Matt Vierling is heating up for the Philadelphia Phillies.
In August 2021, an impressive 4-for-5 night in Washington D.C. put rookie Matt Vierling on Philadelphia Phillies fans’ radars. He went on to have a strong September and finish to the season.
At the beginning of spring training, many considered him the frontrunner for the centerfield job before Mickey Moniak made a strong push. Moniak would have started Opening Day if not for a wrist injury. Instead, it was Vierling in centerfield at Citizens Bank Park on April 8th.
The 25-year-old didn’t record a hit that day but had two batted baseballs with an exit velocity over 100 mph. His sacrifice fly exited at 96.2 mph and helped the Phillies extend their lead over the Oakland Athletics. Unfortunately, this was a common theme for Vierling early this year. He barreled up the baseball and hit hard but couldn’t find a landing spot; opponents had their defense in the right place at the right time.
Before Vierling was optioned on May 11th, he recorded 17 baseballs that were hit 95+ mph and 14 of them were recorded for outs in 54 plate appearances (23 games, 16 started). This isn’t to suggest that it was all bad luck as exit velocity is not the only factor in the equation. Launch angle was part of the problem but it’s still shocking that only three of those batted balls ended up as hits. Six days before Vierling was optioned, Tim Kelly noted that Vierling’s hard-hit rate was impressive.
Normally, you’d expect a player with a hard-hit percentage that high to have better results. Even if some of those batted balls were on the ground, it’s tough for the defense to make all of those plays cleanly. As such, optioning Vierling likely had more to do with getting reps every day in Lehigh Valley rather than a lack of success. It’s important for young players on the roster to get regular at-bats to find their form, so having him work in Triple-A was better than riding the major league bench and sharing time with Odubel Herrera and Roman Quinn. It can also affect players’ confidence when they feel like they’re doing everything right but the ball isn’t bouncing the right way.
Is this recent success sustainable for the Philadelphia Phillies outfielder?
With these numbers in mind, Vierling’s recent success should not come as a surprise. At some point, his luck had to change. In June (15 games played, 11 games started), Vierling is hitting .311 and slugging .533 with three home runs, one double, three RBI, and 10 runs scored in 47 plate appearances. His home runs have come in huge spots, too. One was off All-Star reliever Josh Hader in the ninth inning and the others came in key wins versus the Nationals. Both of Vierling’s solo shots in the Nationals game put the Phillies up by one.
Regarding average exit velocity, Vierling is third on the Phillies at 92.1 mph behind Kyle Schwarber (92.9 mph) and Bryce Harper (92.8 mph). Among qualified hitters, that mark would have Vierling tied for 22nd in MLB just below Byron Buxton, Mike Trout, and Matt Olson. With a hard-hit percentage of 47.9 percent, he would be 35th in MLB, a spot above Bo Bichette and just below Trea Turner. That’s certainly some impressive company.
Vierling’s expected batting average is up to .293 and his expected weighted on-base percentage is .364, meaning he has definitely hit the ball better than the box scores show. Oddly enough, one of the hits that helped Vierling go on this hot stretch was his 61.6 mph bloop single in the ninth inning against the Miami Marlins. That and his stolen base led to Rhys Hoskins’ walk-off.
Perhaps the best part about Vierling’s ability to hit the baseball hard is that he possesses power to all parts of the field; he’ll light up the spray chart. His pull-center-opposite percentage marks are 16.4-61.6-22.0 and many of his 95+ mph hits are up the middle. He isn’t trying to do anything extra; he keeps it simple and gets the bat to the baseball for solid contact, whether he pulls his hands in on inside pitches or takes outside pitches to right field.
If you’re not already impressed, factor in that the Phillies’ former fifth-round pick has done all of this while moving around on the defensive side of things and making plays. That versatility has earned him more starts and he is taking advantage of those opportunities.
It’s encouraging to see Vierling continuing to do what he did in the last month of the 2021 season. Exit velocity and advanced stats are not the end-all-be-all, but Vierling is putting the ball in play with hard contact which will yield great results. Most importantly, he is coming around to score fairly often. There was a level of optimism around him coming into the season but expectations were also tempered given how small the sample size was in 2021. Time will tell whether or not he can keep this up. The 2022 sample size isn’t much bigger yet, but we may be able to expect more of the same from Vierling, and that’s very promising.