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Hitters with Improving K%

Some hitters take their sweet time getting up to speed in the spring. Their strikeout rates might look nothing like what you expect. Things can improve in a hurry, though. Let’s look at hitters that have most cut down on their Ks since April.

Detroit Tigers v New York Yankees
Justin Upton, seen here blowing a bubble, looked awful in April and May, but is warming up in June.
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

For those of you rostering Mr. Justin Upton this season, you are well aware how hitters can lose control of their strikeout rates and look lost at the plate. Many owners probably gave up on him after his incredibly bad start to the year in April and May. However, he has been improving since then! June is a new month filled with new promise! To wit:

April: 0.221/0.242/0.326

May: 0.213/0.286/0.326

June: 0.277/0.358/0.447

That’s real improvement! Sure, June is only half over and we are talking about a very small sample, but he is showing real signs of getting back to something like his old self. One big driver of this improvement has been his plate discipline. His BB% has climbed each month and his strikeout rate has fallen each month. His monthly K%: 38.4%, 34.7%, 18.9%. We know that strikeout rate stabilizes quickly (only 60 PA), so we can say that Upton has made a meaningful change in his strikeout rate this month and it has translated to better performance.

This long Upton-centric introduction was really just the lead-in to some tables of guys that have decreased their strikeout rates the most since April and May. These guys may have fallen off the radar after slow starts, so their improvements might go unnoticed.

Here’s the table for May K% - April K%:

Player May - April
Jason Kipnis -13.0%
Stephen Piscotty -12.9%
Didi Gregorius -12.0%
Leonys Martin -11.8%
Brian McCann -11.7%
Yoenis Cespedes -10.5%
Jackie Bradley Jr. -10.4%
Francisco Lindor -9.9%
Mookie Betts -9.5%
Mitch Moreland -8.8%
Marcell Ozuna -8.6%
Wil Myers -8.5%
Josh Donaldson -8.1%

I arbitrarily decided to cut it off at 8% improvement to keep the lists from getting too long. I certainly can’t discuss all of these guys, but I can point out some interesting ones and let you peruse the rest for yourself. You can really see guys that have put their slow starts behind them.

Here’s the one for June K% - May K%:

Player June - May
Justin Upton -15.8%
Rajai Davis -14.1%
Brett Gardner -14.0%
Bryce Harper -13.9%
J.D. Martinez -12.5%
Joe Mauer -12.2%
Eric Hosmer -12.2%
Neil Walker -11.9%
Curtis Granderson -11.0%
Joc Pederson -10.6%
Yonder Alonso -10.6%
Joey Votto -10.5%
Eduardo Nunez -10.2%
Chris Carter -10.2%
Starlin Castro -9.6%
Matt Carpenter -9.3%
Evan Longoria -8.9%
Jay Bruce -8.8%
Jonathan Lucroy -8.7%
Joe Panik -8.0%

Here’s the one for June K% - April K%:

Player June - April
Justin Upton -19.5%
Jason Kipnis -17.3%
Hanley Ramirez -14.4%
Rajai Davis -14.3%
Wil Myers -13.6%
Edwin Encarnacion -10.8%
Brett Gardner -10.2%
Derek Norris -10.2%
Matt Carpenter -9.5%
Jacoby Ellsbury -8.8%
Didi Gregorius -8.1%
Mookie Betts -8.0%

You can really tell a lot from strikeout rate alone about how a hitter is doing. Upton, Betts, Myers, Kipnis, Norris, and others have all had much better Junes than Aprils. Leonys Martin and Marcell Ozuna seem to be in the midst of breakouts. Ozuna has cut down on strikeouts while Martin has cut down on strikeouts and added much more power.

Stephen Piscotty and Jackie Bradley Jr certainly are having good years, exemplified by their ability to reduce their K%. Evan Longoria and Chris Carter have regained old value by cutting back on the Ks. Both are very much 10-team league relevant after not looking like it in recent years. Neil Walker has found more power while also striking out less, which is pretty unusual. Joey Votto and Bryce Harper are simply returning to normal in June after high K-rates in May.

Those hopeful that Edwing will turn it around soon should be happy to see his June K% is much improved over April. Wil Myers shows up on two lists. He's cut his strikeout rate every month so far, so I expect his average to be more predictable going forward. Hanley Ramirez has lost his power, but at least he has cut back on the Ks. I don't know where his power went, but unfortunately, no amount of strikeout reduction can help his power.

Jonathan Lucroy is having a wonderful bounce back season after I (and others) thought he might be in his offensive decline years, given his injury history and position and 2015 performance. That strikeout rate improvement is a good reason to believe he can keep his average up in the 0.280 or higher range the rest of the way.

I didn't get to everyone, but this gives you an idea of how you can draw some conclusions from these tables. Players are always making adjustments and they don't always stick around long term, but it's still good to periodically check in and see who's improved the most since the year began and find slow starters on their way back up. This way, you can buy low on guys like Mookie (probably tough to find a seller), Upton, Kipnis, Longoria, etc. because you know they are putting it together.

Next time, I'll look at hitters that have most improved their walk rates to see if any new guys show up that way. That will be an especially important read for those in OBP leagues. Tschus!