A new season and new beginnings for Ryan Karl ’15
In more than one way, this is a new season for Ryan Karl. He was the best hitter on the team in 2014 as he hit .280/.356/.552 with nine home runs, and he had the chance to work out with the Cincinnati Reds this summer, and it all changed in an instant. While he was throwing from first base, “…it [his elbow] just snapped on me… I got an MRI, and I had a full tear and the doctor told me that I’d need Tommy John surgery if I ever wanted to play again”. Obviously, he had the surgery.
He has spent the next eight months or so slowly and painfully rehabbing back to full health, but it takes a lot of effort to commit to the rehab program over such a period of time. He has echoed that sentiment, stating: “It’s really annoying… it’s tedious, nothing too crazy… it’s just a lot of rehab, and you have to feel it out every day. You can’t throw as much as you’d like, you can’t lift as much as you’d like, and you can’t hit as much as you’d like…”. But rehab he did, and just in time for the season to begin.
And even after his rehab was nearly over and he was ready to play live baseball, he still had unfinished business. If there is one thing Karl needs to work on to be an even deadlier hitter, it’s his strikeout rate. At 25% in 2014, it was one of the highest of his offensive caliber in the Ivy League, and a bit higher than the league average of 17.3%. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been an excellent hitter already, and that’s why he was featured on Fangraphs’ Ivy League hitters list:
In this graphic, K% is strikeout rate, ISO is Isolated Power (proportion of extra base hits to total plate appearances), and BABIP is Batting Average on Balls In Play. The “x” is just the regressed value, meaning the values one would expect to see in the future given their past performance. And finally, KATOH+ is an overall rating based on those previous measures; 100 represents average, and every point above 100 is 1% higher. So, Karl’s 152 KATOH+ means he was 52% better than the average Ivy League hitter based on predictive measures of future performance.
But jargon aside, it’s clear that reducing his strikeout rate would make Karl arguably one of the best hitters in the Ivy League, and it would certainly outperform his Baseball America ranking as the 8th best Ivy League prospect. And what would be the best way to tackle this strikeout issue? According to Karl, it comes down to his swing. But before getting into the details, let’s take a look at the swing itself:
The biggest thing you’ll notice is the work with his hands; he’s said how important that is in shortening his swing: “Last year in the second half I was really long… I couldn’t catch up to the harder fastball… I can now see the ball deeper because my swing is shorter”. Even though he had massive power when he connected–and Ivy League pitchers miss out over the plate pretty often–there were quite a few times where he was fooled. Fastballs up-and-in and breaking pitches would easily catch him off-balance, but a shorter swing can greatly remedy that.
If we go even further and to a more granular level, one can look at the first stage of his swing:
Even as the swing begins, his hands remain in to his body, his bat remains loaded, and the stroke begins as his hips and body begin to pivot. And if we look at further into his follow through, we’ll see this:
As the ball approaches, his hands still remain in and bat catches a huge chunk of the plate as he transfers weight. The momentum doesn’t stop, though, and he continues a powerful and circular motion to finish:
He finishes his circular motion with decent enough balance, and his full body remains stable, level, and the hands follow through.
Between having surgery, rehabbing, and improving upon his approach, Karl is clearly ready to take on the Ivy League season. He’s already the best hitter on the team and looks to continue on that path, and he hopes the team follows suit. He absolutely believes in their abilities: “We have a great team… the pitching staff is been as good as it can be, our defense is really solid, and I think our offense will pick it up… I think we’re gonna win an Ivy League title”. If the team’s improvement is anything like Karl’s, then they certainly have a good shot.