July 2, 2012 posted by Matthew Dewoskin

2012 Fantasy Baseball: Leaders and Laggards Swing % LEADERS

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Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas Rangers

Swing metrics are the next frontier of baseball analysis. Five years ago words like BABIP and HR:FB ratio were fairly unknown to most fantasy GMs. Now? You’re at a disadvantage if you don’t know what those stats are. Swing metrics are next. Get comfy with words like O-swing %, Z-swing % and swinging strike %. In five years we’ll be on to something else. 

Hitters need to take the bat off the shoulder to get the hits and homers that help us win fantasy leagues. The guys in the Leaders section of this column have no problem with that. These guys have rarely seen a pitch they can’t beat into the ground for an easy out or send a towering fly ball into the center fielder’s glove. Some of these guys are swinging their way out of the league(looking at you, Delmon) while others are swinging their way to a ridiculous contract(stop rubbing your hamstring, Hamilton).  

1. Delmon Young 60.2%
2. Josh Hamilton 59.4%
3. Freddie Freeman 56.5%
4. A.J. Pierzynski 56.2%
5. Justin Morneau 55.4%
6. Ian Desmond 55.1%
7. Brandon Phillips 54.9%
8. Chris Davis 54.8%
9. Jeff Francoeur 54.5%
10. Adam Jones 53.9%

Delmon Young is determined to swing his way into mediocrity. He’s never met a pitch he hasn’t liked and he’s showing no signs of stopping. It’s a shame really. A guy with Delmon’s talent should be more selective. It has to speak to Young’s willingness to listen to coaching that he’s never had a swing % under 54%. He’s basically a league average guy. He’s fine if you’re desperate due to injury, but he’s not worth a full-time roster spot.

Part of Josh Hamilton’s recent struggles can be linked to regression. He wasn’t going to carry a +.400 BABIP all year. The other part is his swing rate. He needs to be more selective at the plate to have long term success,but his current swing % shouldn’t be the number that worries Hamilton owners. The number that should keep them up at night is his 19.2% swinging strike rate. That number is likely a function of his high swing rate, but that number needs to start heading south in order for Hamilton to avoid a second half swoon. The strange thing is that there is no need for Hamilton to be posting goofy swing metrics like this. He’s Josh Freakin’ Hamilton. Dude has a .382 OBP. He knows the strike zone. The problem is that he puts himself in bad positions by swinging so much. Fangraphs recently did an awesome article on this very subject and it should be mandatory reading for anyone who has Hamilton on a fantasy roster.

Freddie Freeman owns a .309 BABIP, but he’s actually been unlucky this year. Freddie is posting a 32.1% LD %. He’s hitting line drives 32% of the time, but his BABIP is only .309. Doesn’t make sense. Either the data is lying or Freeman is one of the unluckiest guys on the planet. As far as the swing data goes, he’s basically the same guy he was last year and, shocker, he’s posting similar numbers to last year. Freddie Freeman is about as league average as it gets at a position where fantasy GMs need to be better than league average.

A.J. Pierzynski’s career swing % is 56.3% and he’s currently swinging at 55.3% of all pitches he sees. The difference between this year and years past is A.J.’s 18.5% HR:FB ratio. That’s a career high by a wide, wide margin. Pierzynski puts a lot of balls on the ground(1.57 GB:FB ratio) and he has virtually no speed whatsoever. The only reason he was brought to spring training was so Paul Konerko would have someone to jog with. Enjoy the homers while they last.

Want a sign that Justin Morneau’s skills have deteriorated since the concussion issues? His swing % is well over his career mark, his contact rate(76.5%) is down and his swinging strike % is up(12.8%). Oh yeah, and his OPS is only .736. Dude just isn’t the same.

Ian Desmond still strikes out a ton(19.6% K %) and doesn’t draw walks(4.0% BB %), but he’s swinging the bat more(10% jump in swing % between this year and last year) and putting the ball on the ground(1.40 GB:FB ratio). It would be nice to see Desmond become a little more selective, but that would likely come at a sacrifice of his power numbers. There is one caveat with Desmond. His 15.5% HR:FB ratio is well over his 9.4% career mark. There’s a good chance that the power numbers be as strong in the second half.

Brandon Phillips has done a good job of limiting his strikeouts(his 11.3% K% this year is a career low), but he’s never figured out how to draw a walk and it’s likely that he never will. Phillips basically plays to his career averages just about every year. He’s a bit of a disappointment, but at least he’s a consistent disappointment.

What? Chris Davis swings at a lot of pitches! No way! Good ol’ Crush Davis has resurrected his career in Baltimore by, well, being essentially the same guy he’s always been. He still swings a lot, misses a lot and strikes out a lot, but he’s posting a 1.10 GB:FB ratio. That’s why his batting average is in the .260’s instead of the .220’s. He’s stopped trying to put every ball into orbit. When he was younger and bad he was posting sub 1.00 GB:FB ratios. He’s slightly altered his approach and he appears to be carving out a career at the MLB level.

Jeff Francoeur name on this list is probably the least shocking. He swings often, strikes out often and never, ever walks. His BABIP has dropped twenty points from last year and, oh my god, his batting average has dropped twenty points from last year. He played over his head last year and this is the regression that those who were paying attention were calling for. His swinging strike % is down slightly, but all that means is Frenchy is making more contact. It’s not like he’s laying off pitches. He’s just putting them in play slightly more often.

The story with Adam Jones amazing first half isn’t his swing data. The only metric that has seen a change is Jones’ HR:FB ratio. He’s hit homers on 22.9% of the fly balls he’s put in the air. That’s well over his 14.0% career average and he looks like a likely regression candidate for the second half. His swing metrics are almost identical to his career averages. He’s just been lucky on balls in the air.


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