Premature Hitter Analysis

The past couple weeks I’ve been looking into pitchers who have different trends and patterns than in years past. Of course, the sample size has been ridiculously small, but that’s part of the fun.

This week will focus more on hitters; as their plate appearances start to climb we can actually look a little into how their discipline stats are trending. The power and average numbers will be a lot more misleading so early, but a decent amount of information about players can be determined by discipline numbers, which stabilize very early on.  Let’s get started.

Dexter Fowler

Despite being almost an afterthought addition to the Cubs, Fowler has literally been their most productive player so far this season. It’s hard to imagine he continues to outperform studs like Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, but his improvements so far look like they have some legs to stand on.

Helping his surge is a large jump in walk rate, up to 16% from a career 12%. This is less due to a small sample size and more to a different approach, setting career lows in swing percentages across the board. His O-Swing% of just 17.4% is absurdly efficient, almost never chasing out of the zone. His O-Contact% has also fallen, from 63% to 57%, which helps him put less bad pitches into play. It will lead to a few more whiffs, but overall his strikeout rate has remained stable, and it’s allowing him to go deeper in at-bats which favors the hitter.

Fowler’s speed will always be enticing, but with him getting on base at such a high clip, this could be the most valuable season we’ve ever seen.

Yasiel Puig

From a guy who oozes talent like a slug does slime, his 2015 year was disappointing and had people worried if the league had caught up. But early success has him back in the headlines, as the enigmatic outfielder looks to add another 5+ fWAR season to his career numbers.

Helping spark this year’s streak has been a cut back on strikeouts, down to just 17%. Contact has always been an issue with Puig, both in the majors and minors. To see him cutting back is reassuring, and so are the underlying numbers. In addition, he continues what is now a four-year climb on fly ball percentage, just over 40% this season. Putting more balls in the air will let us see how far his power potential can go, and there’s good reason to believe he can mash with the league leaders.

A more controlled Puig sounds boring, but not when we talk about him at the dish. Cutting down on the strikeouts allows him to tap into the MVP potential that he has, and the Yasiel Puig show is ready for its next scene.



David Ortiz

If it ain’t broke, uh, change it anyway? Big Papi has never shied away from tinkering with his approach, and in his final act he’s shown to keep it up. Ortiz is walking at a career high 20%, and striking out at a career low 11.1%. The walk numbers are just insane for anyone to put up, and the low strikeout are just baffling for a power hitter. The efficiency needed to be where Ortiz’ discipline and production both are really tell us about how great of a player he is.

The past few seasons we’ve seen his swing percentage hover around 46%, and this years it’s now at 41%. He’s simply being more selective on what pitches he’s trying to mash. As hitters get older their discipline numbers tend to get better, but at this age (40 freakin’ years old!) they have started to deteriorate. It’s hard to say he will keep this up, but then again he has defied age at every single turn. Even in his last year, no one can deny David Ortiz is still a monster.

Josh Donaldson

What do you do after hitting a career high in homers and eclipse your highest total  by double digits? Mash away at everything, apparently.

Donaldson is surely the bringer of rain, but this season’s 28% strikeout rate is a giant leap from the 18% we saw the last two seasons. Now, he’s on a 50 homer per 600 plate appearance pace, which is really good, but the strikeouts are concerning. His chase rates and zone swing rates are right with career averages, which leads us to looking at dips in contact percentage. This is the worst case, as it’s less of an adjustment and perhaps more of a skill difference. He has lost five percentage points on zone contact (down to just 79%) which really starts to raise some eyebrows, and with a career low walk rate (8% to career 11%) the problems could be compounding.

Josh Donaldson is one of the most exciting players in the game to watch – despite his hairstyle choices, but if he keeps missing the ball the way he has been, we could be seeing the decline of a superstar.

 

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James Krueger
James lives in Tampa, Florida and is often one of the 10,000 people you can see at Rays' home games. He's a huge fan of prospects, loves analyzing swing mechanics, and will eat a "Top 100" list for breakfast. Dynasty leagues are his forte, especially rebuilding teams; building a farm system is the best part.