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  • E.J. Fagan

How Good is Anthony Volpe?

by EJ Fagan

February 2, 2024

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NOTE: The following comes from EJ Fagan's substack page and is shared with permission.


Please check out EJ's substack page for more great articles.

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I wrote more about Anthony Volpe than any other player for the first eight months of 2023. I’ve barely mentioned him since. Volpe was the no-doubt top prospect in the Yankee system a year ago. We were all excited about the prospect that he would make the MLB roster. He proved that he deserved a MLB spot in 2023 by posting a 2 fWAR season* and winning the Gold Glove.


*Baseball Reference has him at 3.3 bWAR, but that includes way stronger defensive WAR than I think anyone thinks is accurate. Fangraphs has it at a more reasonable +6.2 runs rather than +15 runs. Statcast OAA has him closer to average at shortstop, but I think that underrates him a bit.


His overall Statcast page is pretty ugly:




There’s not a lot to like here overall other than his speed. Volpe’s .303 xwOBA was a little better than his .290 wOBA, but not enough to change the overall picture. Volpe had terrible control of the strike zone in 2023 and didn’t hit the ball particularly well when he managed to make contact. It was bad.


That said, we can (and will) slice up Volpe’s season to reveal a slightly better picture. Your expectation for Volpe next year hinges on whether you believe the overall picture or if you buy into the much-discussed Chicken Parm Dinner effect.


Pre-Parm vs. Post-Parm

Andy Singer and I did a deep dive into Volpe on the Bronx Beat Podcast a few weeks ago. I recommend checking it out, as well as his post on Start Spreading the News. Andy is much more of a swing mechanics guy than I am, but even I was able to recognize how much different he looked before and after Parm.


Volpe in 2022:



Volpe is coiled, ready to explode. He was a real power hitter in the minors from 2021-2022, and you can see why here. Volpe reminds me a lot of how Bernie Williams used to swing from the right side. Now, here is what he looked like pre-Parm in 2023:




Pre-Parm Volpe looks like, and this is not a complement, noted non-athlete E.J. Fagan at the batting cages. He’s not coiled. He doesn’t looks ready to hit for power. Andy also says there’s something going on with how he loads his elbow that makes it hard for him to adjust to breaking stuff away, but that kind of analysis is beyond me.


Here’s what he looks like by the end of the season:




Volpe isn’t quite back to minor league levels of coil, but he sure looks more athletic than in early 2023.


The pre/post Parm changes had a real effect on the field as well. Volpe was hitting a demoteable .186/.260/.345 on June 11th and hit a respectable .225/.300/.410 after. Post-Parm Volpe still wasn’t a top of the order hitter, but when you account for defense and baserunning, he was a pretty good MLB shortstop.


Things get more complicated when you look at his performance over time:



Volpe wasn’t great to start the season, but drew enough walks in April to put up a solid wOBA. Pitchers stopped throwing him balls and he couldn’t keep up. He was incredibly bad throughout most of May and June, then did his Parm video session with Austin Wells.


From June 11th to September 2nd, Volpe was a legitimately great hitter. He hit .250/.332/.473, which is pretty close to his 2022 minor league batting line and somewhere around a .720 OPS. Then, everything bottomed out. Volpe hit .165/.217/.253 in September, ending with a pedestrian .666 OPS.


Andy insists that he didn’t go back to his old swing. So what happened?


Here is my theory: he got tired. When Brian Cashman said that shortstop was an open competition in his post-2022 press conference, Volpe decided he was going to win it. I can’t find the news story, but Volpe basically didn’t take a break during the 2022-2023 offseason. He worked his butt off, was clearly way ahead of everyone else in Spring Training, and won the job. By September, he didn’t have anything left in the tank. With the Yankees out of the playoffs and the rest of the team sorely lacking energy, Volpe’s performance fell off hard.


With a normal offseason, Volpe might be able to sustain his post-Parm performance year long.

I think we need to remind ourselves of one lesson that we always forget: Spring Training stats are fake. Volpe was physically ahead of his competition in the Spring, so he raked. When everyone else rounded into shape, he revealed his true talent level. I think Volpe was probably rushed to the majors. We should never really have “open competitions” in Spring Training. The Yankees should have either found a stopgap or given the job to Peraza, letting Volpe work on his hitting in Triple-A for a bit.


What to Expect in 2024

You may have heard that Anthony Volpe is young. He turns 23 in April. He has just three professional seasons under his belt. He clearly has room for growth. The question is how much growth.


The Yankees were horribly coached in 2023. Every single young hitter who was called up to the majors after killing Triple-A pitching fell flat on their face: Peraza, Cabrera, Pereira, Volpe, Rortvedt, Florial and Bauers all flopped hard, and Wells barely managed a 97 OPS+.* If Volpe were among a minority who struggled to hit in the majors, I would be a lot more pessimistic. In fact, he was by a arguably the best non-Wells hitter of the group. James Rowson has slack to pull on.


* Dominguez was great! but 28 PAs are not a big sample


I think one mistake that the Yankees


So I’m confident that Volpe will hit better than .209/.283/.383 next year. But it’s hard to project him further than “better.” I’ll offer three scenarios:


  • Post-Parm Average: Volpe replicates his post-Parm .710 OPS. He is a 2-2.5 WAR player for most of his career, hitting at the bottom of the order.

  • Post-Parm, Pre-Exaustion: Volpe replicates .250/.330/.470 performance through early September. He ends up more in the Gleyber Torres hitting slots than top oft he order, but overall turns into a very valuable player.

  • Top Prospect Returns: Volpe turns back into the monster he was after a slow start in 2022, hitting .271/.359/.498. He’s not only batting 1st or 2nd, but regularly gets MVP votes.


If I had to pick one of these scenarios, I’d say the middle one makes the most sense. It wasn’t that long ago that Anthony Volpe a tippy-top prospect. We saw him put up impressive numbers for an extended part of the 2023 season. With another year of seasoning, better coaching and hopefully an eye toward not messing up his swing, Volpe can do it again.


That said, I think he’s more likely to perform below that line than above it. Scouts have questioned whether Volpe has the physical talent to back up his impressive performance for some time now. He may not have the size and strength to slug .470 against major league pitchers. His September may have been part-exhaustion, part-MLB pitchers adjusting back. I wouldn’t rule out Top Prospect Volpe, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

16 Comments


Jeff Korell
Jeff Korell
Feb 03

EJ, I seriously think you should somehow get your article AND those photos into the hands of James Rowson AND Aaron Boone, so they can physically see the difference between "Top Prospect Volpe", "Pre-Parm Volpe", and "Post-Parm-Pre-Exhaustion Volpe", so they will know EXACTLY what they have to work on, in order to bring Volpe to the hitting dynamics and success of "Top Prospect Volpe". Do you have a way of getting your article, your photos, and your stats into their hands? THEY need to see that even more than we, the readers of your great article. Once they "fix" Volpe and he is hitting the way he is expected to, I am definitely all for Volpe to be the LEAD…

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jjw49
Feb 02

Volpe has potential and this season will tell us whether he can adjust his approach and be a more productive hitter.

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Alan B.
Alan B.
Feb 02

I'll answer that for you Paul. Cashman, when he got rid of Thames & Pillette, he went in on all analytics and brought the guy up who was in charge of the minors, and allowed him to bring with him his own hand-picked assistant , Casey Dykes. We all know how clueless Lawson was, everytime he opened his mouth. To hear just how long it took Baltimore to get Hicks back on track, and it was similar to how Wells helped Volpe, via video, I think Hal had enough and ordered the dismantling of the coaching of hitting by analytics to be over. They still do it in the minors though. Watch Homegrown, and you'll see it too. …

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Paul Semendinger
Paul Semendinger
Feb 03
Replying to

This doesn't make the Yankees look very good. It seems like a system-wide failure.


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Alan B.
Alan B.
Feb 02

Having followed Volpe through stats/boxscores in '21, & through the milb.tv in '22, then seeing him last year, I can honestly say I don't think of him as a leadoff hitter. Can he bat leadoff? Yes. But I really see him as a guy who could hit 1st, 2nd, 5th, or 9th. The Yankees for whatever reason don't really put leadoff batters #1 in the order. Trey Sweeney was no leadoff hitter, neither was Florial, and neither is Spencer Jones. Jared Serna is a better leadoff man, and from what I've read, Delgado is a better one too. Most definitely so is Caleb Durbin. DJ, outside of not being able to run, is a solid leadoff hitter.


But getting back…

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fuster
Feb 02
Replying to

one might not desire a traditional speedy lead-off guy when Judge is batting second


a guy who provides a threat to steal might be of greater interest to a team with the lefty Soto in the second slot

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sbarbeau
Feb 02

Caveat: I am not an expert, having peaked out as a high school baseball coach- I do buy into the "tired" theory as stated above- However, more than that, especially preParm, take a look at his front (left) foot on his swing- definitely appears to be stepping into the proverbial bucket- not as much postParm


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Alan B.
Alan B.
Feb 02
Replying to

The theory about tired, it, for me was more about not having a day off a week, minimum like they do in today's minor league schedule, where they are also traveling only once a week as well.

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