Chris Colabello was one of the Twins' best hitters in April, boasting a triple slash of .295/.343/.484 with three homers and a 131 wRC+. (For those of you who put stock in RBI, he only trailed Jose Abreu and Giancarlo Stanton with 27.) Since then, though, he's been simply horrid: .125/.169/.196 with a single home run, three RBI, and a wRC+ of -3, a point worse than that of Pedro Florimon for the entirety of 2014 and equal to that of Oswaldo Arcia before he was optioned to Rochester. (Colabello's not doing too well down there well at the moment, either, but it is considerably better.)
When Colabello was sent down a couple weeks ago, I wanted to know the answer to a simple question: What's gone wrong? He's raked in the minors since he came to the Twins' system in 2012 and won International League MVP in 2013 after hitting .352/.427/.639 (and an OPS of 1.066, which would be second in the majors only to Troy Tulowitzki this year) with 24 homers in just 89 games for the Red Wings that year. His career line in the majors, with six more games than his 2013 at AAA: .212/.284/.360 with 11 home runs. I don't believe that Colabello is a lost cause, but it's clear that something needs to change, or he will become one. In an attempt to find out what exactly that something is, I delved into Colabello's statistics.
What we know for sure about Colabello is this: he has power. A power hitter, then, needs to hit balls in the air. The problem is, Colabello's been hitting more like a contact hitter since he arrived in the majors, with a career ground ball rate near 60% and a fly ball rate of 25.1%. He also would hit for a better average if he hit more line drives; an average line drive rate is around 20% according to FanGraphs, yet Colabello's career mark is 14.3%.
The prescription here is obvious: he needs to get under the ball, since he's not just going to get faster to justify being such an extreme ground ball hitter, especially since, as Bryz noted last year, Colabello tends to hit like a right-handed Joe Mauer. This approach works for Mauer, but Mauer also hits many more line drives, is better on the basepaths, and has made a trademark out of placing the ball where the fielders on the other team simply aren't:
As a result, Mauer's career BABIP is a remarkable .348. Colabello's is .286. Let's also look at Colabello's career spray charts.
All spray charts via www.brooksbaseball.net
Note: As you can tell by the massive disparity in colored dots, Colabello has obviously played much, much less in the majors than Joe Mauer has. The sample size for Colabello's batted balls, while still large enough for our purposes, is still not near as large as that of Mauer's.
He doesn't really hit it into the right-center gap, down the right-field line, or just over the second baseman. When it gets out of the infield and falls for a hit, it's generally on the shortstop's side. His opposite-field homeruns are also highly Mauer-like. Again though, Colabello's skill set is not the same as Mauer's. He made a living in the minors off of the homer; at 30, he can't really turn into a contact hitter at this point.
The one thing I figured would be a constant with Colabello would be his ability to draw walks. That generally stays pretty constant throughout a player's career, and his Minor League and Can-Am League walk rates (9.5% and 9.6% respectively, with 11% last year and 11.3% this year in AAA) is pretty similar to what it was in the majors last year (11%). However, with Minnesota, he only walked 5.6% of the time in 2014.
Looking at his plate discipline numbers doesn't tell much: His 2014 swing rates are nearly identical to where they were last year. Colabello's swinging strike percentage has actually gone down (although it isn't a particularly significant amount). He's not facing more strikes either.
His strikeouts escalated as pitchers threw more offspeed stuff this year, but it's still very hard to tell exactly how Colabello is against certain pitches, since there are no apparent patterns. Plus, while he did much worse against offspeed pitches and struck out more often in May than he did in April, his walk rates for each month were within eight-tenths of a percentage of each other - hardly a significant difference.
The drop-off also isn't a result of a decrease in intentional passes, since between 2012 and 2013, Colabello was walked in this way just five times.
I thought that maybe he needed to be platooned to be successful, since in his brief time in the majors he's walked more against lefties than against righties, but his minor league splits suggest otherwise. It could just be an extreme month-long slump that's skewing the numbers (the Major League sample size this season was small; it was only a couple months), but I can't pinpoint why it was he wasn't drawing walks like he generally does.
Another problem with Colabello is that he can't really field (his career UZR/150 is -49.9), but there's little that can be done about that, except to keep him at first or DH rather than forcing him into right field. (This problem wouldn't exist, were there more than three true outfielders on the active roster, but that, obviously, is not Colabello's fault.)
Really, the simplest thing Colabello has to do at the major league is to get the ball in the air, which will result in more extra base hits, particularly home runs (which is, admittedly, the same conclusion Bryz came to). Otherwise, as much as we all want him to succeed, he won't be of much value to the Twins or any other team in the majors.
All statistics (unless specifically cited as otherwise so) via FanGraphs