ST. PETERSBURG — As Mike Zunino has compiled one of the most productive and amazing offensive seasons of any Rays player ever, his consistency stands out.
With each milestone Zunino passes — and with 31 homers through Friday there have been plenty — the preparation, delivery and execution are almost the same as he discusses the remarkable turnaround from the past two seasons and his stunning 2021 success.
No, he’s not really keeping track. No, there is no ultimate target number in mind. And, no, he has no specific change or adjustment or special Wonderboy bat that is the ultimate key to his record-breaking performance.
“The whole thing this whole year — I know I probably sound like a broken record — is trusting that process,” Zunino said. “Trying to stay as disciplined as I can in my cage work and trusting it.”
That trust, the culmination of a two-year swing overhaul Zunino made with Rays hitting coach Chad Mottola, is obviously quite deep. The key is a mechanics-based routine both are committed to, with specific keys, such as hip rotation and bat lane, that allow Zunino to repeat his swing, and to have a base to return to when he does feel out of synch. “It’s no longer results based,” Mottola explained.
Zunino, who also is providing top-notch work behind the plate, is obviously pleased with the production, but is insistent he can remain focused on the process. “Whatever that number is at the end it is,” Zunino said. “But I’m just trying to have good at-bats and help this lineup out any way I can.”
Here are five strange but true things about Zunino’s season.
Though Salvador Perez’s season of 45 homers (second in the majors through Friday) with Kansas City is understandably getting all kinds of attention, there is an asterisk. Perez has hit 15 homers as the DH and 30 in games where he was the catcher.
Zunino has hit all 31 as a catcher, which means he is actually leading the majors in that category. And he is the first American League catcher to hit that many since 2000, when Charles Johnson also had 31 for the Orioles and White Sox. Only four AL catchers have hit more while playing the position: Ivan Rodriguez (35) for the Rangers in 1999; Terry Steinbach (34), A’s, 1996; Carlton Fisk (33), White Sox, 1985; Lance Parrish (32), Tigers, 1982.
He’s been ratioed
Toronto’s Vlad Guerrero Jr. leads the majors with 45 homers through Friday, and 17 others have more homers than Zunino. But Zunino has done more with less opportunity, leading all hitters (minimum 200 at-bats) with a home run every 9.84 at-bats. San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr. is next closest in at-bats per home run ratio at 10.85.
A lean to the left
While the Rays have struggled overall against lefty pitchers, Zunino has starred. His 1.294 OPS (through Friday) and .877 slugging percentage (minimum 100 at-bats) lead the majors, and his. 340 average is tied for sixth. … While Zunino is hitting only .131 against right-handers, 16 of his 26 hits are home runs.
Extra, extra, read all about it
Of Zunino’s first 62 hits this season, 31 are home runs. As if that’s not eye-catching enough, consider that he also has 10 doubles and two — yes, two — triples. So 43 of his 62 hits (69.4 percent) have been for extra bases, including 10 of his last 12.
Only one player in MLB history (minimum 200 at-bats) has had a higher percentage of extra-base hits. Ryan Schimpf in 2016 for the Padres had 42 of his 60 hits (70 percent) for extra bases: 20 homers, 17 doubles and five triples. Zunino could join another very exclusive club if he finishes the season with as many (or more) homers than non-homers: Only Mark McGwire has done so, in 2001 with St. Louis when he had 29 home runs and 27 other hits.
See ball, hit ball hard
Zunino ranks in the 99th percentile of all big-leaguers with a maximum exit velocity of 117.3 mph, per baseballsavant.com, and is in the 80th percentile with an average exit velocity of 91 mph, both career bests. He also is in the 100th percentile with 25 percent of his batted balls “barrelled” — a play off being hit on the barrel, with the ideal combination of an exit velocity of at least 98 mph and a launch angle between 26-30 degrees.
And five more things
⋅ Zunino is the 12th player in the Rays’ 24-season history to hit 30-plus homers in a season; the team record is 46 by Carlos Pena in 2007. And he and Brandon Lowe (34 homers) are the fifth set of Rays to reach 30 in the same season, joining Jose Canseco (34) and Fred McGriff (32), 1999; Pena (39) and Evan Longoria (33), 2009; Longoria (32) and Brad Miller (30), 2016; Logan Morrison (38) and Steven Souza Jr. (30), 2017.
⋅ Zunino crushed the Rays’ records for homers by primary catchers (16, Travis d’Arnaud, 2019) and while playing catcher (14, John Flaherty, 1999; Wilson Ramos, 2018).
⋅ Zunino’s five-game homer streak (Aug. 11-17) matches the second longest by a catcher since 1901, per baseball-reference.com, behind a six-game run by the Giants’ Walker Cooper in 1947.
⋅ Zunino’s longest homer was 472 feet on May 11 against the Yankees; his shortest 347 feet Wednesday at the Blue Jays; his hardest hit (by exit velocity) 117.3 mph May 14 against the Mets; his softest 93.2 mph Aug. 11 at the Red Sox; his highest launch angle 48 degrees June 29 at the Nationals; his lowest 19 on June 19 at the Mariners.
⋅ Zunino actually has hit 32 homers this season; his homer in the All-Star Game was the second by a Ray, joining Carl Crawford (2007).
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