For anyone that studies advanced metrics there almost always seems to be a pattern, a reason to justify why a player is struggling, data to show how improvements were made, basis for an upcoming hot or cold streak and a way to determine how well a player is performing; among many other things. Teams use them to identify players they would like to acquire, to develop the ones they have and even to deploy them in a manner that is most likely to help the individual to produce to their potential. However, as with the use of any type of statistic there are bound to be some flaws or more simply put, exceptions to the rule.
At the end of last season Kevin Newman stood near the top of the leaderboard in batting average for all of Major League Baseball at .308; surrounded by players like Cody Bellinger, Nelson Cruz and teammate, Bryan Reynolds. In the beginning of the year he was a little bit of an afterthought as Erik Gonzalez had secured the starting shortstop position and super utility man Adam Frazier dug in at second base. Even when Gonzalez collided with Starling Marte, putting a hold on his season, it was Cole Tucker that the team called upon; partly due to the fact that Newman was nursing a finger injury and wasn’t available. However, upon his return he seized the opportunity and ultimately the role at shortstop for the remainder of the year. It was a pleasant surprise to say the least, in an disappointing year for the Pittsburgh Pirates overall.
Then came the off-season season. Amateur and professional sabermetricians alike began to question how Newman had maintained his high level of production at the plate for the entire year and honestly they were kind of stumped. Almost all of the data showed that it shouldn’t have been possible or at the very least would be difficult to replicate. In other words Newman would more than likely be heading for a regression as he ranked near bottom in exit velocity, hard hit %, xSlG and barrel %, as well below average in xwOBA according to Statcast. I even listed him as a regression candidate in an article prior to the season; Progression, Regression and Stagnation: 2020 Pirates Player Projections.
When the 2020 season finally got underway and Newman got off to a slow start people began to think that the numbers and they were correct; the regression had begun. After six games he was only batting .125 and even after eleven games it had only risen to .186. However since that point, and even a little little before that Newman’s stroke seems to have gotten back on track as he now sits at .277 heading into tonight’s game versus the Cleveland Indians, riding a 7 game hitting streak. Based on this you might start to think that maybe his peripherals have improved and the initial projections were wrong, but you would be incorrect. Kevin Newman is pretty much the exact same player he was during the previous year.
So, what is up with Kevin Newman? Honestly I have no idea other than the fact that when he is at the plate, he just puts the bat on the ball; albeit not as hard as most players in the league. Both his K% and Whiff % remain as one of the highest in the league at 97% and 96% respectively, while his BB% is in the bottom 20 qualifiers in MLB at 4.3%. To put this in perspective the current league leader has a BB% of 27.3% and the league average is around 14 to 15%. Nothing about Newman’s stats make sense and truthfully still point towards a regression, BUT this doesn’t seem to matter to him and maybe he is the outlier that will continue to produce no matter what the numbers say.