Michael Taylor is the next Washington Nationals player to get their 2018 Report Card. He began the season as the starter, but couldn’t capitalize on it.
Our 2018 Report Cards are nearing their end and one of the final few players to get theirs is Michael Taylor. He opened the year as the Washington Nationals starting centerfielder after a breakout 2017, however, he failed to capitalize on the role.
After starting the year slashing .186/.249/.311 by May 23rd, the outfielder finished the year with an underwhelming slash line of just .227/.287/.357 and only six home runs. And now, with the way the year played out, he’s in danger of occupying a bench role or he could even be traded before the 2019 season.
With Juan Soto emerging midway through the season, Victor Robles seemingly ready to take the reigns in centerfield, and then either Bryce Harper or Adam Eaton in right field, there just isn’t room for Taylor anymore.
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The Positives for Taylor
One element of Taylor’s game that had probably gone underutilized in his career was his game-changing speed. We had seen it numerous times in the field as he played gold glove defense but his career-high entering the year was just 17 steals. However, in 2018, he was able to tally a new career-best 24 stolen bases despite the spotty playing time in the second half of the season. It was definitely a positive to see this part of his game flourish as if he does settle into a fourth outfielder role, this is the type of impact he would need to make on a game.
After shaking off his slow start, Michael Taylor was able to turn things around and become one of the hotter hitters on the team for a while. Between May 25th and July 5th, the outfielder hit an impressive .350 with an equally impressive .914 OPS to go along with 12 stolen bases. However, unfortunately for Taylor, he cooled off when Adam Eaton was activated from the DL and his playing time diminished. In an ideal world, the team should have let him at least still start a few time a week until he cooled off.
Areas for Improvement
Michael Taylor and strikeouts have been a pretty familiar combination throughout his career. He had a lofty 30.1 percent strikeout rate in 2018, which led the team among those who had at least 100 plate appearances. Yes, leading even the high rates of Bryce Harper and Mark Reynolds. This all stems from his inability to make consistent contact, as his contact percentage was second worst on the team behind Reynolds at just 70.4 percent. With that much swing-and-miss in his game, prolonged slumps are always going to follow him in his career.
One of Taylor’s key weaknesses in 2018 was his inability to hit the fastball throughout the year. After possessing an OPS of .875 against the pitch in 2017, he had an OPS of just .507 this past season. If you look at his swing percent heatmap from 2017, you’ll see that he was keyed in on fastballs right down the middle, and not a lot else. Whereas his 2018 heatmap shows that he seemed to expand his zone more, which resulted in a lot of swing and miss or soft contact. Hitting a fastball should be fairly elementary for a big league player, so expect him to bounce back in that regard next year.
The Final Grade
2018 was likely to be a career-defining year for Michael Taylor one way or the other. He would either build on his excellent year last season, or fall back to his old ways, and unfortunately, it was the latter.
He basically profiles as a perfect fourth outfielder, be it with the Nats or elsewhere, with great defense, a bit of pop and near-elite speed. The bat is too inconsistent to be a starter, and it now seems clear that 2017 might be the anomaly. D+
Remember to keep an eye out for more Washington Nationals 2018 Report Cards during the upcoming weeks here at District on Deck.