One person influential to the Brewers’ strong start was not even alive when the season began. When Eddie Overbay was born on April 17, his father, Brewers first baseman Lyle Overbay, was hitting just .100 with a .480 OPS. However, since being reinstated from the paternity list, the elder Overbay has gone on a tear. The 37-year-old Washington native has compiled a six-game hit streak, raising his OPS to a very solid .824. Further, Overbay has improved his wRC+ to a terrific 134, which is the highest mark of his career. Overbay’s recent success is due to his opposite-field power, an increased line-drive rate, and a more-disciplined batting eye.
Overbay has had good power to opposite field this season. With the increased use of defensive shifts, it has become especially important to be able to hit the ball to all fields. Overbay’s spray chart indicates that he certainly has this skill. While he has pulled most of his grounders to the right side, his power – the fly balls – have been predominately to left field. As a result, Overbay has a .429 batting average to the opposite field. This success going the other way is partly a mark of Overbay being an experienced veteran. Also, Overbay may have benefitted from talking to Ryan Braun. Braun displays similar trends – pulling grounders and hitting fly balls the other way. If Overbay has indeed adjusted his approach due to chats with Braun, he certainly picked a good player to emulate.
Additionally, Overbay is getting really good contact on the ball this season. As a result, 27.6% of Overbay’s contact has been line drives, which is his second-highest rate in the past decade. Further, his line-drive percentage is 8th-best in the National League, tied with Arizona’s superstar Paul Goldschmidt. Generally speaking, hitting line drives is better than hitting a ground ball or even a fly ball. Overbay has proved no exception here, as he is hitting .750 (8-12) on liners.
Another aspect of Overbay’s early-season success is his disciplined approach at the plate. Having written about Jonathon Lucroy’s patience two weeks ago I would like to avoid sounding redundant, but similar analysis applies to Overbay as well. The first baseman has cut down on his hacks at bad balls, swinging at just 20.7% of pitches out of the strike zone – his lowest rate since 2009. However, he has been more aggressive against good pitches. Overbay is swinging at 81.1% of pitches in the strike zone, more than he ever has in the past. As a result of his improved batting eye, his 2014 walk rate is the highest of his career and his strikeout rate is the lowest of his career.
It is really tough to project how Overbay will do going forward. It is still so early in the season and, as noted, just a week ago he was flirting with the Mendoza Line. His “good April” has really just been one good week, which is way too small to draw conclusions from. That said, his .286 BABIP reveals that the success he has had is not due to any quirky aberrations. Further, the opposite-field power and increased line-drive rate indicate that he is still making good swings and is not showing physical signs of age. Another reason to be optimistic about Overbay is the fact that Milwaukee only needs him to platoon, meaning that most of his at-bats are against right-handers. He has torched righties for a career 115 wRC+ compared to just 77 against southpaws, so the platoon puts him in a position to succeed. Overbay can still be a solid, productive hitter, and perhaps Brewers fans should thank Eddie for his father’s reemergence.