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February 11, 2012 posted by Matthew Dewoskin

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

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Bobby Abreu, Outfielder, Los Angeles Angels

O-swing percentage is simple enough to understand. It’s simply the number of times a batter swings at pitches outside of the strike zone divided by the total pitches outside the zone a batter has seen. It’s the truest judge of strike zone knowledge at our disposal because it measures what a batter does when he sees pitches that are not strikes.

It’s important to know because a batter’s chances for success decreases significantly when swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. Batters who are better at ignoring pitches outside the zone tend to help fantasy GM’s win championships.

1. Vladimir Guerrero 47.4%
2. Alfonso Soriano 45.6%
3. Miguel Olivo 45.6%
4. Adam Jones 44.4%
5. Alex Gonzalez 43.4%
6. Mark Trumbo 42.7%
7. Robinson Cano 41.9%
8. Jeff Francoeur 41.2%
9. Delmon Young 41.2%
10. Josh Hamilton 41.0%

This is the second straight year that Vlad Guerrero has topped this list and 47.4% represents a career high for Vladdy. He’s not gaining more discipline with age. He’s actually getting more and more reckless at the plate. It worked for him in 2010, but Vlad struggled with health and performance issues in 2011. Vlad has shown to be an outlier for most of his career. The old adage of “You don’t walk off the island” has rung true for Vlad’s entire career and it doesn’t look like he’s going to change now. It’s actually too bad. Imagine what he could have done if he learned how to take a walk.

It’s hard to believe that Alfonso Soriano came in second on this list with a 45.6% o-swing rate. That number is a career high for Fonzie and much like Vladdy, he seems to be getting more reckless with age. Soriano managed to stay on the field for most of the year and actually turned in a decent season for a guy who was almost completely ignored in fantasy drafts. He was even a little unlucky with a .266 BABIP. Soriano is and always will be a guy who doesn’t care for plate discipline and his name near the top of the list shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.

Miguel Olivo fits the same free swingin’ profile as Vlad and Soriano, but doesn’t have near the results. He’s determined to strike out at a 25%+ clip and draw as few walks as possible. There’s no reason to believe that will change any time soon.

We’ve been waiting on a breakout season from Adam Jones for four full seasons. His O-swing rate has actually increased each of the past three seasons. That number should be on a downward trend, but he appears determined to swing at bad pitches. He strikes out a ton and doesn’t draw walks. He also doesn’t hit for enough power to make up for the number of outs he makes.

Alex Gonzalez is not a shortstop you should want to have on your roster. He’s 35 years old and really good at making outs. His O-swing rate has been on a three-year upward trend. At this point he’s unlikely to wake up and suddenly gain plate discipline.

Mark Trumbo got his first full season at the major league level in 2011 and turned in a competent effort. he blasted 29 homers and managed to thieve nine bases. Sadly, Trumbo’s season ended early with a stress fracture in his foot and has spent the off-season rehabbing. Trumbo showed poor plate discipline with a 4.4% walk rate. He swings at a lot of bad pitches and puts himself at a disadvantage. More importantly, he’s presently a player without a position.

Robinson Cano posted a career high in O-swing rate in 2011. Thankfully, he’s still young enough and has the “Vlad factor” of being able to hit bad pitches. He still refuses to take a walk and his plate discipline has never been very good, but he makes contact 76.2% of the time he swings at pitches outside the zone.

Jeff Francoeur is another guy who refuses to take a walk and still swings the bat at everything he sees. He posted a .323 BABIP in 2011 and he delivered a career year. He’s unlikely to post another season of an .800+ OPS because, well, he’s never done it before. He’s a prime regression candidate who doesn’t have the plate discipline to make up for a regression in BABIP. Frenchy is going to struggle if he’s not getting lucky on balls in play.

What? Delmon Young regressed back to his career averages after his career year in 2010? Who could have predicted that? Other than everyone who had an opinion on fantasy baseball last off-season? Delmon posted basically the same swing metrics and a similar BABIP to 2010. The only difference was that he struck out more(16.9 K% in 2011 vs 13.2 in 2010) and hit more balls on the ground(1.33 GB:FB ratio in 2011 vs 1.12 in 2010). He still doesn’t show enough patience at the plate to truly capitalize on his talents.

Josh Hamilton’s judgment has been trending in the wrong direction since his breakout season in 2007. That’s his strike zone judgment, not his judgment off the field. His o-swing rate has gone up every year since 2007. Hamilton hits a surprising number of pitches on the ground for a guy who should be swinging for the fences. He posted a 1.10 GB:FB ratio and owns a 1.18 ratio for his career. It seems likely that his high ground ball rate goes hand in hand with his high O-swing rate.

1. Bobby Abreu 19.6%
2. Ian Kinsler 20.0%
3. Nick Swisher 21.1%
4. Yunel Escobar 21.1%
5. Josh Willingham 21.1%
6. Carlos Santana 21.4%
7. Brett Gardner 21.5%
8. Kosuke Fukudome 22.1%
9. Andrew McCutcheon 22.4%
10. Jamey Carroll 23.2%

If you were ever wondering why Bobby Abreu managed to keep his job as he continued to get up in years, it’s because he has amazing strike zone judgment. Bobby doesn’t have the pop that he once had and his days of .200+ ISOs are over, but he can still get on base. He’s still a sneaky play in leagues that count OBP or OPS, but he doesn’t really contribute anywhere else to be of use in a traditional fantasy league.

Ian Kinsler should have a higher OBP with his crazy low O-swing rate, but he makes contact 91.4% of the time he goes up to the plate. He swings a lot, but he mainly swings at pitches in the strike zone. Most of the time he makes contact, he puts the ball in the air(0.75 GB:FB rate in 2011). His his fly ball rate is what keeps his BABIP and his batting average so low. He’s not unlucky, he’s just a really quirky hitter.

Nick Swisher is actually similar to Kinsler, except he strikes out a lot more when chasing power. Nick the Stick owns a 0.82 career GB:FB rate. That’s what’s kept his batting average low, but he makes up for it with his solid strike zone judgment. He may never produce a batting average over .270, but he’s a near lock for an .800+ OPS(except in Chicago).

Yunel Escobar is absolutely not a free-swinger…on pitches outside of the zone. For a player with an 86.3% contact-rate, he has a surprising amount of restraint on pitches outside the zone. Unlike Swish and Kinsler, Escobar puts a lot of balls on the ground. Esco owned a 2.32 GB:FB rate in 2011. It will keep his batting average higher as long as he’s lucky on balls in play, but he’ll never produce the power numbers that would be considered useful in fantasy baseball.

Josh Willingham’s high K-rate(26.6% last year) is what comes with him swinging for the fences. JWilly actually has solid plate discipline and tries to hit good pitches as hard as he can. It remains to be seen if his power numbers will translate to Target Field, but he can be a cheap source of power in most formats.

Carlos Santana was one of the more unlucky players in baseball. His BABIP was only .263, but he posted a GB:FB rate of 1.12. He doesn’t fit the low BABIP profile and should rebound in 2012. The reason Santana is such a trendy pick is because he has the rare combination of power, plate discipline and youth.

Brett Gardner is an odd case. He doesn’t go fishing for bad pitches very often, but he still posts a really high K-rate(16.7% for his career). He only swings and misses 3.2% of the time for his career. The theory on this is that his selective nature is actually hurting him on counts with two strikes and he gets caught looking more often than not, but there aren’t any numbers to actually back this up.

Kosuke Fukudome is heading into his age 35 season. He doesn’t hit for power or steal bases. He is good at not making outs, but he doesn’t have much else to offer at this point in his career. He also doesn’t have a contact with spring training rapidly approaching.

The Dread Pirate delivered power, speed and showed solid plate discipline last year. Also, he was a little unlucky on balls in play. Andrew McCutchen posted a .291 BABIP with a .259 actual batting average. He owned a 0.92 GB:FB ratio. He’s a solid bet to rebound closer to his .276 career average in 2012.

Jamey Carroll probably should be on this list because he puts a lot of balls in play and tends to swing at pitches in the strike zone. The problem is that when he does, he makes lots and lots of outs. The Minnesota Twins seem to think he can play everyday. Fantasy owners should not be so bold.

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