Excuse Me! Five Soft Contact Kings

Yesterday, I discussed the debut of Nomar Mazara, specifically looking at the excuse me swings he takes when fooled. The hypothesis is that he’ll be fooled less in the future. More hard contact and fewer grounders should follow. Making contact at any cost is all well and good with two strikes, but even then it’s often sub-optimal. Better to trade a few strikeouts for more doubles.

Of course, Mazara is hardly the only player to tap soft grounders when fooled. Today we’ll look at five distinct cases of players with lofty soft contact rates.

The Slappy Rabbit

Dee Gordon is coming off his worst season since his 2014 breakout. His .319 BABIP was well-below his career rate and his 29.7 percent soft contact rate would have qualified as one of the highest such percentages in the last 10 years if he hadn’t missed half the season to a PED suspension.

A player like Gordon uses PEDs because the grind of a 162 game schedule can be tough on a tiny body. It can also be tough on a large body. It’s just tough. However, unlike Ryan Braun and other sluggers, Gordon’s use was purely therapeutic. It only affected his performance insomuch as he was healthy enough to play with more energy on a daily basis.

Gordon’s supposed to make soft contact because he would ideally never strike out. He regularly posts infield hit rates above 10 percent, meaning every dribbler has an over 20 percent chance to convert to a hit (if it squeaks through the fielders, it’s not counted as an infield hit).

Gordon was probably thrown off by his suspension, although it’s worth noting his poor play in early April. We should expect his soft contact rate to improve into the 20-24 percent range. Gordon’s is a common profile shared by Billy Burns, Ben Revere, Travis Jankowski, Jarrod Dyson, Odubel Herrera, Ender Inciarte, and others.

The Supposed to be Star

What happened to Jason Heyward? His soft contact rate spiked to 27 percent. In this case, I can’t verify his troubles are the result of half-hearted swings because I didn’t watch him enough during the regular season. My focus was on other Cubbies.

Perhaps some commenters can chime in, because his batted ball data passes the “excuse me” smell test. Like Mazara, he’s posted sub-30 percent hard hit rates throughout most of his career. He’s also a pull-happy hitter with a high ground ball rate. The entire profile is eerily reminiscent of Mazara’s debut, right down to the youthful age.

To be entirely honest, I’ve long been flummoxed by Heyward. His 2016 performance has left me more confused than ever. Few should-be-stars have high soft contact rates. Addison Russell, Brad Miller, and Hanley Ramirez jump off the page.

The Inexperienced

Jurickson Profar debuted as a 19-year-old in 2012. Shoulder injuries held him out for all of 2014 and most of 2015. In his successful return to regular action, Profar looked overmatched at the plate. He was passive at times, taking too many drive-able strikes. He also took too many excuse me swings.

The batted ball profile was similar to Mazara and Heyward – a high ground ball rate with too much soft and pulled contact. Given the layers of rust on Profar’s toolbox, it’s no surprise he under-performed last year. We should see a climb in hard contact in future seasons as he grows more comfortable at the major league level.

Russell also fits this profile. The soon-to-be 23-year-old has plenty of offensive potential, but his glove has been ahead of his bat through his first two major league seasons. He flashed breakout potential in 2016.

The Playing Through Injury

Let’s return to Ramirez. His soft contact rate has spiked since joining the Red Sox in 2015. He’s dealt with a flood of injuries over the course of his career including rumors of a dozen minor ones in 2016. Overall, he posted a 22.6 percent soft contact rate.

The month-by-month analysis reveals a 29.3 percent soft contact rate in May, corresponding to rumors of a couple ailments. He also had a 14.9 percent line drive rate and 25.7 percent fly ball rate during May. Remove the one bad month (and the first few days of June) and his season looks like vintage Ramirez.

As mentioned, Ramirez is always hurt. One shouldn’t count on him to be healthy in 2017. He’s probably going to have another month like May. Monitoring his soft contact rate can help you to identify when to start and sit him.

The Weird Guy

I wrote about Ryan Schimpf and his ridiculous batted ball profile earlier this week. Schimpf had a seemingly impossible 64.9 percent fly ball rate coupled with a 39.7 percent hard hit rate. Also part of the profile was a 22.4 percent soft contact rate which ranked him among the 30 worst.

I don’t have anything more to add about Jumbo Schimpf. He is a lottery ticket. A really weird one. There has to be regression in here somewhere. Will it be positive, negative, or a little bit of both? I’ll bet on ‘both.’

You can follow me on twitter @BaseballATeam

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
5 years ago

I believe Gordon was aware of his positive test before the season started.