One of the first things to become "stable," or perhaps the better term is "predictive" over the course of a sample of baseball games is swing rate. Overall swing rate is about 50 percent predictive of true talent as of right now. That means that, if you look at any numbers in the month of April, with the season so young, and you want to ignore data from before this season (don't ask me why you would necessarily want to do that), you should be looking at plate discipline data, particularly swing rates.
When we see swing rates, it tells us about a player's approach. Let's look at a couple of players' swing rates on the Miami Marlins and see if their approaches are changing, and if so, if they are headed for the better or worse.
|Christian Yelich, 2016||36||15|
|Christian Yelich, Career||41||23|
Yelich has always been a patient hitter, as he regularly drew plenty of pitches and watched pitches often flash by with a discerning eye. However, he is taking that to a larger extreme this season. He is taking more pitches overall, dropping his swing rate down to 36 percent. That is lower than any rate he has posted before, but he has had a rate of 39 percent in 2014 as well, so it is not terribly undue for him.
The scary part is the fact that the vast majority of those dropped swings seem to have come out of the strike zone, where they otherwise turned into balls rather than strikes. As we discussed after the first week of the year, it seems as though Yelich is spitting on anything that is not a strike and leaving it be, which is a great way to take your walk rate from 10 percent to the 17.5 percent rate he was at as of before Wednesday's contest.
Maybe all that time with hitting coach Barry Bonds really is working out.
|Martin Prado, 2016||39||18|
|Martin Prado, Career||40||26|
Prado is taking the same approach as Yelich in order to see if that will extend his contact career further, and so far it has worked. Of course, pitchers are throwing a hefty load of pitches in the strike zone at Prado, challenging him to swing. Up until this season, they have pretty much thrown 50 percent of pitches in the zone against him, but now that is up to 57 percent so far this year. Prado is simply taking advantage with nice and easy swings, which explains why he is hitting .333/.383/.407 so far with a decreased strikeout rate down to just 10 percent.
|Giancarlo Stanton, 2016||45||27|
|Giancarlo Stanton, Career||45||31|
Despite everything that people have said about Stanton, it appears to be business as usual for him. He is not necessarily swinging any differently than before. One could argue that his approach has led to laying off a few more pitches out of zone and swinging more in the strike zone, which would actually be an improvement. Overall, however, it seems he has not changed in the way he is managing opposing pitchers, and they have not changed much either; they are throwing pitches in the zone against Stanton around 43 percent of the time, which is what they did last season and is equivalent to his career rates.
|Dee Gordon, 2016||54||42|
|Dee Gordon, Career||48||37|
Dee Gordon made it known that he has eschewed walks as a focus for his approach at the plate, and that's fine. So far, however, he is taking that approach more aggressively than ever before. He is swinging at a career-high 54 percent of pitches seen, but he is doing the anti-Yelich. The majority of the increase in swings has come mostly on pitches out of the strike zone, which is not a good look for Gordon early in the season.
Comparing Gordon's numbers to those of his career is a little off, however, since he started actively attempting to swing more often beginning last season. Gordon is getting a few more pitches in the strike zone, but his swing rate in the zone has only crept up a little compared to his chase rate. The breakdown between swings in and out of the zone, however, cannot yet be considered predictive like the overall swing rate, so it remains to be seen whether this lack of selectivity continues.
What have we learned? Giancarlo Stanton is fine (duh), Christian Yelich is being more patient and potentially more selective, and Dee Gordon is heading in the opposite direction of Yelich. We will have to keep an eye on these trends to see if they continue.