2020 Review: Hitter Z-Contact% Decliners

Yesterday, I reviewed the biggest hitter Z-Contact% improvers. Today, let’s flip to the decliners.

Z-Contact% Decliners
Name 2019 K% 2020 K% K% Diff 2019 Z-Contact% 2020 Z-Contact% Z-Contact% Diff
Johan Camargo 17.3% 27.6% 10.3% 86.6% 72.7% -13.9%
Gregory Polanco 29.3% 37.4% 8.1% 82.0% 69.8% -12.2%
Willy Adames 26.2% 36.1% 9.9% 84.5% 73.2% -11.3%
Tim Anderson 21.0% 22.6% 1.6% 89.9% 78.9% -11.0%
Jesse Winker 15.6% 25.1% 9.5% 89.2% 79.6% -9.6%
Brian Anderson 21.9% 28.8% 6.9% 87.1% 77.8% -9.3%
Matt Chapman 21.9% 35.5% 13.6% 83.5% 74.4% -9.1%
Keston Hiura 30.7% 34.6% 3.9% 76.9% 67.9% -9.0%
Jean Segura 11.8% 20.7% 8.9% 94.3% 85.7% -8.6%
Nick Ahmed 18.1% 21.2% 3.1% 88.5% 80.0% -8.5%
Brett Gardner 19.6% 22.2% 2.6% 91.2% 82.8% -8.4%
Austin Barnes 23.1% 23.1% 0.0% 87.1% 79.2% -7.9%
D.J. Stewart 18.3% 33.9% 15.6% 82.6% 75.2% -7.4%
Jake Cave 31.1% 35.8% 4.7% 84.3% 76.9% -7.4%
Scott Kingery 29.4% 28.2% -1.2% 80.0% 73.0% -7.0%
Rafael Devers 17.0% 27.0% 10.0% 82.6% 75.6% -7.0%
Jose Abreu 21.9% 22.5% 0.6% 89.2% 82.4% -6.8%

Just like we saw with the improvers, all but one of the hitters on this list had a strikeout rate that moved in the direction that we would expect. That means 16 of the 17 also suffered strikeout rate increases, with a 6.8% average jump. That’s huge, and all else being equal, hurts all the counting stats given fewer balls in play.

Of-injured Gregory Polanco finds himself just shy of the top of the list in Z-Contact% decliners, and his strikeout rate, which had already spiked in 2019, skyrocketed again this season to a career worst 37.4%. What. The. Heck. What happened to Polanco?! This was an absolute misery of a season offensively, as he not only struck out a ton, but to add insult to injury, he finished with a sub-.200 BABIP, en route to a .153 batting average. I hadn’t even remembered that Polanco had tested positive for COVID-19, and was just reminded after reading his injury history. We obviously have no way of knowing how it affected his performance, but considering many of his metrics were so out of line with his history, you have to assume it greatly hampered his production. So it’s probably better to throw away his 2020, buy him cheaply in 2021, and hope for the best.

It’s quite possible that Willy Adames made a conscious change in his plate approach, as his Z-Contact% plummeted, driving up his strikeout rate, all the while his power surged. We see this often where a hitter decides to try hitting for more power, but can’t do so without sacrificing contact. It did lead to Adames’ best wOBA over his short career, but that was buoyed by an unsustainable .388 BABIP. I can’t imagine he remains this successful with a 36.1% strikeout rate, so something has to give next year.

This was the first time Tim Anderson’s Z-Contact% fell below 80%, and yet his strikeout rate barely budged, and still finished at the second lowest mark of his career. Anderson has gradually added more power to his game, as his ISO and HR/FB rate have both trended higher. He even continues stealing bases, and posted a massive BABIP for the second straight season. This is still a skill set that has far too much risk in my eyes, so given that his cost is likely to be exorbitant, I’m guessing the downside risk is going to be too great to be worth the price.

Jesse Winker is yet another whose Z-Contact% plummeted, strikeout rate spiked, and power surged, once again suggesting a conscious change of approach, increasing his power at the expense of making contact. Winker ended up posting the highest wOBA of his career, and it wasn’t even driven by BABIP, which actually fell to its lowest mark. However, there’s no way he posts another 40% HR/FB rate again, so it’ll be interesting to see how he balances the contact and power in the future.

Interestingly, Brian Anderson’s almost joined the decreased contact/increased power club, but the latter is evident only if you’re looking at HR/FB rate, which jumped again to another career best. However, his ISO barely budged, rising from .207 in 2019 to just .210 in 2020, so what merely happened was a bunch of doubles turned into homers. That’s not a bad thing, but he didn’t gain enough homers to offset the doubles when evaluating his overall power and performance. His wOBA also only rose slightly, so this new approach isn’t clearly better. I can’t see him sustaining a mid-20% HR/FB rate, so that contact ability needs to return assuming his home run power regresses.

Boy was this an odd year for Matt Chapman. Not only did his contact ability deteriorate, but his walk rate was cut in half and his fly ball rate spiked to just over 50%. Plus, he hit a high rate of pop-ups. I’m not sure if he tried a new approach or this was a weird 152 plate appearance sample, but his wOBA fell below his previous two seasons, so it wasn’t a successful change.

There were warning bells wailing after Keston Hiura’s debut where he posted a .402 BABIP and struck out just over 30% of the time. Right on cue, not only did his contact ability weaken even more, but his BABIP plummeted below .300, resulting in a batting average drop of a whopping 0.91 points. He clearly has ample power and will steal a handful of bases, but contact is a real issue right now. His skill set looks a lot like Javier Baez, which isn’t such a terrible thing, but can leads to lots of ups and downs given the poor plate discipline.

It looks like Jean Segura missed posting a double digit HR/FB rate, as his contact metrics all moved the wrong way, but his HR/FB rate hit a new career high, returning to double digits for the first time since 2016. His ISO didn’t increase nearly that much, but still finished at the second highest mark of his career. It’s too bad he swiped just two bases, putting him on pace to not steal double digits for the first time in his career. Is he making the transformation from some power and speed to only power and a touch of speed like so many others? I’m not sure he’s the right hitter to successfully make that transition over the long haul, as he simply doesn’t have the power potential to make it work. So I’d rather see a lower strikeout rate and rebound in Z-Contact%.

After amazingly consistent Z-Contact% marks over his first three seasons, Rafael Devers’ mark dropped below 80% for the first time. Luckily, he has enough power to potentially offset the decline in contact, but he still wound up with the second worst wOBA of his career. The big question is whether his 2019 strikeout rate was the outlier or remains an upside level he has a chance of returning to.

I purposely ended this list at Jose Abreu given that he was just named American League MVP. His Z-Contact% hit a career low, while his strikeout rate inched up again, as it has now risen for three straight seasons. His SwStk% was at its highest since his 2014 debut. His power saved him (along with a .350 BABIP, his highest since his debut), as his HR/FB rate hopped above 30% for the first time and his ISO reached exactly .300, once again, his highest since his .264 mark during his debut season. It’s hard to believe a 33-year-old’s power spike, making me focus more on his declining contact ability as a sure sign of aging.

Since I can’t imagine this is his new power baseline and worry more about the declining contact than I am excited about the power, I think he’s going to be massively overvalued next season. While he’s unlikely to be a true bust, like what Alex Bregman ended up as this year, I’m guessing he’ll be highly unlikely to earn his draft day cost, or come very close. That, of course, depends entirely on what that cost actually is, because if all your leaguemates are like me, then he’ll come cheaper than if you have leaguemates whose perception of Abreu has totally changed after a wacky 262 plate appearance season.





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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