Plate discipline statistics (swinging strike %, out of zone swing %, contact %, etc.) are some of the very earliest stats to stabilize. That means that they can be used to identify actual improvements or declines in performance very early in the year and those changes aren't just flukes. For many of the stats I'm going to discuss today, 100 PA is enough to trust that the batter has really changed.
Lucky for us, many hitters have over 100 PA already this season. Today, I'm going to look at hitters that have seen the biggest declines in two key plate discipline metrics: swinging strike % (SwStr%) and out-of-zone swing % (O-swing%). Both of these often indicate that a hitter is fooled and is flailing at pitches, especially off-speed or breaking stuff.
Increases in either of these, and especially in both, are red flags that a hitter is not adjusting to what pitchers are throwing him. This can be a sign that it's time to sell a player and get him off your roster because he's not the same hitter you drafted. Let's take a look at the "top" 25 hitters in terms of declines in these two stats from 2015 to 2016. I used 200 PA as a minimum for 2015 and 100 PA for 2016.
|Name||O Swing % Change|
|Melvin Upton Jr.||4.2%|
|Jackie Bradley Jr.||3.9%|
|Steven Souza Jr.||3.60%|
One thing that will probably jump out at you from these two lists is that lots of guys are on both. They are swinging at more pitches out of the zone AND swinging and missing more. That is not a good combination. They are pressing much more than last year, trying to get out of a slump. To make things easier with these big lists, I compiled a shorter list. This list is short. Also, it has the names of every player that appears on both lists. These are the guys I want to discuss. Showing up on one list is certainly cause for some concern, but both is more troubling.
|Higher O Swing and SwStr%|
Most of these are guys with a small margin for error, and are off to poor starts this year. Evan Longoria has been in a multi-year power decline and reaching for out of zone pitches more isn't going to help that. I think he can still be a top 15 third baseman, but his days of top 10 rankings are gone for good. I would not count on much power from him and his batting average will probably be lower than previous years.
Brandon Phillips. Well, his batting average is actually doing just fine. His walk rate has certainly suffered and fell from bad to worse, but he his hitting the ball hard enough (38% hard hit %) that it doesn't seem to be hurting him. I think eventually, his batting average will drop with his high swinging strike rate, but he has impressed me with his power rebound so far, so he's not necessarily a sell.
Prince Fielder has been hurt almost as much as anyone else on this list by his declining skills. Erick Aybar being the one hurt more. Fielder has seen his walk rate get worse, his strikeouts jump up, his power disappear, his BABIP hit rock bottom (partially due to his speed and defensive shifts), and, unlike Phillips, he isn't hitting the ball hard when he makes contact to make up for those declining skills. I am very worried about him and a 0.270 average with 15 more homers is a realistic scenario. That is a far cry from what you used to get with him and is not much to get from your first baseman. If you can still sell his name value, I would try to, but you won't get much with him slumping.
Chris Coghlan was one of my favorite deep league platoon guys last year. He was productive in OBP, steals, and home runs when used correctly. Plus, he even qualified at second base. This year has been a different story, however. The two-horned monster of decreasing discipline and bad BABIP luck have doomed him. The BABIP will bounce back (0.185 now), but with the higher strikeout rate, lower walk rate, and no sign of power (Hard % is low, a few too many grounders, low slugging) make him unusable in fantasy this year.
Now here's an interesting one. Yasiel Puig was drafted pretty high this season (#78 on Fantasy Pros) based mostly on his 2013 and 2014 seasons, I would guess. Last year wasn't great for him, but this year has been worse. The lack of discipline, which has always been some part of his game, has gotten worse. His walk rate is at a career low and his strikeouts are nearly at his career high. His slugging is at an awful 0.378. I think his average and OBP will be career lows all season, but the power should come back some. His Hard % is still good and he's still hitting a good number of fly balls. With some BABIP and HR/FB (currently at 7.9%) luck, his slugging should end up in the 0.460 range. The plate discipline is a concern and will suppress his value this year.
Erick Aybar is not really rosterable this year. Khris Davis has morphed from a poor discipline power hitter to an even poorer discipline power hitter. He didn't have much room to get worse, but he still did. The power is very real and still there (7 HR), but his walk rate has plummeted to 2.4%. His strikeout rate is currently only 25% (it was 27% last year), but with one of the worst swinging strike rates in baseball now, I expect that to climb. A 30% number isn't out of the question. That should keep his average in the low 0.200 range. The power will be there, but expect the average to be awful, with an OBP to match.
Mitch Moreland has given back all the gains he made last season and is now back to being just a league average hitter. The projections all say that's what he is going forward. A repeat of his 2013 season (23 HR, 60 RBI, 60 R, 0.232/0.299/0.437) would not be a surprise. That's just not going to cut it at first base.
While Maikel Franco's discipline numbers have slipped a little, his overall numbers still look fine. His BABIP is a little low, his walks are down a little, his strikeouts are up a tad, but his slugging is still at 0.471. That being said, his hard hit % isn't great, he is hitting a huge number of infield flies (21% IFFB%), and his seven homers are subdued by the fact that he is rocking an 19% HR/FB ratio, which is up near the league leaders (guys like Bautista, Chris Davis, and Harper). I think the power numbers will come down some, and the average and OBP will come up a little bit. In the end, it doesn't seem like discipline decline is his biggest problem. A power drop off might be.
Finally, we get to the former MVP. Cutch has been in decline since last year. His slugging % has dropped two years in a row. Steals are in a three-year decline. Oh, and his strikeout rate is at a career high. The good news? Well, his BABIP is at a career low, his ISO is normal, and he's got a good hard hit %. More stuff for the bad side: he is pulling the ball much more than in the past, hitting more fly balls than ever before, and has a career-worst swinging strike rate. Those last three things fit an aging slugger like Nelson Cruz or Chris Davis more than McCutchen. If he's going to get his batting average back up near 0.300, he's going to need to reverse these bad trends. I'm not going to advise you to bail on Cutch, but don't expect a season matching his pre-2015 numbers. At this point, his 2015 numbers are getting close to a ceiling, not an average.
There are my thoughts on these discipline decliners. Next, we will look on the sunny side at the guys showing the most improvement in plate discipline and see if we can validate some breakouts. Tschus!