Jurickson Profar, a note. You, dear reader, might be wondering how we made it 1,000 words in here without mentioning the switch-hitting aspect. The easy answer is that it doesn’t really matter here. Profar’s left-handed sample is far larger, yes. But the numbers are quite similar on each side. FanGraphs, for example, has him at a 172 wRC+ right-handed and 178 batting as a lefty. Baseball Reference’s OPS+ is 165 and 172, respectively. It’s shockingly moot.

Now, the big question. Can we trust Jurickson Profar? And how long does the sample need to run before we know?

In the absence of really glaring changes to any facet of his game, trusting Profar becomes easy. The approach has maintained. The contact trends have too. Slight changes in zone tendencies and launch angle lean favorable. It’s not as if he’s suddenly an elite bat whose fall is imminent. He’s simply evolved into a very solid Major League hitter. We also have to maintain an awareness of the unquantifiable. Profar’s in a comfortable setting, across the outfield from the player he worked with all winter. That has to at least be part of the consideration here.

The latter is easy. FanGraphs did the work for us back in 2010. Average needs essentially two, maybe three, seasons. OBP just needs one. So we certainly need to see more. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it now, though.


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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