Making Contact?

Baseball is a simple game. Hitting is no different. See ball; hit ball. Easy. The fantasy baseball community does a great job of pointing out significant trends; particularly hard hit rates and strikeouts. However, one grouping of statistics that I think we need to do a better job investigating relates to contact. How often do players swing and miss? It’s a strong predictor of strikeout rate and can identify some streaky hitters that can be very frustrating to own. As the state of the game shifts towards pitching strategies designed to have hitters leave the strike zone and swing and miss, you should be aware of who is doing exactly that.

Among qualified hitters, here are the WORST contact rates so far in 2019.

1. Brnndon Lowe 62.5%
2. Joey Gallo 62.5%
3. Avisail Garcia 64.5%
4. Bryce Harper 65.7%
5. Javier Baez 66.4%
6. Wil Myers 68%
7. Adalberto Mondesi 68%
8. Jackie Bradley Jr. 68.6%
9. Leonys Martin 68.6%
10. David Dahl 68.6%

Notes:

Brandon Lowe: Yikes. Walks are down, Ks are at 36%. Sell high because this guy is selling out for power and has been very fortunate with a .389 BABIP and a 26.8% HR/FB ratio.

Joey Gallo: The numbers have been awesome because the BABIP has finally normalized. But, I’m not sure the Gallo lovers should feel as comfortable on their victory laps as they have been so far. He hits the ball ridiculously hard, but this level of swing and miss screams inconsistency.

Bryce Harper: I’m officially freaked out. 31% K rate is no fluke when you see this contact %. I’d be trying to get a Kris Bryant type for Harper while you still can.

Javy Baez: I can’t explain how he defies batted ball metrics and I don’t think you can either. He scares me, but he has proven me wrong for a long time now.

Adalberto Mondesi: He’s basically doing what he did last year, but has a slightly higher walk rate and has been fairly fortunate with BABIP. He’s actually chasing a little more, but he’s what you wanted him to be. I don’t think the upside is quite as high as some hoped, but I also think the floor is higher than the Jonathan Villar scenario some feared at the season’s start.

So the usefulness of contact rate is obvious. But, another statistic to consider is Zone %. How often do pitchers throw strikes to certain batters? The results depend on the player type. Some hitters are avoided completely because of skill and some show tendencies to swing early and often which dissuades pitchers from throwing the ball over the plate. Below is the list of hitters who see the FEWEST amount of pitches in the zone

1. Javier Baez 35%
2. Pete Alonso 36.9%
3. Willson Contreras 36.9%
4. Rowdy Tellez 37.7%
5. Anthony Rizzo 37.9%
6. Josh Bell 38%
7. Nolan Arenado 38%
8. Neil Walker 38.1%
9. Bryce Harper 38.1%
10. Mike Moustakas 38.1%

Notes:

Javy Baez: See above

Pete Alonso: He has definitely scuffled over the last month, but this is encouraging. His quality of contact has made an impression and he has shown the ability to take walks; especially in the minors. Rookies adjust and I’d expect Alonso to continue to do damage when the ball is the in zone (He has a good Z Contact %) while he cuts down on his chases. Buy him if his owner thinks this regression will last all year.

Willson Contreras: When you look deeply into his profile, Contreras has shown very encouraging plate skills. He is swinging slightly less, while maintaining the exact same contact rate within the zone from a year ago. But, showing up on this list as seeing the 3rd fewest strikes means that pitchers are encountering a confident hitter who is not as willing to get himself out as he has at times in the past. You probably can’t buy him, but if you own him, don’t move him!

Anthony Rizzo vs. Nolan Arenad0

Two stars appear on this list with very different approaches. Arenado swings almost 10% more than Rizzo, but pitchers are equally afraid of the damage these two guys produce. The commonality? Elite contact skills. They each sit in the low 80s on contact rates, which certainly justifies their elite hitting profile

Josh Bell: Speaking of elite, Josh Bell is everything this year. Believe the hype-his opponents do based on his inclusion on this list. He’s cut down on his chases outside the zone, but more importantly; he’s attacking strikes in the zone. His contact skills are very good, but he’s taking advantage of the way he’s been pitched. The first pitch strike % against Bell is just 56% and his Z Contact % is over 80%. With his quality of contact, I don’t see anything in the plate skills that will slow down this breakout.

Honorable Mentions

Michael Brantley has ridiculous plate skills. He has the second lowest swinging strike rate among qualified hitters. He sees strikes, but it’s just because he also doesn’t chase. And hey, if he does, he has an 85% contact rate outside the zone. That is just absurd.

Mike Trout doesn’t chase, doesn’t swing much, and doesn’t miss. The generational talents do this. When looking through plate discipline leaderboards, along with Trout you’ll usually also find guys like Mookie Betts and Alex Bregman.

Yadier Molina chases everything, swings constantly, and hits it anyway. Yadi is a treasure.

Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes both swing A LOT. Pitchers are more afraid of Reyes though. He sees about 3% less strikes than Puig and swings at the highest percentage of pitches in the zone in baseball. Puig just swings at the most pitches in baseball. Puig seems to be pressing, while Reyes seems to be a little more selective in his attack. Neither will be plate discipline all-stars, but with their profiles, you want to side with the guy who is seeing less strikes and less first pitch strikes (Reyes).

 

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Colin Dinsmore

Written by 

Avid Fantasy Baseball player, Yankees fan, amateur gambler, dog-lover. @AssemblyColin