Way way back in 2015, I looked at hitters with “risky” profiles. That is, hitters that swing and miss too often, swing at pitches outside the zone too much, and hitters that can’t make contact when they do swing outside the zone. You might call them “undisciplined” hitters. In 2015, before the new home run/juiced ball era, most hitters didn’t have enough power to succeed if they had awful plate discipline.
Things have changed a lot since then, but, hitters with this profile still have huge batting average risks. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is the power to offset that hit in average. However, with everyone suddenly a power hitter, home runs are available everywhere and batting average can be harder to come by. Hence, I am updating the risky hitters list for 2018.
Here’s my methodology. I found the league average for out-of-zone swing %, out-of-zone contact %, and swinging strike rate. Then, I generated a list of all the hitters that have O-swing% higher than average, O-contact% below average, and swinging strike rates above average. This is a profile of an undisciplined hitter. In the big table below, you will find the 45 hitters in 2017 that met these requirements, along with some power indicator stats to show guys that have so much power that their poor discipline doesn’t really matter. Oh, and I included everyone with at least 400 PA in 2017.
For those who care, here are the league averages: O-Swing% - 29.9%, O-Contact% - 62.9%, SwStr% - 10.5%
Ok, here’s the big table:
|Jackie Bradley Jr.||30.0%||60.7%||13.0%||17||0.158||15%||33%|
You could probably guess without looking for some of these names. Trevor Story, Joey Gallo, Mike Zunino, Javier Baez, and Matt Kemp are all known for poor discipline. They all also have other skills that make them relevant in spite of that. We’ve also seen the downside of this risky profile for most of these guys. Story’s 2017 was a reminder of how quickly things can change. That 2016 1st half was amazing, but it covered up some real problems with his approach. Once the power returned to just “good”, he suddenly didn’t look so great.
Jackie Bradley Jr., Mark Trumbo, and Brandon Crawford also lost a lot of value once their power dropped this year. The point is, these risky hitters have to hit the ball extremely hard to stay relevant. Remember Chris Carter? He was the leader of this club until his discipline was so bad that his power couldn’t save him anymore.
While it’s easy to give a pass to J.D. Martinez, Joey Gallo, Nick Castellanos, Jay Bruce, Marcell Ozuna, and Justin Bour because they put up huge Hard% (39%+) and other power numbers in 2017, seemingly justifying their approach, that ignores their risk. Trevor Story had a Hard% of 40% and a 0.219 ISO and still only had 24 HR while playing half his games at Coors. He put up a measly 0.765 OPS. Or, look at Randall Grichuk. He had a Hard% of 40% as well and still got demoted during the season because of his poor discipline. Rougned Odor spent much of the season batting below 0.200. Sure, he hit 30 HR, but that was an awful batting average.
To be clear, there are some guys on this list that should be drafted with confidence, despite their risky profile. Bryce Harper, J.D. Martinez, Marcell Ozuna, and Gary Sanchez come to mind. I’m a big Justin Bour fan as well, so he might be on that list. But, the rest of the list should be drafted with the understanding that there is a risk of the bottom falling out. The examples I gave in the previous paragraph are just a few of many examples of this profile being dangerous. Just ask Chris Davis. Or, you know, when Mike Zunino couldn’t stick with the MLB club for several years and kept being sent back to AAA?
There are a few names on this list that are getting some buzz heading into 2018, so I want to add some caution. Tim Beckham, Michael Taylor, Ian Happ, Paul DeJong, Ryon Healy, Byron Buxton, and Austin Hedges are guys that have high risk, a very short track record of success, and some hype heading into 2018 based on their 2017 performances. For some, an inflated HR/FB% hid their poor discipline (see Happ, Ian and his 25% rate). For others, it was a good Hard% in a partial season. The point is, don’t say I didn’t warn you if these guys struggle in 2018.
Even darlings like Willson Contreras, Matt Kemp, Joey Gallo, and gasp Gary Sanchez could become the next Carlos Gonzalez. Remember when he was a fantasy monster. Now look at him. Carlos Gomez, the other CarGo, has met a similar fate, but not quite as drastic. The failure stories outnumber the success stories here.
The table above is sorted by swinging strike rate for a reason. I believe that is the single riskiest thing a hitter can do. It shows that the hitter is easily fooled and allows pitchers to throw the pitches they want, giving the hitter nothing good to hit. That can be a downward spiral. 2015/2016 Byron Buxton slowly nods his head.
I don’t want to throw cold water on all these guys. I know they have fantasy value for other reasons. DeJong’s a SS, Buxton’s got all kinds of speed, Gallo’s crazy power, Sanchez power at a weak C position, etc. My point is just to know what you are getting yourself into. Long slumps, poor batting averages, possible demotions. These are all on the table with this group. Weigh these risks along with all the other risks and rewards in your drafts or auctions. Good luck out there! Tschus!