Blue Jays outfielder Daulton Varsho struggling to tap into what makes him effective
The Toronto Blue Jays' biggest offseason acquisition is in the midst of a slump in which he's sacrificing power for contact.
Daulton Varsho came to the Toronto Blue Jays offering a very simple offensive profile.
The 26-year-old wielded a left-handed bat that promised to provide plenty of pop, with a high strikeout rate as an understood byproduct of the outfielder's big cuts. He hit 27 home runs in 2022, with a K rate of 24.5%, and preseason projections foretold a similar outcome in 2023.
In his first few games with the Blue Jays, Varsho delivered on expectations. He provided a dramatic example of his raw power early, setting a career high in exit velocity in his very first at-bat with Toronto.
Fantastic first impression for Daulton Varsho.
Nine-pitch at-bat culminating in an RBI double at 112.5 mph - the hardest-hit ball of his MLB career.pic.twitter.com/do8Ade9j3g
— Nick Ashbourne (@NickAshbourne) March 30, 2023
His first seven games with his new team resulted in a high ISO (.214) and strikeout rate (31.3%) as he looked like a middle-of-the-order masher.
That hasn't been the case since. In Varsho's past 17 games, he has hit .121/.250/.190 with just two extra-base hits.
It's one of the worst power droughts he has experienced in his young MLB career, by ISO:
What's interesting about this funk is that it isn't the result of too little contact, a common way for sluggers to have a couple of ugly weeks. Varsho's strikeout rate during this stretch (22.1%) is below his career average of 24.1%, and he's having one of the most successful stretches of his career when it comes to making contact ...
... especially in the zone:
When a hitter with raw power such as Varsho — whose max exit velocity ranks in the 91st percentile — is making more contact than usual, that's usually a good recipe for a hot streak, but that's not what's happening here.
Instead, the outfielder is putting the bat on the ball consistently but finding powerful contact as elusive as ever:
During this span, his average exit velocity is just 80.8 mph. To put that number in perspective, Varsho's career average is 87.3 mph, the MLB average is 88.4 mph, and the worst number a qualified hitter has posted this season is 83.4 mph.
Average exit velocity can be a deceiving statistic for Varsho because of his inclination to drag bunt for hits, but that's still a dismal number.
The former Arizona Diamondback's batted balls have been primarily a cocktail of grounders (42.9%) and flyballs (40.5%) during this slump, with twice as many infield popups (4) as Barrels (2) and just seven line drives.
If he's going to get back to where he was at the beginning of the season, he'll need to hit the ball with more authority — even if that means hitting it a little less.
There are a few hitters in the major leagues, such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who are able to sustain minuscule strikeout rates while absolutely obliterating the baseball. For most, there's some level of conscious tradeoff to be made between power and contact.
One of the players the Blue Jays traded for Varsho — Lourdes Gurriel Jr. — is an excellent example of a player who changed his focus over time. As his career in Toronto progressed, he went from a high-strikeout slugger to a contact hitter with limited power.
Most players have to tinker with their swings and approaches to find the best balance for them.
Right now, Varsho's balance seems to be a bit out of whack. He's probably at his best when he's swinging for the fences — and taking long walks to the dugout — a little bit more.