This probably could’ve been a thread on Twitter but I didn’t want to continue clogging up the Twittersphere with negativity and numbers so…here we are. This will be relatively short, hopefully.
Recently, over at The Athletic, Eno Sarris wrote a great article about how swinging literally translates to negative results. I understand that this is going to come off as odd and maybe even nonsense, but hear me out.
Here are a few quotes and stats from the article that I really want to focus on. The Athletic is behind a paywall, so I can’t give you everything, but I highly recommend subscribing for more A++ work like this from Eno and the gang.
The best hitters and teams swing less. Just look at the teams that have swung the least at pitches outside the zone. They are quality offenses: the Dodgers, the Padres, the Yankees, the Giants and the underrated Athletics of the last few years are all over this key stat, making it a new “Moneyball,” if you will.
“I used to swing at everything at 16, 17,” says plate discipline god Juan Soto. “Then I started to get to know the strike zone. Then I started getting to know that if you swing at balls, you’re not taking your ‘A swing.’ That’s why I’ve been learning the zone since I was in rookie ball, I’ve been training ever since.”
The league-wide slugging percentage on pitches outside the zone last season was .207, with an average exit velocity of 79.5 mph. Inside the zone, using that “A swing,” hitters had a .488 SLG with an average exit velocity of 90.1 mph. That’s stark. Get a good pitch to hit.
“The Mets organization is really, really big on controlling the zone,” says outfielder Brandon Nimmo. “When I first got here, they had a rule that you had to take until two strikes. It was just so you saw more pitches and got comfortable hitting with two strikes. It sucked, but I got comfortable with it.”
“I try to stay away from being passive,” says Padres outfielder Trent Grisham, always a leader in not swinging at balls. “You’re going to get pitches to hit and you have to hit those, you’re a hitter first. So it’s a balance. Use it as an asset and not as a hindrance; it can hinder you if you’re too passive. That’s something I struggled with in the minor leagues. It can make you be late if you’re waiting too long. You have to balance that.”
Okay. Let’s start here. The Royals have the 4th highest team Swing% since Terry Bradshaw was hired in 2018. Here is how they have ranked in each individual season:
- 2018: 5th
- 2019: 13th
- 2020: 11th
- 2021: 1st
- 2022: 3rd
We saw a good bit of progress there for a little bit, and then the Royals were the only team in all of baseball to swing at least 50% of the time last season. I mean, what the hell? So far in 2022, the Royals only have two hitters (min. 50 PA) in the top 183 of NOT swinging. Here is how individual Royals hitters rank in terms of NOT swinging this season (x/300):
- Nicky Lopez: 52nd
- Carlos Santana: 62nd
- Andrew Benintendi: 184th
- Michael A. Taylor: 193rd
- Adalberto Mondesi: 198th
- Whit Merrifield: 213th
- Salvador Perez: 261st
- Hunter Dozier 262nd
- Bobby Witt Jr.: 287th
For the record, Edward Olivares would rank 227th…Kyle Isbel would rank 21st and MJ Melendez would rank 15th.
This is beyond a player thing at this point. This is an organizational philosophy that emphasizes action plays, forcing contact, and…swinging too damn much. The thing that hitters and hitting coaches have to keep in mind is that pitchers dictate the game of baseball. Nothing happens without the pitcher. If the pitcher never throws strikes, contact should not ever be made. I don’t necessarily buy FanGraphs Zone% very much, but assuming it’s at least relatively close to accurate, the league is only throwing strikes in the zone at a clip of 41.6% right now. Knowing that information, you would think that a team’s Swing% would be close to their Zone%, right? The Royals are swinging 49.2% of the time right now. That is entirely too much.
We don’t have access to minor league swing rates, but we did get this the other day:
Despite the Royals being overly swing happy in the big leagues, their AA and AAA teams have the 9th best team Swing% across MiLB. This is a development that I would draw direct parallels to the work that Drew Saylor, Alec Zumwalt, and company have done with the hitters in the minor leagues. I don’t inherently dislike Terry Bradshaw, and I honestly do not know enough to know if this is his personal teaching that is the issue. All I’m saying is that organizationally, this team swings way too much and we are not seeing that same issue in the upper levels of the minors. Common denominator sort of thing…
Below you will find the league average BB% for each league the Royals have teams in, and the number of players (min. 50 PA) on that team that have a BB% above the league average:
- MLB: 8.7%, 3 players
- AAA: 10.4%, 6 players
- AA: 11.6%, 4 players
- A+: 11.2%, 5 players
- A-: 11.8%, 6 players
That’s not an exact science…hell it may not even be worth posting, but you get the idea. The Royals only have three players with a BB% above 8.7% right now. One of the best traits of some of KC’s young, up-and-coming prospects is their plate discipline and their ability to work a walk when pitchers don’t want to throw strikes. The Royals just are not coaching that adequately right now. Again, unlike a lot of the pitching woes right now, I’m not as well versed with the hitting philosophy at the big league level. I don’t know who to blame. I don’t want this to sound like a Terry Bradshaw hit piece because I legitimately don’t know whose fault it is. Unfortunately for him, when it’s time for heads to roll, the people at the top take the biggest hit and he is THE big league hitting coach right now.
Final thoughts on this:
- Pitchers do not want to throw good hitters good pitches. Bobby Witt Jr. is one of the most talented hitters in all of baseball. Pitchers are going to try to work around him when possible. It is nonsensical for him to think he has to swing so often. He should be infinitely more patient than we’ve seen from him so far. Camp out on pitches that YOU want to hit, and make the pitchers be in the zone more. If they don’t want to throw you strikes, walk your happy ass to first base and then steal second.
- Secondly, I love what Trent Grisham said about not being too passive. There is obviously a fine line here. Salvador Perez should probably swing less, but when you lead Major League Baseball in home runs it’s hard to complain too much. There are some guys (Tim Anderson, Javy Baez, etc.) that make a living by swinging very hard, very often. There’s just better ways to go about it right now and the Royals have got to be better about helping their guys get there.
- That thing with the Mets is crazy. You want to talk about setting a standard…I don’t inherently love that but the Mets have been pretty damn good at developing hitters of late so…maybe there’s something to it.
- I’m much more of a pitching aficionado than hitting expert. Maybe I’m off base. This was really just supposed to be a quick observation that I got rather carried away with. I don’t mean for this to be damming or a call of action. Just that, philosophically, the Royals have got to stop swinging so often.