Cleveland Indians outfielder Brandon Guyer's approach to hitting the past few seasons has been an interesting one. He doesn't stand particularly close to the plate, but he takes a giant stride with his front foot, such that when it lands, it's edging the chalk in the right-handed batters' box, just shy of home plate.
That giant stride has had a couple of effects, including allowing him to take a giant stride in terms of baseball recognition, as a player desired by teams, including his newest employer, for the pennant push.
The tangible ways in which Guyer has stepped forth are that he has become a masher of left-handed pitching, and a master of getting hit by pitches. Regarding the former, he's hitting .341 with a 1.065 OPS in 107 plate appearances this season against lefties.
"It [the stride] definitely helped with plate coverage," Guyer said in a phone interview earlier this week. "Sometimes it can be out of control, but this year I've kept it in the range I want."
Regarding the hit by pitches, he’s been plunked 25 times, one more than he was when he led the AL with the Rays last season.
"I know a lot of people talk about it, but it’s not something I think about much," Guyer said. "My teammates have asked me about it. But it's never something I go up there thinking about. Do I want to be known as a guy getting hit? No, that's not my game. It happens to happen to me. I'm going up there looking to do damage."
This is the second straight season that Guyer has performed so well against left-handed pitching. In 2015, he had a .271/.387/.457 slash line in 226 plate appearances. His right-handed slash line the past two seasons -- .237/.307/.347 -- is more ordinary.
"I don't want to be known as the guy who crushes lefties," Guyer said. "I know the splits are drastic, but I feel comfortable against a righty or a lefty. I want to be known as a guy who comes to the ballpark every day prepared, puts in the time, goes out on the field, gives it his all, lays it all out there for the team."
In Guyer's case, he does literally lay it all out there. The image below shows all the locations for pitches that have nicked and nailed Guyer the past two seasons.
Those hit by pitches have value. They've added more than 60 points to his on-base percentage. Twenty of the 25 have come with the score within two.
"Getting hit by 90 miles per hour doesn’t feel good," Guyer said. "That's why it isn't something I go up there wanting to do. If you get hit in the wrong spot, you could break something. But when I'm hitting, I'm not a player who wears protective equipment. It's uncomfortable. Is it risky? Yeah. But it limits my hitting."
Guyer has a fearless approach, and fearless is an important word in Guyer's life. It’s something he honed while playing running back and linebacker for Herndon High in northern Virginia, and that stayed with him in baseball, with one of his favorite players being ever-enduring Cal Ripken Jr. (along with Ken Griffey Jr.). One day in 2007, a TV reporter interviewed Guyer, at that time playing college baseball at Virginia, and asked him if he was fearless or reckless.
He replied: "I'm definitely fearless. I won't hesitate to run into any wall here. I mean, that's just how I play. Some may call it reckless and it might be a little reckless and stupid at times, but I don't know -- I've always done that."
And perhaps to prove his fearlessness, not long after the interview, Guyer reached out to the reporter, Lindsay Murphy. Though she rebuffed his initial inquiry, eventually she accepted his offer of a date. Nine years later, they’re married, with a young daughter.
And what does his wife say when he comes home with another bruise on his left leg (the most frequent plunk spot)?
"Sometimes she says, 'Oh, my gosh!'" Guyer said. "She laughs, but she wishes it didn't happen so much."
The Indians want a healthy and effective Guyer, who won't be a free agent until after the 2018 season, for the long term. He has made an immediate impact with a pair of three-hit games and a five-RBI game in his first couple of weeks with the team.
"He's a really gritty player, who plays the game the right way," said Indians president Chris Antonetti in announcing the acquisition of Guyer from the Rays for two prospects at the trade deadline. "We feel like he'll complement our group really well. One of the goals we had going into the deadline was to try to target players that could impact not only this year’s team, but the next few years. Brandon certainly fits into that."
Guyer has fit in effectively so far. He has hit his stride in 2016, so to speak.
"In every aspect, I've grown a lot," Guyer said. "When I got to the big leagues, I wasn't a complete player. But when you talk about hitting, I've evolved. I'm able to use the whole field. I feel I can play every position in the outfield. The main thing is I'm more comfortable and confident, playing in the big leagues, knowing I belong here. That's helped me take the next step."