Home Baseball Back Off Alexa, Jose Siri Is on a Rampage

Back Off Alexa, Jose Siri Is on a Rampage

by admin

Jose Siri
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

I like to think I’m pretty tuned in to what’s going on in baseball each day. I check the news and the standings regularly, and my morning wouldn’t be complete without a quick scan of the leaderboards in all the major statistical categories. That being so, it’s rare that I’ll be caught off guard by a player’s ERA, or batting average, or WAR. That doesn’t mean it never happens, though, and when it does, I often feel compelled to share my surprise.

With that introduction as a clue, would you care to guess who leads the Rays in home runs? You know, the Rays who have more homers than any team in the American League. The Rays who rank second in baseball in runs scored and first in wRC+. The Rays who do all that despite playing in one of the least hitter-friendly home ballparks in the game. Yeah, those Rays.

It’s not All-Star first baseman Yandy Díaz or rookie sensation Luke Raley. It’s not Wander Franco, or Isaac Paredes, or anyone with the last name Lowe.

I’ll give you another hint: Two players are actually tied for the team lead in long balls, and one of them isn’t so hard to guess. Randy Arozarena hit his 16th homer of the season on Sunday, pulling even with the mystery player for first place, and only kind of ruining the guessing game I had planned. Then again, the title and featured image already gave it away, so it’s time I pull back the facade of this rhetorical device. No team in the American League has more home runs than the Rays, and no one on the Rays has more home runs than Jose Siri.

Having you guess the mystery player might feel unoriginal in the age of the immaculate grid, but I like it in this case because it drives home the point that I never would’ve guessed Siri was leading the Rays in home runs at the halfway point of the season. In 325 trips to the plate last year, he hit only seven. Our preseason Depth Charts projections saw him hitting 17 homers in 120 games; he’s already at 16 in 52. Furthermore, Siri doesn’t have nearly enough plate appearances to qualify for rate stat leaderboards, nor does he have enough home runs or RBI to appear among the league leaders in any counting stats. You could check the leaderboards every day without ever seeing his name.

I was also taken aback by Siri’s power because of some snap judgments I made about his profile. Last season, he was the third-fastest player in baseball; his 30.4 ft/s sprint speed was behind only Corbin Carroll and Bubba Thompson. He also finished in the 99th percentile in OAA and the 95th percentile in outfielder jump. When you see numbers like that from an unranked prospect, it’s easy to categorize him as a glove-first player and move on. After all, it made perfect sense that the Rays would be looking for another Kevin Kiermaier type when they traded for Siri, and he finished the season with 14 stolen bases, 15 OAA, and a 75 wRC+. It’s hard to say my first impression was unreasonable.

Yet the truth is that Siri has always had power. In Eric Longenhagen’s first Siri write-up, he praised the young outfielder for his “above-average raw power” before mentioning anything about defense. A few years later, in Siri’s final prospect evaluation here at FanGraphs, Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel gave his game power and fielding the same 45/50 grade and his raw power a 55/55. Then, in September 2021, Siri smacked four home runs in 21 games, good for a 158 wRC+ and .304 isolated power in his first taste of the majors. All of a sudden, he didn’t sound like a glove-first center fielder; all he needed was some time to discover his power at the major league level.

Suffice it to say, Siri has done just that. In fact, he’s hitting so many home runs that his teammates are having trouble keeping up. His own home runs account for more than 50% of his runs scored and runs batted in. Only five players (min. 10 HR) have driven themselves in for a higher percentage of their runs and RBI: Joey Gallo, Jake Burger, Francisco Alvarez, Shohei Ohtani, and Jorge Soler. Anything that has to do with runs and RBI isn’t going to be the most high-quality analysis (and it says as much about the teams as it does the players), but even so, this is an impressive group for an aspiring power hitter to be a part of:

Doing Everything Themselves

Jake Burger 18 32 38 47.4% 56.3%
Joey Gallo 15 27 28 53.6% 55.6%
Francisco Alvarez 13 25 27 48.1% 52.0%
Shohei Ohtani 31 61 68 45.6% 50.8%
Jorge Soler 22 44 47 46.8% 50.0%
Jose Siri 16 33 37 43.2% 48.5%

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised to see Tampa Bay turning another unheralded prospect into a star, but there’s something different about Siri. The Rays have a knack for finding and creating All-Stars, but they also excel at finding value at the margins; at positions like catcher and center field, that often means finding a great defender rather than an offensive powerhouse.

Indeed, power-hitting center fielders are few and far between in baseball, and they’re even fewer and farther between in St. Petersburg, Florida. In 25 years as a major league franchise, the closest the Rays have come to a slugging center fielder is B.J. Upton, who had a few 20-plus homer seasons with the Rays, though his best power season came the year before he transitioned to center full-time. Overall, Upton had a .167 ISO across eight years with the club. In a single season, the most power Tampa Bay ever got from a center fielder was in 2006, when Rocco Baldelli finished with a .231 ISO in 92 games.

Across 54 player seasons, 24 different center fielders have taken at least 150 PA for the Rays in a single year. Only Upton, Baldelli, Brett Phillips, and Elijah Dukes finished with an ISO above .200 in any individual season. As of today, Siri has an isolated power of .320. Meanwhile, only Baldelli, Upton, and Gerald Williams hit more than 15 home runs in a season as a center fielder for the Rays; Siri has 16 with 80 games left to play. He has a reasonable chance to become the first Rays center fielder to ever cross the 30-homer threshold.

In an effort to correct my preconceived notions about Siri, I sat down to watch some highlights, and it didn’t take long to realize that raw power certainly isn’t his problem. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound center fielder’s hardest home run of the season was hit at nearly 114 mph, putting his max exit velocity in the top 10% of the league. His .495 wOBA on contact ranks 13th in the majors (min. 150 PA), and his .484 xwOBA on contact ranks 20th. The Statcast expected metrics might even be underrating his power because Siri pulls the ball so much more than the average hitter; his pull rate is about 7% higher than league average, and his opposite field rate is about 7% lower. The numbers are even more extreme on balls in the air, where his pull rate is 10% higher than average; his opposite field rate is nearly 13% lower. When a batter hits the ball hard in the air and to his pull side, he’s going to see good results. That’s exactly why Siri is on pace to smack 50 homers per 162 games.

If you’re at all familiar with this genre of FanGraphs article, you know what’s coming next: It’s highly unlikely Siri is going to keep up this pace. First things first, he’s running a 29.6% HR/FB. That’s a number you only see from a transcendent power hitter like Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton. Statcast estimates Siri should have hit about 13 home runs this year, which is still impressive, but not quite so shocking; he would only rank fifth on his team in homers, and his 24% HR/FB would be closer to Kyle Schwarber than Judge.

It’s also worth mentioning that Siri has a surprisingly low 37th-percentile average exit velocity and 41st-percentile hard-hit rate this year despite his 95th-percentile barrel rate. This could be evidence that he’s making the most of his limited hard contact by barreling almost every hard-hit ball he gets, but for a hitter with so much power potential, it’s more likely that he isn’t recording as many hard-hit balls as he could. He swings at a ton of bad pitches, which leads to poor-quality contact. Batted balls classified as “weak,” “topped,” and “under” account for 73% of his non-barrels. For the average hitter, such poor contact only makes up 66% of non-barrels. All that hacking also means he’s more likely to fall behind in the count, giving him fewer opportunities to crush the baseball. In other words, Siri is kind of all or nothing; he’s capable of great things when he’s doing everything he’s supposed to, but he’s also liable to call your dad when you ask for a reminder to buy bread. (Siri joke? Check.)

On a related note, only 1.7% of Siri’s batted balls have been classified as “solid” contact this year. The only hitters who have made less solid contact are Andrew Benintendi, Myles Straw, Nick Madrigal, and TJ Friedl. Siri is a completely different type of hitter than any of those guys, so I’m inclined to believe his solid contract rate will normalize with time, and unless he improves his plate discipline, it’s likely those solid-hit balls will come out of his barrel rate.

I have a soft spot in my heart for any player who outperforms my expectations. It’s nice to be spot-on with my evaluations, but it’s equally exciting when a player proves me wrong. I made a snap judgment about Siri last season (He looks like a glove-first center fielder? He must be a glove-first center fielder!), and with every home run he hits, he reminds me to be a little more careful the next time I slap that label on a player. He’ll need to improve his plate discipline if he wants to keep hitting at a 50-homer pace, but the power is definitely real. Siri is not to be overlooked.

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