2020 Review: Hitter SwStk% Decliners by Mike Podhorzer December 1, 2020 Yesterday, I identified and discussed the hitters whose SwStk% marks improved the most versus 2019. Today, let’s check in on the opposite end of the list. Remember that “decliner” in this context actually means these hitters’ SwStk% marks have increased, so their skill declined, but the metric we’re using to evaluate their skill has risen. SwStk% Decliners Name 2019 K% 2020 K% K% Diff 2019 SwStr% 2020 SwStr% SwStk% Diff Gregory Polanco 29.3% 37.4% 8.1% 14.7% 20.9% 6.2% Matt Chapman 21.9% 35.5% 13.6% 9.2% 15.2% 6.0% Willy Adames 26.2% 36.1% 9.9% 11.4% 16.7% 5.3% D.J. Stewart 18.3% 33.9% 15.6% 11.6% 16.4% 4.8% Shed Long 23.8% 28.9% 5.1% 10.7% 15.3% 4.6% Stephen Piscotty 21.4% 31.0% 9.6% 13.9% 18.4% 4.5% Victor Reyes 21.9% 21.1% -0.8% 9.5% 13.8% 4.3% Tim Lopes 22.7% 22.5% -0.2% 11.3% 15.4% 4.1% Rafael Devers 17.0% 27.0% 10.0% 12.1% 16.1% 4.0% Edwin Encarnacion 21.2% 29.8% 8.6% 10.5% 14.5% 4.0% Jean Segura 11.8% 20.7% 8.9% 6.3% 10.1% 3.8% Justin Smoak 21.2% 31.8% 10.6% 9.0% 12.6% 3.6% Tony Wolters 16.5% 27.5% 11.0% 7.8% 11.4% 3.6% Brian Anderson 21.9% 28.8% 6.9% 11.9% 15.5% 3.6% Delino DeShields 24.5% 24.2% -0.3% 8.5% 12.1% 3.6% Paul DeJong 22.4% 28.7% 6.3% 11.1% 14.7% 3.6% Austin Meadows 22.2% 32.9% 10.7% 9.0% 12.5% 3.5% Matt Joyce 18.9% 27.7% 8.8% 10.1% 13.6% 3.5% Chance Sisco 30.8% 33.9% 3.1% 11.8% 15.3% 3.5% Omar Narvaez 19.1% 31.0% 11.9% 9.8% 13.2% 3.4% Tyler Naquin 22.4% 28.4% 6.0% 13.0% 16.4% 3.4% Joc Pederson 21.6% 24.6% 3.0% 10.2% 13.5% 3.3% Miguel Sano 36.2% 43.9% 7.7% 15.8% 19.1% 3.3% Garrett Hampson 26.9% 32.6% 5.7% 8.3% 11.5% 3.2% Miguel Cabrera 19.7% 22.1% 2.4% 10.9% 14.1% 3.2% Of the 25 hitters listed, 22 of them suffered a strikeout rate increase. All three of the hitters who actually improved their strikeout rates despite a jump in SwStk% only reduced their strikeout rates by less than one percentage point, so this group is a good example of how highly correlated SwStk% is with K%. Once again, there are a bunch of names that also appeared on the Z-Contact% and/or the O-Swing% decliners lists, so I’ll avoid repeating myself by skipping those players. After a solid 2019 small sample debut showcasing some power and speed, Shed Long was a popular sleeper heading into 2020. Unfortunately, he failed to pan out, as his SwStk% surged, driving his strikeout rate higher. His FB% also fell and BABIP plummeted, making it impossible for him to earn any fantasy value, let alone be a productive offensive player for the Mariners. Long’s playing time outlook in 2021 is now murkier than it was heading into 2020 when he had just Dee Gordon to compete with. Victor Reyes was one of the three whose strikeout rate actually dipped despite the spike in SwStk%. That likely has something to do with the fact that he swung more often, which is one way to keep your strikeout rate down even when many of those swings result in misses. The 25-year-old enjoyed a HR/FB rate surge, though oddly his ISO actually fell, as his doubles and triples rates took a step back. He continued to steal bases and provide an acceptable batting average, making him a surprising multi-category contributor. With a poor walk rate, any decline in BABIP is going to make him unfit for the leadoff slot and put him at risk of getting dropped to the bottom of the order, which would crush his counting stats. This was Paul DeJong’s worst SwStk% and K% of his career, though I’m guessing he’s done this before over a 174 plate appearance span. The biggest issue here wasn’t the decline in contact ability, but a complete disappearance of his power. Amazingly, his ISO slid over 100 points to just below .100, while his HR/FB rate fell to mid-single digits. At age 26, you wouldn’t expect a precipitous decline, so you have to lean toward this simply being an extended slump that could have happened in the middle of any season. That said, since he’s a low batting average guy who only stole bases once, his upside may not be all that high to begin with, so he’s not exactly a prime buy low candidate for next year. Clearly, Austin Meadows deserves a mulligan after his post-COVID-19 positive performance. But he’s a difficult one to project because we haven’t yet learned how much of his 2019 breakout was real. He might end up being a bargain, but he also might end up as a strong side platoon player, barely or never starting against lefties, which would dramatically cut into his counting stats (though probably raise his batting average). He might come cheap enough to take the risk, though. Gosh, if you thought that Miguel Sano’s SwStk% and strikeout rate were already high, you aint’ seen nothing! Sano tested how high a SwStk% and K% could go while still being a positive offensively by posting a 19.1% SwStk% and 43.9% (!!!) strikeout rate, both career worsts. Amazingly, he still managed to post a wOBA over .300. It’s crazy that his best career strikeout rate is just 35.5%. I would love to see what the rest of his performance would look like if he ever got that strikeout rate below 30%, but he’s got a long way to go to get there. While an 11.5% SwStk% looks perfectly fine, a 32.6% strikeout rate does not, especially when it’s posted by Garrett Hampson. It’s pretty crazy to see that SwStk%/K% combination, and that K% is wholly unacceptable for a Rockies hitter with a .140 career ISO. The Rockies still haven’t settled on a position for him, and his paltry offense hasn’t given them any reason to make him any more than a utility player for now. At age 37, and with spikes in both SwStk% and K% to career worsts, this is as good a sign as any that the Miguel Cabrera saga is nearing its conclusion. It was nice to see a rebound in power, but the loss of contact ability suggests to me that his bat is truly slowing.