He’s having a good year, but Jays From the Couch looks into ways of improving Toronto Blue Jays LF, Michael Saunders’ strikeout rate.
Michael Saunders is one hell of a hitter, and it seems like everyone is now noticing. For example this and this, have both recently been published on Fangraphs about the Canadian. As fans, we have seen him hit balls hard, off lefties and righties, we’ve seen him hit from foul pole to foul pole, showing a prime example of “power to all fields” that we have come to love and expect from most of our elite hitters. There is one
small rather large issue with his current numbers, and I am not talking about his uncharacteristically high .375 BABIP.
No, for those who started reading this, the fans who have been paying attention and check Fangraphs leader boards every hour or so to gain insight, they know. Michael Saunders has an astronomically high 26.1% strikeout rate, good for top 20 in the league.
Strikeouts aren’t good. They are sustained at a pretty consistent rate over the course of the season, they do not help your team in any way, and they normally point to a bigger problem in a player’s swing or approach. But all strikeouts are not created equal, many players strikeout for different reasons, such as poor contact skills, sacrificing contact for power, or just taking too many pitches in the strike zone. In order to suggest an approach to remedy his K problems, a doctor, or student writing about baseball, pretending to be a doctor, must first diagnose the problem, instead of just noticing the symptoms. So we go to the PITCHf/x plate discipline data!
What we find: The value in the rank section indicates a higher ranking in that category, not necessarily the desired outcome. The sample includes all qualified players.
- Very low O-Swing% (149)
- Very low Swing% (134)
- Very low O-Contact% (155)
- Low Contact% (111)
- Low Zone% (126)
So Saunders gets thrown out of the zone more than most hitters, he swings at very few of these, and makes contact on them less than most people. It is clear, given his average swing and contact rates inside the strike zone, that the low overall Swing% and Contact% are caused directly by his lack of swinging and contact out of the zone, and his relative pitch amount out of the zone. 44 of his 70 strikeouts have come while swinging, the others being called out. I do not have a reference for if this is a high percentage or not, however it is what it is, and it feels low.
Granted, my feelings could be, and are often, wrong, but I’ll work off the assumption that, due to a high rate of contact, but low rate of swing inside the zone, this is true. If so, it would mean that Saunders is doing a good job laying off of the pitches outside of the strike zone that he cannot hit, but that he should swing at the pitches inside the zone at a higher rate, in order to not get to two strike counts. This is easier said than done, and could possibly come at the expense of his plate discipline, which has been a definite plus for him this year, but there isn’t much he can do. His contact rates have been stable, if not improving over his career, which suggests that he really can’t do much better hitting these out of zone pitches, and given how few he actually swings at, I don’t know how much better he can do at laying off of them.
For a while I thought about getting him closer to home plate in his batting stance, as a way to possibly improve his contact, but he is about as good at hitting the outside pitches as those inside, and that also might mess with his discipline.
Michael Saunders doesn’t have any strategical way of improving these strikeout numbers, and may just have to work some drills to improve this. Or possibly he just has to go back to Coach Cliche and keep his head down and watch himself hit the ball. What might give credence to this is that in each of his three home runs on that magical day against the Orioles, you could see his head back hitting the ball, but in this strikeout I found against Rick Porcello, it was flying away.
Strikeout: Head not down
Three homers: Head down
Hopefully the fix can come this easily, but who am I to say? It very well could come down to something as simple as his head. If he can continue to improve in this area, and maintain his current production, he will be setting himself up nicely for a payday when this season is over.
*Featured Image Credit: Arturo Pardavila III UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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Cole Nefsky has been in love with baseball from before he could walk. Cole is a candidate for a Bachelor of Mathematics from the University of Waterloo and a Bachelor of Business Administration from Wilfrid Laurier University. He has been involved in the game of baseball as an elite level player for various clubs around Toronto, coached the AAA Minor Bantam Vaughan Vikings and even umpire for several years. Cole enjoys long form analysis, coming from statistics and analytics; and mechanical analysis.