With the trade deadline looming and the existence of the (mostly good) noise coming from the minors for the White Sox, it’s easy to lose focus of the young players who are already on the current Major League roster. Albeit justifiable, it may finally be time to take an overdue look at one of the somewhat unexpected surprises of the 2018 season.
After hitting two home runs against the Angels on Thursday, a two-hit Friday, and a go-ahead pinch-hit single on Saturday, Daniel Palka massacred another home run on Sunday. Through 72 games in 2018, his home run total for the season is now up to 15 (feels like more, doesn’t it?).
Palka is currently batting .242/.283/.500 for the season. Based on that alone, it’s very clear that he’s been a very boom-or-bust type of player in his few months with the White Sox. If you’ve only watched a handful of games this season, you might have a polarized opinion on this guy.
There will be games in which he will fail miserably, and there will be games in which it seems like he almost won the game single-handedly. Every player has ups and downs, but they will be more frequent with Palka than most other players because of his volatility.
Players like Palka are becoming more prevalent in Major League Baseball, and this is because they’ve been objectively proven to be much more of a net positive in the long run than traditional wisdom might suggest. This is why strikeouts aren’t as frowned upon as they used to be, despite being the least productive offensive outcome. It’s not that strikeouts are that much less harmful than they used to be, but it’s just that the tolerance threshold is a lot higher than it used to be for certain players.
In other words, strikeouts aren’t as hated as they used to be because some players can overcome them with high on-base percentages and slugging power. Of course, it can eventually get to the point where the strikeout rate approaches a level where it’s almost impossible to overcome, but this is the foundation for the “true outcome” nature of modern baseball.
Anyway, back to Palka.
Daniel Palka has 25 multi-strikeout games this season, and his strikeout rate currently sits at 33.5% as of this writing. That’s pretty high, and it can be frustrating to watch, but it is much easier to digest if the production from the remainder of his plate appearances is enough to overcome the high strikeout rate. Fortunately, his .329 wOBA and 108 wRC+ suggest that he has been able to overcome it up to this point (you’ll find that there is a similar argument to be made for Yoan Moncada, as well).
One of the reasons for this (and the basis for the hype) is his ability to hit the ball very, very hard. 67 of the 155 balls Daniel Palka has put into play this season have had an exit velocity of 100+ miles per hour. No other player in baseball has hit the ball that hard more frequently this season. Not Aaron Judge. Not Mike Trout. Not Giancarlo Stanton. Nobody.
What separates Palka is more than just that. It’s the fact that he can hit the ball harder than just about anyone in baseball when he makes solid contact. Only 101 baseballs have been hit 115+ miles per hour all season, and many of them are generated from the same handful of players. Here are the top 4 this season (from Statcast):
|Player||Batted Balls 115+ MPH||Total Balls in Play||Rate|
Hitting the ball extremely hard isn’t everything, but it puts Palka in that class of players who have been able to overcome high strikeout rates by doing so. The raw power is unquestionable.
One thing that separates dominant hitters like Judge and Stanton from players like Palka is their ability to talk walks. It doesn’t seem like Palka’s strikeout rate is going to come down too much, but that would be very tolerable if he could find a way to get on base slightly more. It hasn’t been his area of expertise so far.
However, the encouraging thing about him, despite having below-average plate discipline on the Major League level, is that he might be capable of getting to a point where he’s taking more walks. His walk rate in the minors was a lofty 13.7%, and even though MLB pitching is an entirely different animal, you’d have to believe the ability to take a few more walks at this level is rooted within him somewhere.
The really concerning thing, though, is his contact rate. We know Palka can hit the ball really, really hard, but his issue is consistently making contact in the first place. His contact rate is 6th-lowest among all players with at least as many plate appearances. It probably won’t ever be high, but perhaps slightly better plate discipline would mean better in-zone pitches to hit, which would mean more contact, which would mean more opportunities to get on base and take advantage of his tremendous power. You tell me.
With all of the high-ceiling bats in the White Sox system, it’s easy to undersell a player like Daniel Palka. He has the potential to be a very dominant force at the plate and based on what he’s done so far this season, I don’t know if his ceiling as a hitter can be oversold.
Follow Dominic on Twitter: @WhiteSoxDom–Feature Photo Credit: Chicago Tribune