Edouard Julien – Twins lineup savior?
To say the Twins desperately need a reliable, high impact batter in the lineup is an understatement. Throughout most of the year, the Twins have seen extremely poor production from the players they were counting on, and confident in for that matter. Julien has gotten an extended chance to play due to Jorge Polanco’s seemingly constant array of health issues, and the rookie prospect has absolutely made the most of it.
Julien is now hitting .298/.373/.525 OPS .897 wRC+ 149, wOBA .383 in 162 plate appearances. As good as those numbers are, since his recall from AAA on May 20th, he’s been much hotter still with a line of .316/.394/.544 OPS .938, wRC+ 160! The plate appearances are beginning to stack up to the point where you start to expect to see some things stabilize, but will the production continue?
Let’s get right to it. No. Probably not. Julien’s stat line comes with BABIP issues, and way too much swing and miss to continue this level of production. Since his recall, his BABIP is .456, and I don’t think I need to tell people that’s not sustainable. So how much regression should fans expect? On Julien’s side is the fact he’s hitting line drives at near elite rates, about 25% of the time since his recall, and line drives are very likely to result in a hit. Ground balls are close to league average for batting average, and fly balls are nearly useless if they don’t get to the seats. The worst fly ball offender is the popup which pretty much owns a .000 batting average. Good news in regard to those pop-ups, though as Julien hasn’t been credited with a single pop up this year! In addition, Julien’s fly ball rate overall is low, but his HR/FB rate is around 25%, which is also probably unsustainably high. There’s a lot to like in Julien’s batted ball profile for contributing to a well above average BABIP, but not .456, and Julien hasn't consistently made a ton of hard contact, though it has been really good as of late!
Baseball Savant has Julien’s xBA (expected batting average) as a pretty miserable (but very Twins-esque) .225 to go with a tick below average xwOBA (expected weighted on base average) of .323. Julien's actual wOBA is.383 right now for reference. To simplify, wOBA works out to about .275 unplayable, .300 poor, .325 average, .350 good, .375+ excellent, .400+ elite. Most of the disparity in his actual .298 and what would be expected is from Julien’s pedestrian barrel rates, fly ball distances, and overall exit velocities mixed in with a K rate north of 30%. Something which stands out to me as a good judge of raw power is max exit velocity. Julien’s is 108.9mph, which is even a tick below the average MLB player. This is important because it gives you an idea of what the ceiling of a player might be when it comes to power hitting. For example, it’s rare to see a power hitter under 110mph. There’s not much to suggest Julien being a big power hitter in the minors, either, so it’s reasonable to expect him to top out with 20-25 HR power at the MLB level with an average HR/FB rate of 15% rather than the 25% he currently owns. The good news is line drives don’t have to be hit at 100+mph to get on base or knock out a double, and Julien could produce at a high level at the plate if he can improve his plate discipline. If Julien doesn’t adapt, the early season Brent Rooker level regression is very much a possibility.
One final bright note is Julien hasn’t shown a lot of glaring weaknesses against off speed and breaking pitches. He’s punished changeups and the sweepers, hit both 4 steamers and sinking fastballs well and been serviceable vs. the slider and cutters. This suggests Julien’s pitch recognition is pretty solid so it seems reasonable he could start coaxing some more walks while reducing the K rate as he adjusts to MLB caliber pitches and movement. In other words, there's definitely hope Julien can and will adapt and improve. Let's really hope hard for that because he needs to hit with his defensive limitations.