A look at Garrett Cooper and his ‘Catch 22’ as he balances hitting for average and power

·6 min read

Simply looking at the numbers, Garrett Cooper had an excellent offensive month of June. The Miami Marlins’ 6-5, 235-pound slugger led the National League with a .378 batting average and ranked fourth with a .418 on-base percentage.

Even at that, Cooper knows there is more to his offensive game that he can tap into.

Yes, he’s getting hits and getting on base, both of which are important.

But for someone with as much power potential as Cooper, a player who himself said a year ago in spring training he’d be able to hit between 30 and 35 home runs if healthy over a full season, the power numbers in 2022 haven’t necessarily been to his standard.

Cooper does have a team-high 20 doubles, including three over the Marlins’ past two games against the Washington Nationals, but he also has just five home runs in 68 games played — on pace for 12 total over the course of 162 games (his single-season career high is 15 over 107 games in 2019). Friday was his first game with multiple extra-base hits.

“The homers are down more than probably I would like,” Cooper said, “but the doubles are there and there’s a lot of balls hit hard.”

His hard-hit rate, defined as percentage of balls in play with an exit velocity of at least 95 mph, is down from a career-best 52.7 percent in 2021 to 45.2 percent this season even though his average exit velocity has stayed pretty close to consistent with previous years. Of MLB players with the top 15 batting averages entering Saturday, Cooper had the second-lowest on-base-plus-slugging mark.

Cooper wants to harness the power that he knows he has — and that he has shown in the past — but he also doesn’t want to sacrifice his approach that has led to getting base hits and consistently putting balls in play.

It’s a balancing act, Cooper said, one he is continuing to maneuver and attempt to perfect as the Marlins approach the halfway mark of the season and are trying to stay afloat in the playoff conversation.

“It’s a Catch 22,” Cooper said. “You want to be a power hitter, but you also want to deliver in situations when guys are on base. I’m trying to do anything I can to spark the offense and help the offense get going. I think as you progress throughout the year, you take your spots where maybe you go for a little bit more power and where you go for a little bit more contact. Things have gone well. It’s a long season. There’s, what, 90 more games? You go through spells. You just try to ride the wave of feeling good at the plate.”

Miami Marlins designated hitter Garrett Cooper (26) celebrates with teammates after hitting a two run home run during the third inning of a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies at LoanDepot Park on Wednesday, June 22, 2022 in Miami, Florida.
Miami Marlins designated hitter Garrett Cooper (26) celebrates with teammates after hitting a two run home run during the third inning of a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies at LoanDepot Park on Wednesday, June 22, 2022 in Miami, Florida.

Hitter over power hitter

And make no mistake about it: Cooper is feeling good at the plate. He has at least one hit in all but five of his last 34 games, a stretch in which he is hitting .398.

Cooper credits his routine for his results as a hitter, and he tries to keep that routine as consistent as possible.

A typical pregame regiment includes 50 swings — 25 that are angled to help, another 25 that are straight on — to figure out the sweet spot of his bat path to handle as much of the strike zone as possible with any given swing.

“I lost my path a little bit earlier on in the year where I was rolling over pitches,” Cooper said. “I was trying to do a little too much.”

At his best, Cooper is using the middle of the field, from left-center to right-center.

And he is rounding into that form.

Entering Saturday, a career-high 41.6 percent of Cooper’s batted balls were being hit to the middle of the field compared to pulling the ball to left field 30.8 percent of the time and going to right field 27.6 percent of the time.

And he is finding success regardless of which pitchers are throwing to him. Cooper is hitting .333 against fastballs, .260 against breaking balls and .391 the rare times he sees offspeed pitches (just 6.9 percent of pitches thrown to him this season, according to Statcast).

“I think of myself as a better hitter than I am a power hitter,” Cooper said. “I’ve always come to the point where when I make damage or when I put a good swing on it, I have the power and body size that makes doubles and homers. It’s a think I’ve always prided myself on that. As I’ve grown up here [in the big leagues], you just take the barrel accuracy over trying to just hit a home run every time up.”

From bench coach James Rowson’s perspective, Cooper’s situation could be perceived as “tricky.” Yes, more home runs would be nice, especially from a player who routinely hits in the heart of the order and especially now with Miami’s top home run hitters in Jazz Chisholm Jr. and Jorge Soler on the injured list, but Rowson primarily wants Cooper to keep taking advantage of the situations pitchers put him in.

And as long as Cooper keeps putting the ball in play, Rowson said, the extra-base hits will come.

“His mind set is if he gets a pitch to hit out of the ballpark, he’ll do it,” Rowson said, “but he’s a good enough hitter to lay off pitches and take what the game gives him. If they give him a walk, he’ll take a walk and pass it to the next go. He doesn’t try to take everything on himself.”

Miami Marlins base runner Garrett Cooper (26) reacts to hitting a single on a line drive during the first inning of an MLB game against the Washington Nationals at loanDepot park in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, Florida, on Wednesday, June 8, 2022.
Miami Marlins base runner Garrett Cooper (26) reacts to hitting a single on a line drive during the first inning of an MLB game against the Washington Nationals at loanDepot park in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, Florida, on Wednesday, June 8, 2022.

Staying healthy

Another factor benefiting Cooper: To this point in the season, he has stayed off the injured list. Cooper has played in 68 of Miami’s 76 games so far this season. There have been a few potential scares — a pair of hit by pitches and a collision with a teammate on the field in a defensive miscommunication among them — but nothing that has forced Cooper to miss more than two consecutive games so before returning to the lineup.

The importance of that: Injuries have been an issue for Cooper since joining the Marlins ahead of the 2018 season. He has never played more than 107 games in a season.

Cooper has had seven injured list stints over the past four seasons: Twice in 2018 with right wrist injuries that eventually required surgery; a left calf strain and left hand contusion in 2019; a bout with COVID-19 in 2020; and a lumbar strain and a UCL tear in his left elbow in 2021, the latter of which required surgery.

“Luck’s been a little on the bad side during my career here,” Cooper said earlier this season.

Luck on that front has been on his side through the first three months of the season. The universal designated hitter helps, too, since it doesn’t force Cooper to play in the field everyday to remain in the lineup. He and Jesus Aguilar have primarily been alternating between first base and the DH spot this season.

“The biggest thing that helps when you’re doing well is staying healthy,” Cooper said. “When you’re playing well and you’re swinging well, you want to play every day. I think in years’ past, I’ve had some freaky things happen. It’s tough to replicate your consistency [after you miss time with an injury]. My routine is keeping me — knock on wood — so far this year feeling good.”

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