The season is early. We are about two weeks into the season and many hitters and pitchers are still working to find their grooves. It is difficult to distinguish the contenders from the pretenders both in regards to team performance and player performance. As mentioned on the Effectively Wild podcast, “The season doesn’t officially start until Trout is atop the WAR leaderboard”. While Mike Trout is atop the leaderboard already, so is Tim Beckham. He will not stay there. That being said, there are some indicators in player performance that could forecast how the player will do as we head into the summer months. Some players may be getting unlucky with low BABIPs, while others might be getting overly fortunate. As for the Brewers, there are some plate discipline trends that are interesting to dig deeper into.
The table shows the difference in percent of the various categories between this season so far and all of last season. Again, considering the number of games played, this should not be taken at face value. However, players will come out of the off-season with new approaches to plate appearances. Through the first handful of PAs, there are some trends that might stick around for an entire season given the success or lack thereof, of the player.
The highlighted portions are some of the noticeable differences in the two seasons. Looking at O-Swing% (The percent of the time a player swings at pitches out of the zone), Yasmani Grandal has been swinging out of the zone more this year so far than in 2018. This season he is swinging out of the zone 35.60% of the time compared to 22.70% in 2018. His current walk rate is much lower than his career average and he is striking out more. Among qualified hitters last season, he swung at pitches out of the zone at the 14th lowest rate in the league. While he is around the league average in terms of O-Swing%, this is not what led to his success last season. Some of this might have to do with his F-Strike% (Amount of percentage of PA that begins with a strike). This year 67.9% of his PAs begin with a strike compared to 54.10% last season.
In regards to F-Strike%, many of the players are seeing a negative difference in that category so far. In other words, they are either putting the ball in play or taking the pitch for a ball more frequently this year than last. While the players on the list above, except for Grandal and Aguilar, show this trend, the team as a whole is also showing this. Last season the Brewers ranked 17th highest in F-Strike%. So far this season they are 4th lowest.
Back to Yasmani Grandal. He is swinging more outside of the zone, but he is also just swinging more in general. While he is making more contact now than in 2018 in the zone, he is making less contact out of the zone. Remember how he is getting behind 1-0 in the count? Notice the difference in pitches between 1-0 and 0-1:
The amount of fastballs he sees goes from 47% when he is ahead to 18% when behind in the count. Pitchers are attacking him with fastballs, a pitch in which Grandal hit .271 against last season.
As for some of the other highlights on the table, Yelich appears to be swinging more out of the zone slightly this season while making less contact. It is not too big of a change as I am sure by the end of the season it will be status quo. Travis Shaw and Lorenzo Cain look to be the same hitters as last season which will bode well for the Brewers. Moustakas is swinging less in general, but especially at in-zone pitches. Moustakas is also starting the PA with an 0-1 count much much less than last season. Aguilar is struggling mightily so far this season batting .129 and has yet to hit his first dinger of the season. Why is that? Well pitchers are avoiding him and he cannot hit the pitches:
Until Aguilar adjusts, it will be a long season for him. Last season he went 23-128 (.180) when pitched in that zone shown on the right.
As a whole, the Brewers offense is looking decent. They currently are ranked 14th in the league with a 105 wRC+. Many of the hitters look the same as last season while some will need to start making adjustments. It is still very very very early in the season, so I am sure many of these numbers will return to the mean eventually, but it is always good to look at early season trends.