Danny Valencia is about as DFA as it gets. The 20th pick of the 19th round back in 2006 looks like your plumber’s oldest son who sometimes helps with the snake and winks at your daughter inappropriately. He’s Down For Anything.
The infielder has been designated for assignment twice. The first time he cleared waivers without a sniff of interest from other teams. The second time he was snapped up by Billy Beane before his big toe even dipped into the waiver pool.
Chances are if you’re a casual baseball fan who’s never had the pleasure of having him on your team, the first time you really heard of Danny Valencia was a couple nights ago, when he did this:
According to ESPN Home Run Tracker each one of his three taters travelled further than the last, with his go-ahead shot in the 9th estimated at 434 ft. A lot of random players have had three-homer games, including Dioner Navarro, but something has been going on with Danny V. ever since he got to Toronto:
The main difference for Valencia has been a more aggressive approach at the plate, which has led to more strikeouts and a bump in his SwStr% but has also garnered more respect from pitchers around the league and allowed him to get on base at a higher clip.
Valencia has been about as valuable as Chris Davis and Jose Bautista at the plate over that span (going by wRC+), and with Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney combining for paltry production at second base for Toronto this season, it’s hard to see what ex-GM Alex Anthopoulos was thinking when DFA’d the defensively versatile Valencia on August 1, 2015. The Jays had just averaged 5 runs per game in July, so I can imagine Anthopoulos looking at Valencia’s .838 OPS and thinking “eh we don’t really need more of that.”
The thing that has always limited Valencia’s potential has been his ability to hit righties, and clearly something clicked with batting coach DeMarlo Hale in Toronto because all of a sudden he turned into a righty masher.
His career splits are pretty extreme, but last season Valencia figured it out, slashing .285/.325/.556 against right handed pitching. In fact, his OPS vs. RHP was 47 points higher than his OPS vs. LHP. His plate discipline against righties wasn’t great compared to his disciple against lefties, but he found a way to solve his quality contact problems by cutting his IFFB% in half and raising his Hard% by seven per cent.
The power has been the main revelation, and according to Statcast it hasn’t been cheap. Valencia ranked 30th overall in average exit velocity last season at 92.6 MPH, just ahead of Chris Davis. According to ESPN Home Run Tracker, the average true distance of his 18 home runs last season was 401.9 ft. Bryce Harper‘s average true distance was 400.1 ft.
Even though he’s hitting the ball harder and farther than ever, it’s not realistic to expect him to keep homering at this rate. His HR/FB rate from 2010-2014 was 8.9, and over the past two seasons he’s managed to sustain a 23.9 rate.
It’s ironic that Toronto’s front office—the same one that fished Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion out of the waiver pool—let Valencia go. And it’s beautiful that a low-payroll team like Oakland was able to get him for nothing. It’s exactly the kind of thing that has kept parity in baseball higher than in other sports despite the lack of a salary cap.