Plate discipline metrics could have prevented a lot of very smart people from saying a lot of very stupid things about a young Chris â€œCrushâ€ Davis. Davis overall numbers during his rookie year were quite good, but his underlying metrics and plate discipline stats were pointing to trouble ahead. Actually, his underlying metrics and plate discipline stats were pointing a large, flashing neon red sign at another large, neon sign that read, â€œTrouble Ahead.â€
Davis was swinging and missing too much (17.2% swinging strike percentage), but he had a high swing percentage (54.3%) and a very low contact rate (68.1%). He also swung at a lot of bad pitches (37.8% O-swing) and didnâ€™t make contact with enough good ones (79.1% Z-contact). In short, he was about to be a mess. Plate discipline metrics noticed before most people did.
Plate discipline metrics are a little tricky. The require that you actually pay attention and look at the big picture. One swing metric only tells part of the story. Weâ€™re going to focus on one of the easier plate discipline metrics, swinging strike percentage, for today. The lessons will get harder and they will continue.
Swinging strike percentage is simple enough to compute…provided you have access to Pitch FX tools. Itâ€™s the number of times a hitter swings and misses divided by the total number of pitches a hitter sees. League average is around 8.5%, but donâ€™t concern yourself with that. Itâ€™s really just to give a reference point to what is considered high and low. League average is just a number. Every hitter needs to be evaluated on an individual basis, not against the entire league.
Swinging strikes are basically what hitters have to trade for power. Want to hit homeruns? You better be ready for a few big misses. Most of the hitters with the highest swinging strike percentages were also among the league leaders in slugging percentage and ISO. Miguel Olivo lead the league in swinging strike percentage with a 19.0%. Miguel is one of the few outliers. Heâ€™s not paid to NOT swing, right? Olivo simply canâ€™t help himself. Oddly enough Juan Pierre posted the lowest total in the league with a 2.0%. Say what you want about Juan, but he doesnâ€™t miss often. Itâ€™s usually at someone when he does connect, but at least he doesnâ€™t miss.
Fantasy owners should be on the look out for a decrease in swinging strike percentages and an increase in overall production. This usually indicates an improvement in overall plate discipline and helps fantasy GMs figure out who is for real and who should remain on the waiver wire or, better yet, someone elseâ€™s roster.
You think Gordon Beckham is a sleeper this year? Think again. His swinging strike data indicates that heâ€™s actually getting worse at the plate since he came up. Gordon had some success as a rookie, but posted a 9.0% swinging strike percentage in his rookie year. He struggled in his sophomore season and posted a 9.3%, but things really fell apart last year when he managed a 10.5%. That number has been heading in the wrong direction for the last two years. Beckham will be in for another long year unless he can find a way to make more contact.
Meanwhile, Danny Espinosa is actually a legit sleeper thanks in part to his swinging strike percentage. Espinosa struck out a ton as a rookie and posted a 14.3% swinging strike percentage. He cut that number down to 11.5% in his second year. Why is that better than Beckhamâ€™s numbers? Well, Espinosa is trending in the right direction and he owns a .186 ISO for his short major league career. Beckham whiffed at a similar rate, but posted a .106 ISO in 2011. Espinosa should continue to post competent power numbers from a position not known for its thump, while Beckham will likely continue to struggle unless he can make more contact.
Andre Ethier is another hitter whose swinging strike data (and other swing metrics, but letâ€™s stay focused) indicate his career is headed in the wrong direction. Ethier has watched his swinging strike numbers steadily climb from a career low 6.2% in 2008 to 9.3% in 2011. 2011 also saw Ethier post the worst ISO of his career (.129). Itâ€™s a bad sign when swinging strike percentages go up and power production goes down. There is an off chance that Ethier suffered through a hidden injury for most of 2011. He had his previously surgically repaired knee operated on during the off-season and claimed that it had been bothering him for two years. An injury could explain what Ethier suffered through at the plate in 2011. It would have been nice to tell the fantasy baseball community ahead of time.
Brennan Boesch is actually an intriguing outfield sleeper in part because of the improvement in his plate discipline stats. There also might be another couple reasons. For example outfield is actually proving to be very thin this year and heâ€™ll be hitting in front of not one, but two of the most fearsome hitters in baseball. Whatever. Donâ€™t pay attention to the two large men in the on-deck circle behind Boesch. Pay attention to his falling swinging strike percentage(12.1% in 2010 to 9.0% in 2011) and his increase in production (.256/.320/.416 slash in 2010 versus a .283/.341/.458 in 2011).