2019 Early Z-Contact% Decliners

Yesterday, I identified and discussed seven hitters who have enjoyed Z-Contact% spikes compared to last year. Do such gains portend a breakout? Only time will tell. Today, I’ll dive into the players on the opposite end of the spectrum — those who have suffered the largest declines in Z-Contact% versus last season. Is this an early warning sign of a disappointing campaign?

Z-Contact% Decliners
Player 2018 Z-Contact% 2019 Z-Contact% Diff
Trevor Story 87.2% 65.00% -22.2%
Paul DeJong 87.9% 69.20% -18.7%
Brandon Nimmo 82.7% 66.70% -16.0%
Elvis Andrus 91.4% 77.50% -13.9%
Wil Myers 83.2% 70.30% -12.9%
Yolmer Sanchez 87.0% 75.00% -12.0%
Ronald Acuna Jr. 82.7% 70.80% -11.9%
Brian Dozier 85.7% 74.40% -11.3%
Albert Pujols 92.1% 81.30% -10.8%
Andrew McCutchen 84.5% 73.70% -10.8%
Amed Rosario 85.1% 74.40% -10.7%
Paul Goldschmidt 82.2% 72.10% -10.1%
Bryce Harper 79.6% 69.60% -10.0%

Wow, that’s a lot of dramatic decliners and some serious declinage! I won’t discuss all these names, but wanted to list everyone who has declined by at least 10%.

Trevor Story vaulted himself into the top 20 in 2019 drafts on the heels of an elite fantasy season in 2018. Much of his fantasy breakout could be traced to the significant reduction in strikeout rate, as his Z-Contact% surged higher. Unfortunately, those gains haven’t been held over the first week and a half of the season, as he is back to his swing and missing ways. Interestingly, his Z-Contact% has declined to a career low all the while his O-Contact% has spiked to a career high. That’s super odd. He doesn’t need to match his 2018 strikeout rate or .291 batting average to earn lots of fantasy value, but it will be the difference between his owners breaking even or losing money on their investment.

Not only has Paul DeJong’s Z-Contact% plummeted, but his SwStk% has skyrocketed to 19.7%. Since he’s really just a one (homers) or two category (RBI) shortstop, you weren’t really counting on a positive batting average. But, more strikeouts means fewer opportunities to knock a fly ball over the wall.

Brandon Nimmo was a pleasant surprise in the Mets lineup last year, showing elite skills across the board. But so far this season, he has apparently picked up a bat with baseball-sized holes all over, as his SwStk% sits at an absurd 20.4%, more than double last year’s mark, and he has struck out in nearly half his plate appearances! The magnitude of the suckiness is eye-opening, especially since he has never struggled to make contact. The higher strikeout rates were solely because of his great patience. I’m curious where he goes from here.

So Elvis Andrus has posted a Z-Contact% above 90% literally every season of his career. However, his SwStk% has risen four straight seasons, and at the moment, it has jumped for a fifth, into double digits for the first time. That he has already swiped two bags, 40% of his total all of last year, is a good sign. But I’m concerned.

Ronald Acuna Jr. enjoyed an epic rookie season, but so far the 2019 season hasn’t been kind. While his strikeout rate has actually improved substantially, and he has walked more than he has struck out (a great sign!), he has performed like Story by missing more at pitches in the zone, but making more contact on pitches outside the zone. Strange. His ground ball rate is oddly sky high. There are enough positive signs here that the slow start in the results department don’t concern me in the least.

Brian Dozier’s start certainly isn’t providing any sort of hope in a rebound off a down 2018.

If this doesn’t confirm that Albert Pujols is done, I don’t know what does.

Hmmm, Bryce Harper’s Z-Contact% fell just below 80% last year for the first time, and now early on, it has slipped below 70%, while his SwStk% has spiked. That’s a little concerning. I do love his 29.7% walk rate though. And .538 BABIP. And 50% HR/FB rate. He’s a man of extremes, eh?

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Do you think about whether Z-Contact % tends to fluctuate wildly in 10-game samples? It looks like Harper’s has bounced around quite a bit the past couple of years, and his current Z-Contact % is within the range we’ve seen from him. Whereas Acuna is about as low as he’s ever been in that stat. I wonder if there is an additional plate discipline metric that can offer insight about whether there is a real problem that we are seeing, or if it’s just natural fluctuation. It might be too much wishful thinking this early on, but it’d be great if there is additional context we can add to these numbers.