Kepler's stats from his three years as a professional are below:
As you can see, 2012 was quite a breakout year for Kepler. OBP was up 40 points, Slugging up 160, resulting in OPS up 200. He hit 10 homeruns vs 1 in the prior two seasons, and increased his walks while reducing strikeouts. As a result of all of these improvements Kepler jumped multiple spots on pretty much everyones top prospects list.
However, a closer examination of his 2012 season reveals that he may have made some intriguing changes to his approach mid-season. I followed him closely last year, and was getting discouraged by mid July that he hadn't hit any homeruns. Then, starting with a grandslam on July 16th, he went on a tear, hitting 7 home runs in two weeks. Then, his power seemed to cool off a bit the rest of the year.
To follow up on what I thought I saw last year, I analyzed his 2012 season by breaking it into three segments. Here they are:
[TABLE="class: grid, width: 600, align: center"]
|1. June 19 - July 15||22||81||18||8||.296||.452||.407||.859|
|2. July 16 - July 27||11||45||7||2||8||.267||.313||.778||1.090|
|3. July 28 - Aug 28||26||106||3||7||16||.311||.354||.538||.892|
The drastic difference between segemts 1 and 2 jumps out at me. In the last two weeks of July, his average was 30 points lower and his OBP was over 100 points lower than the first month of the season, but his SLG and OPS were dramatically higher, obviously driven by his new-found homerun swing. His walks dropped precipitously and he had as many strikeouts in 2 weeks as the previous 4. This suggests to me that his homeruns were not just a matter of some additional strength and fly balls carrying a bit further (which I think Mauer's 09 season was), rather a wholesale change of approach at the plate.
The third segment (the last month of the season) seems to be a compromise between the first two. He still hit some home runs, though not at such a torrid pace, and his AVG and OBP came back up a bit, with average actually higher than the first month, and OBP not as high but still strong at .354.
This approach change is supported by something Kepler is quoted as saying in an article by Ashley Marshall earlier this year:
"I came into the league an oppo [opposite-field] hitter, being fairly slim at 180 and being a pretty fast guy for my size. I'm 220 now -- I gained like 40 pounds -- and I've really learned to pull the ball this last season."
"I'd say the long ball is my thing now. It used to be slapping the ball, getting on base, stealing bases. But I've changed that around and I will keep growing if I stay healthy. I just love running and stealing bases and I hope I don't lose my speed because of my size. I want to be big and fast."
So, what do we make of all this? To me, it is nothing but encouraging. He's now shown he can hit for power, average, and exercise plate discipline. The question is whether he will move even further in the power-hitter direction, or try to balance things out to become a more well-rounded threat. That last month of 2012 is actually the most encouraging stretch to me. He had the best average of the season and brought his OBP back up while still hitting a few home runs.
Edited by Sssuperdave, 22 April 2013 - 08:36 AM.