Isaac Paredes entered the 2021 season ranked number 6 on our list of the top 20 Detroit Tigers prospects. We certainly weren’t alone in our regard for the young infielder.
Baseball America ranked Paredes as one of Detroit’s top-10 prospects in each of the last four years, and he maintained similar status at both FanGraphs and MLB Pipeline. He didn’t do much in his first taste of the big leagues last year, batting just .220/.278/.290 in 34 games, but young hitters almost always struggle.
Paredes was never expected to be a superstar, with most scouting reports projecting him as a potential solid MLB regular. That would be plenty good enough for the Tigers though, because they’re still a bit short on average regulars.
But Isaac Paredes has hardly played at all in Detroit this season, with just 44 at-bats over 16 games.
It’s one thing to lose playing time to Jeimer Candelario, who has been terrific this year, but it’s another to be passed over for middle infielders Willi Castro, Harold Castro, Niko Goodrum, and Zack Short. While Paredes was posting a 131 wRC+ in Triple-A Toledo, the quartet above combined to produce -0.7 fWAR for the Tigers.
What gives? We know A.J. Hinch isn’t dumb, so why hasn’t he played Paredes more? There have been rumors about bad makeup in the past, and Paredes was dealing with injuries at times this year, but we think it might be something else:
Isaac Paredes doesn’t hit the ball hard.
We first broached this issue last September, and it has stayed a topic of quiet discussion in some circles. Most recently, Cody Stavenhagen of The Athletic tweeted about it during Tuesday’s game:
If you look at the conversation under Stavenhagen’s tweet you’ll find some particularly trenchant analysis of the issue from our friend Brandon Day at Bless You Boys, and below you can see video of the ball in question.
Clearly we can’t use one batted ball to pass judgment on Isaac Paredes, so let’s look at some more data.
There are 486 players who have seen at least 500 pitches since the beginning of 2020, and among that group Paredes ranks:
- 396th in average exit velocity (86.1 MPH)
- 418th in max exit velocity (107.3 MPH)
- 337th in average launch angle (10 degrees)
- 478th in expected slugging percentage (.364)
- 441st in average fly ball distance (298 feet)
- 478th in barrels (1)
- 476th in barrel rate (0.86)
For the definition of barrels click here.
And this is where things get a little confusing. Paredes’ average exit velocity and average launch angle numbers aren’t great by any means, but there are players with similar batted ball profiles who still manage to barrel up the ball on occasion:
Eagle-eyed readers might have zeroed in on that last column, showing each player’s maximum exit velocity. All four of the player comparisons above are light-hitting middle infielders, but they’ve each shown the ability to hit the ball significantly harder than Paredes.
Are the lower max EV numbers killing Paredes’ barrels? Maybe, but that doesn’t explain this table:
Barrels aren’t affected by luck. This isn’t a case where Isaac Paredes hit a ball right at an outfielder, or was robbed by Comerica Park’s spacious dimensions.
He has put 116 balls in play in the big leagues, more than twice the amount needed for exit velocity and barrel rates to stabilize, so in terms of outcomes, he got what he deserved. But it’s odd players with similar or lower exit velocity numbers have still managed to find some barrels.
It may be that Isaac Paredes simply has the perfect anti-barrel swing: not enough launch angle to hit the ball out at lower exit velocities; not enough exit velocity to hit the ball out at lower launch angles. The result is can of corn after can of corn.
This granular batted ball analysis is fun (for us, at least), but it risks missing the larger and more troubling issue:
All of the players above have managed to find more success than Isaac Paredes with similar batted-ball profiles, but none of them are particularly good.
They are mostly slick-gloved middle infielders and utility men with high contact rates. Paredes does have a strong feel for the zone and excellent contact rates, but his defensive tools limit his utility. His hands are solid and his arm is strong, but his below-average foot speed will make it difficult to stick in the middle infield.
Isaac Paredes might need a swing change, but it’s increasingly unlikely that change will happen for a Detroit Tigers team seemingly poised to compete in 2022. He can probably provide the most value to the organization by being traded to a team that believes it can unlock his offensive potential.