Nico Hoerner continues to mature at the plate by taking more chances in the right moments


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When Nico Hoerner is right, he’s hitting the ball gap to gap, usually on a line. For far longer than he’d have liked in July, he wasn’t doing that.

From the start of the month through July 17, Hoerner had a 2.5 percent line-drive rate. It was a total of three line drives, all to the opposite side, all for outs. Beyond that and the 12 wRC+ he put up during those 62 plate appearances, what really made it clear that Hoerner was struggling was the 27.2 percent strikeout rate he had during that stretch. That’s more than double the 13.2 percent rate Hoerner has for his career.

“He sets such a high expectation with no swing-and-miss and no strikeouts that it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s wrong with him,’” hitting coach Dustin Kelly said. “When you just take a step back and watch him work every day, everything was the same. He got out of his approach a little bit and started swinging more.”

In Friday night’s 6-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays, Hoerner consistently hit the ball hard and often in the air. It led to two hits, including a solo homer to get the Cubs scoring started. Since that rough stretch in early July, he’s hit line drives 21.6 percent of the time.

“I have pulled the ball in the air a lot more in the last two weeks than probably the two months before it combined,” Hoerner said. “Not too different as far as what I’m telling myself going up to the plate. It’s more a product of things feeling pretty simple, moving well and having conviction. When things really sync up for a lot of guys, that’s where the ball ends up going. It’s nice that I’ve been able to do it against a variety of pitches and pitchers too.”

Nico Hoerner rounds the bases after his first-inning home run. (Nick Turchiaro / USA Today)

That’s only slight hyperbole from Hoerner. From May 17 to July 17, he hit nine line drives to the pull side. That spanned 226 plate appearances. Including Friday, he’s equaled that number in the 104 plate appearances he’s had since.

“I don’t think it’s a concerted effort,” Kelly said. “We’ve never told him that we want him to pull the ball in the air, that we want more power for him. His game is going to be line drives in the middle of the field. As he’s getting deeper into his career, he’s starting to recognize there are more chances for (him) in an at-bat.”

Hoerner’s been hitting sinkers, curveballs, four-seamers and even a changeup on Friday hard and in the air. Since July 18, prior to his two hits on Friday, he’s posted a 140 wRC+. It’s obvious how much taking those chances in the right moments can help Hoerner take his game to another level offensively.

“Pulling the ball hard in the air is the most valuable ball in our sport,” Hoerner said. “That’s no secret. The best players do it a lot. It’s something that’s not been a strength of mine in my career. You hear about guys learning to find their power, growing into their power, things like that. I think a lot of that is what your intent in the game is to where you’re able to move in an efficient way to where your solid contact is out front and flush.”

Hoerner isn’t going to transform into a power hitter. That wouldn’t be wise, considering it’s not his game. But as Kelly explains, it makes sense to take some chances as he continues to mature as a hitter and understand what he can and can’t do at the highest level.

“We’ve given him freedom, like, hey, if this is a good match-up for you, you feel comfortable and the game state tells you it’s time to take a chance, he’s starting to turn it loose a little bit,” Kelly said. “With that will come a little more swing-and-miss at times. But he’s so smart and has such a good game plan that he’ll take the one big shot. Then he’s able to back down again, work that at-bat and be back up the middle. But he’s never trying to pull it and put it in the seats. It’s more about knowing when he can catch the ball out in front a bit more.”

With his ninth home run of the season on Friday, Hoerner is now one home run away from matching his career high. His ISO is up to .124, still well below league average, but giving him a little more value beyond an empty batting average. In his past 22 games, his ISO is .194. It’ll be interesting to see if he can continue to build upon this and add more gap-finding doubles and even reach 15 homers on the season. Because of his elite defense at second, he’s already an incredibly valuable player despite being a league-average bat. Power isn’t Hoerner’s game and he certainly shouldn’t try and make it so. But another bump this year in that department would certainly be welcome.

(Top photo of Nico Hoerner hitting a single in Friday’s game: Nick Turchiaro / USA Today)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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