May 19, 2012 posted by Matthew Dewoskin

2012 Fantasy Baseball: Leaders and Laggards O-Swing % Edition

Print Friendly

Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas Rangers

Plate discipline matters in fantasy baseball more than most fantasy GMs would like to admit. Yes, taking a walk isn’t really all that helpful, but it’s better than taking an out and there is always the possibility that a runner can score or steal a base. Get on base and positive outcomes are still possible. Make the slow jog back to the dugout and a hitter will have to wait a few innings before being allowed to try again. Plate discipline can also be the difference between swinging at a pitch outside the zone to end an at bat and waiting for a pitch to make a pitcher pay when he does come into the zone. Plate discipline matters.

O-swing % is the percentage of swings a batter makes at pitches outside the zone. For some hitters(Clint Barmes, we’d be looking at you if we cared), it can result in disaster. For some(you wouldn’t believe how many times Josh Hamilton swings at pitches outside the zone), it simply doesn’t matter. For others, they simply don’t care to swing at pitches outside the zone(The walks are to be admired, but would it kill Joey Votto to take the bat off his shoulder occasionally?).

O-swing % is also a way to determine improvement in a young player. A drop in O-swing % between seasons typically indicates an increased walk rate and, possibly, increased overall production.

1. Clint Barmes 49.1%
2. Josh Hamilton 45.9%
3. Starlin Castro 44.6%
4. Delmon Young 42.1%
5. Alfonso Soriano 42.0%
6. Jeff Francoeur 41.6%
7. Michael Cuddyer 40.6%
8. Brandon Crawford 40.5%
9. Brandon Phillips 40.5%
10. Gerardo Parra 40.3%

Seeing Clint Barmes on this list shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. He’s suffering through one of the worst seasons in baseball history. He owns a .158/.185/.281 slash line. Adam Lind gets sent to Triple-A, but Barmes is allowed to keep being awful at the major league level. He’s swinging at a lot of bad pitches and making lots and lots of outs.

If this were any other hitter, it would be a concern, but it’s Josh Hamilton. He swings and misses a lot(18.7% swinging strike %), but when he does make contact the ball tends to go a long, long way. The problem is that his O-swing % has been trending upwards every year since he started with Cincinnati. That’s a concern for the team that signs him to whatever ridiculous contract he gets in the off-season. He’s fine for this year, but if there was one guy who will be drafted really high next year and disappoint, it’s Hamilton. Now, to play devil’s advocate, Hamilton has only sees pitches in the zone 36.2% of the time. That’s the lowest Zone % in baseball. He wouldn’t swing much if he didn’t swing at pitches outside the zone and he also wouldn’t have nearly as many homers if he didn’t swing at pitches outside of the zone. Either way, Hamilton can be elite…as long as he stays healthy and clean. 

Starlin Castro has been swinging at slop for so long that he’s gotten pretty good at hitting it. He owns a 75.0% O-contact %(contact on pitches outside the zone), but only a 8.7% swinging strike percentage. It would be nice to see Castro develop some plate discipline(2.4% BB%? That’s a worry). He’s as good as his BABIP allows him to be. Castro will be productive when his BABIP is in the .350’s, but watch out for slumps if that BABIP starts to dip.

Delmon Young is being who Delmon Young has always been. All of his plate discipline metrics are right around where they usually are. Sadly, so is Young’s production. A wise man once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result.” This phrase applies to Delmon. He’s always done everything the same way and he’s usually disappointed everyone who has ever had him on a fantasy roster. He’s a borderline fifth outfielder until he figures out how to either take a walk or actually produce power numbers.

Alfonso Soriano is on this list? No effing way? A guy who has been a free-swinger for his entire career? Soriano is actually a buy low guy at this point. He won’t end the year with a 5.1% HR:FB ratio.

Remember when we told you Jeff Francoeur’s .323 BABIP in 2011 wasn’t repeatable? We meant it. His BABIP has regressed to .274 and his production has gone with it. Frenchy’s swing metrics are falling in-line with his career numbers, but his 7.1% BB% would be a career high. He’s showing some progress, but he still puts a too many balls in play and he’s still a victim of the BABIP luck dragon. He doesn’t miss as often as most guys who swing at pitches outside the zone, but the contact he does make isn’t necessarily the same as a hitter who doesn’t make as much contact on pitches outside the zone. 

Michael Cuddyer is a surprise on this list. Cuddyer owns a 28.6% O-swing % for his career. This could be the adjustment to a different league with different pitchers. It’s hard to believe that a 11-year veteran would suddenly forget everything he’s learned about plate discipline. Cuddyer’s GB:FB ratio has always been on the high side(1.34 for his career), but his current 50.5% GB % is likely a result of swinging at a lot more pitches outside the zone.

If Brandon Crawford has proven anything in the 2012 season, it’s that he’s not a very good baseball player. He’s going out of his way to kill Madison Bumgarner’s season with his defense at short and he’s hurting the Giants offense with a .224/.268/.338 slash line. His 13.4% swinging strike % is way too high for a guy with little power.

Brandon Phillips has gotten more reckless at the plate as he’s gotten older. His O-swing % has been trending upwards for the last three years and his BB% has been trending downwards for the same time frame. He’ll have value because he tends to drive in runs and he’s a 15/15 guy at a weak position, but expecting a breakout at this point is simply wishful thinking.

Gerardo Parra’s plate discipline appears to be regressing before our very eyes. Parra is walking less(8.7% BB% in 2011 and 6.7% in 2012), swinging at more pitches outside the zone(37.7% O-swing in 2011) and taking more swinging strikes(10.9 swinging strike % in 2012 vs 9.4% in 2011). To make matters worse, his BABIP has regressed from .342 last year to .296 this year. He’s been good on the basepaths, but playing time(and chances to steal) could be reduced if he can’t figure out the strike zone soon.

1. Jed Lowrie 15.8%
2. Josh Willingham 16.3%
3. A.J. Ellis 16.7%
4. David Wright 18.7%
5. Alex Avila 18.9%
6. Todd Helton 19.8%
7. Jemile Weeks 19.9%
8. Joey Votto 20.2%
9. Marco Scutaro 20.2%
10. Elvis Andrus 20.3%

Jed Lowrie is the smart, patient type of hitter one would expect to see coming out of the Red Sox minor league system. The problem is that he’s always had the plate discipline, but he’s struggled with the power numbers and run production. Lowrie has gotten an opportunity at a full-time job with the Astros and he appears to be making the most of it. He hits a ton of fly balls(51.0% fly ball %). It would be a huge boost to his value in fantasy leagues if a few more of those fly balls could find the cheap seats.

Josh Willingham has always been selective at the plate, but he’s been taking more pitches than ever and it’s paying off with a 1.029 OPS. Willingham has only swung at 36.3% of all pitches in 2012. Willingham appears to have figured a few things out at the plate in his age 33 season. It’s going to be interesting to see how the league adjusts to him as the season wears on. For now, his selectivity is paying off. His first pitch strike % is only 56.4%. That number should go up as pitchers realize that Willingham has been a statue at the plate this year.

A.J. Ellis’ hot start has been one of the reasons that LA is playing well. He’s always had the plate discipline that he’s shown in 2012, but he has that plate discipline with a .397 BABIP. Ellis’ high BABIP is fueled by his 22.4% LD %. Ellis is likely playing over his head, but the OBP is legit. He has one of the better batting eyes in baseball.

David Wright’s hot start has been dissected ad nauseum. His low O-swing % is a big part of his hot start. He’s not swinging at pitches outside the zone. The other part of his hot start is his crazy high .466 BABIP. He’s more selective at the plate, but he’s also getting lucky on balls in play. Those two factors combine to form a really productive baseball player. The selectivity should continue as long as those balls keeping falling in as base hits.

Most people would think that the players on the low O-swing % list would have high OBPs and be generally productive. Alex Avila is the exception to that rule. Avila is striking out at a 24.8% clip despite his low O-swing %. He also owns a fairly pedestrian .274 BABIP, but owns a 28.6% LD %. He’s off to a bizarre, mediocre start to his season. He’s actually a decent buy low candidate from a frustrated fantasy GM.

The old adage is that power hitters hang on to their strike zone judgment until they retire. The bat speed will deteriorate, but the batter’s eye will always remain. This statement is especially true for Todd Helton. Helton can no longer get the bat around like he could when he was in his prime(he’s currently posting a .422 SLG, but he can still take a walk(12.4% BB %). He’s worth a UTIL spot in a deep league that counts OBP, but that’s about all he’s worth in fantasy baseball at this point in his career.

Jemile Weeks is doing his best to dispel the idea that he’s a free swinger. His O-swing % has gone from 29.5% in his rookie year to an outstanding 19.9% in the early stages of the 2012 season. His strikeout % is basically the same as last year, but his walk % has improved from 4.8% in 2011 to 9.8% in 2012. These numbers should be trending this way if Weeks is improving. He’s starting to realize some of his vast potential. He’s been the victim of a low BABIP(currently only .231), but he’s a solid bet to rebound as long as the A’s keep sending hom out there everyday.

Joey Votto is actually a frustrating to own in fantasy leagues with standard categories. Josh Hamilton is free to swing for the fences, but Votto chooses to maintain his discipline and take his walks to first base instead of swinging at a pitch he doesn’t like. On one hand that kind of dedication has to be admired, but on the other hand, the hand that is counting on Votto to produce homers, it’s very frustrating. Votto is sitting on six homers while most of the guys that were drafted early are in double digits….except, of course, Albert Pujols.

Part of the reason Marco Scutaro has been able to play parts of 11 seasons at the major league level without prodigious power or ridiculous speed is because he’s maintained his plate discipline. He’s been caught by the luck dragon and a .265 BABIP in 2012, but he’s a solid bet to end up closer to his .292 career average. His swinging strike % is only 1.9%. It’s a surprise when he whiffs.

Elvis Andrus does everything expected of a table setter. He doesn’t swing at pitches outside the zone. He doesn’t swing and miss very much(4.7% swinging strike %), he doesn’t put the ball in the air(26.5% LD % and 51.5% GB %) and he’s capable of drawing a walk(10.6% BB %). Oh, and he plays in a lineup capable of taking advantage of his skills. Andrus is about as safe as it gets at shortstop.


You must be logged in to post a comment.