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Manny Pina has been a surprising power bat for the Brewers

The veteran backup catcher has been slugging in an unusual manner.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee Brewers Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

Manny Pina took center stage as the Brewers secured their fourth consecutive postseason berth on Saturday night. The backup catcher blasted two home runs, the second of which put his team up for good in a 6-4 win against the Chicago Cubs.

It was a continuation of a surprisingly powerful season for Pina. In just 186 plate appearances, the veteran has blasted a career-high 12 home runs, including three multi-homer games. He now ranks fifth on the team and has even out-homered Omar Narvaez, the man he has been backing up. Pina now boasts an elite .258 ISO that would easily lead all Brewers hitters if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. Thanks to that newfound power, he carries a career-best 106 wRC+ via an unusual .206/.312/.459 line.

At first glance, this surge is somewhat mysterious. Pina does have a career-high 10.6% barrel rate and 40.6% fly ball rate, and his 17.5-degree average launch angle is among the highest in the league. However, his 28% hard hit rate and 85 MPH average exit velocity are among the lowest. His 40.5% ground ball rate and 13.5% line drive rate are both career-worsts. Pina’s batted profile is mixed, not one of a player on pace for 30 home runs in a full season’s worth of at-bats.

How is the longest-tenured Brewer slugging like never before despite a horrid average exit velocity? The answer lies deeper within his quality of contact metrics. His average exit velocity is deceiving because he is pulling off an odd trick that pretty much only occurs in a sample size of under 200 plate appearances.

We established that Pina is hitting ground balls at his highest rate in the big leagues. Those ground balls have been extremely weakly hit, which is tanking his average exit velocity. On the flip side, his line drives and fly balls are generally struck with plenty of authority. Line drives and fly balls typically have higher exit velocities than ground balls because they are often more authoritative contact, but the backstop is taking that disparity to the next level.

Manny Pina - Average Exit Velocity by Batted Ball Type

Season Ground Balls (MPH) Line Drives + Fly Balls (MPH) Difference
Season Ground Balls (MPH) Line Drives + Fly Balls (MPH) Difference
2016 85.4 91.7 6.3
2017 84.1 90.6 6.5
2018 80.9 90.4 9.5
2019 85 91.7 6.7
2020 91.2 91.1 -0.1
2021 79.8 93.5 13.7
Baseball Savant

As one might expect, there is a similarly massive gap between Pina’s hard hit rates by batted ball type. Just 16% of his ground balls have exceeded 95 MPH off the bat. On line drives and fly balls, that number climbs to 47%. These discrepancies help explain how he has managed an above-average barrel rate with an unappealing hard-hit rate. When Pina is lifting the ball off the ground, he is barreling it more often (22%) than the average hitter (16%).

It should go without saying that such a gap is not sustainable over 500 or more plate appearances. If Pina was the team’s regular catcher, he would not have remained on a 30-homer pace. He still would have demonstrated some pop, but his results on every kind of contact would have trended back toward the respective league averages.

That said, Pina still deserves plenty of credit for the season he is putting together. The fact that he is striking so many of his line drives and fly balls with authority means that he is putting plenty of good swings on the baseball. It is not easy to do that with inconsistent playing time. In a way, Pina’s limited role is helping him pull off this unique split. It has led to a career year offensively, and it has helped him provide a boost for the Brewers off the bench and against southpaws.

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.