But with only two innings left, Ward’s last at-bat didn’t leave the audience cheering. With a pop fly to right field, Angels fans were left wanting more from Ward despite a 9-5 Angels win over the Guardians.
But for now, that’s Taylor Ward’s game. He’s a player who can only be described as an “up and comer” for the Angels. But it’s not all near misses for Ward; he recently hit a Grand Slam in the Angels’ May 15 game. But his mixed season of Grand Slams yet near cycles highlights that Ward still has a bit of work to do before he can call himself an “All-Star.”
Coming into the season, Ward wasn’t expected to be a major player. In fact, when you play on a team that has arguably the greatest player of this generation — Mike Trout — and another that won the American League MVP last year — Shohei Ohtani — it is easy to overlook someone like Taylor Ward. After all, he’s a relative newcomer to the league with only a few seasons under his belt and a lifetime batting average that can only be described at 0.256 as…well…“average.”
The former first-round Angels pick bounced around the minor leagues for a little while until he finally made his major league debut in 2018. Since then, his major league run can’t exactly be called a hot streak — he’s struggled with his whiff percentage (41.7% in 2019), and he didn’t even pop out once last year.
But Ward’s game isn’t all whiffs and groundouts; in 2019, Ward held an above-average hard-hit ball percentage at 52.6% and chase percentage at 24.5% and maintained a consistent launch angle off the bat proving that he has an advanced batter’s eye. Moreover, in the off-season, he focused on his swing misses, dropping his whiff percentage by nearly half to 23.4%.
And this season, injuries from his Angels’ teammates Trout and Upton have given Ward all the opportunity he needed to pick up his bat, show his stuff and go for an MVP award. Against the Red Sox earlier this month, the pressure of a 10th inning tie game and a rowdy Boston crown didn’t stop Ward from hitting a two-run homer over the green monster, helping lead the team to a 10-5 win. In another game on April 25 against the Guardians, Ward’s two at-bats — both a home run — gave the Angels the 3-0 win.
Ward still has a lot to figure out before he can be considered one of the greats (if even for this season). When it comes to hitting, Ward struggles with ground balls despite a consistent launch angle.
Last season, Ward’s ground ball percentage was 45.5%, which isn’t by itself too bad a ratio for most players. But for Ward, who has a high hard-hit ball rate, a typical exit speed of 94.2 miles-per-hour on his flies and line drives, and was in the top-30% of all hitters last year, this high ground ball percentage is dragging down an otherwise MVP level batting average. What’s more, Ward didn’t pull the ball that often, with a ratio of only 19.7%.
With few at-bats, it’s hard to tell if this was a consistent problem, but it definitely was an odd one. This year, Ward is pulling his ball more often, with a pull rate of a 37% increase, but still a long drive from a typical all-star slugger ratio. When it comes to his baserunning, Ward acts too much like an Angel on the field. Ward only had one stolen base across 122 plate appearances, especially unusual given his high on-base percentage and high walk rate (18%).
Ward is arguably a rising star this season, making his most recent injury last Saturday a real foul ball. As reported by Angels’ beat reporter Rhett Bollinger via Twitter: “Taylor Ward said he’s hopeful to play again Tuesday [May 24] but is getting an MRI on his neck and right shoulder as a precaution tomorrow [May 23]. He said he just has some weakness in his right shoulder after running into the wall.”
Unfortunately, he’s had to sit out two straight games since then.
But don’t count Ward down and out just yet. As head athletic trainer Mike Frostad reported, “It’s a day-by-day thing.” Time off will hopefully give Ward a chance to recharge before making his way back to the field for a few more Grand Slams.
And so far, with a batting average of 0.370, 9 home runs yet only 108 ABs, I think most fans agree that Ward has been just the miracle the Angels needed this season.