For a White Sox team starved of quality at-bats, Andrew Vaughn delivered two during Sunday’s game against the Rays that would fit perfectly into the Red Sox’s lineup.
Facing Ryan Yarbrough in the first inning, Vaughn took five consecutive pitches to fall into a full count. Then he spoiled the next five pitches, the majority of them counting as “too close to take.”
That’s when Yarbrough threw him the only mistake of the sequence, and Vaughn pounced for an RBI double.
Here’s the pitch chart:
And here’s how it looked like in video form:
His second trip played out like a condensed version of the first, like a movie cut down to fit a TV time slot. He took the first pitch, but fouled off the next three pitches, all of which Yarbrough would’ve rather seen put into play.
When Yarbrough threw his first pitch over the meat of the plate with No. 5, Vaughn smoked it the other way.
Here’s the pitch chart:
And here’s the video:
These at-bats reminded me of a James Fegan line from Vaughn’s first year as a pro in Winston-Salem: “With all his close takes and two-strike spoiling, he draws out every plate appearance like a 13-hour police interrogation.”
We hadn’t been able to see many of those because of the tall task the White Sox thrust upon Vaughn, which is adjusting to MLB pitching without high-minors experience while playing every position but the one to which he is accustomed.
Vaughn’s appearance on Sunday was his 163rd professional game, and as he embarks on his second full season’s worth of experience, he already boasts the team’s highest contact rate, both on pitches inside and outside the zone:
And this is all while Vaughn is seeing more sliders in baseball (34.8 percent) than anybody except Oakland’s Cristian Pache. That was his biggest weakness last year, and the primary reason why he hit just .222/.277/.332 against righties (followed by some physical issues in the second half). Opponents are trying to crush him by exploiting that gap in his game, and while Statcast says that Vaughn hasn’t exactly figured out how to send sliders back to hell, he’s showing the ability to fend them off and hope the next pitch gives him more of an opportunity for damage.
Consequently, he’s off to an encouraging start, hitting .278/.327/.485 against righties this time around.
It’s too soon to say Vaughn has solved them because we’re only talking about 107 plate appearances here. He’s been deployed strategically and he’s missed some time with after an HBP, so he could be dealing with a lucky sample of contact that’s due to even out. At the same time, he’s gaining steam while opponents are mashing the button they knew took advantage of the glitch in his programming, so any improvement is noteworthy.
The early returns say that he’s in position to apply what he learned from the first 162 to the next, and he’ll be putting up more of a fight. He shouldn’t be expected to lead an offense at this stage in his career, but that shouldn’t stop teammates from trying to follow what he’s doing.