How They Swing in the Shadows

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to fans. It is a dimension as vast as the width of two balls and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and dark, between strike and ball, and lies between the pit of a batter’s fear and the summit of his bat’s knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Shadow Zone.

The entire zone can be divided into four attack zones, starting at the heart, and moving out to the shadow zone (the width of a ball on the inside and outside of the strike zone), which is followed by the chase and waste zones.

We’ll be focusing on the shadow zone, home of pitcher’s pitches and balls framed to strikes, looking first at the players who are offering at these borderline pitches the least in 2021. However, swinging less at shadow pitches doesn’t guarantee success and some hitters are better served by being more aggressive. Like most things, it’s a case-by-case situation.

Looking at the 217 qualified hitters on May 17 (min. 100 PA) here are the 30 players (bottom 15%) with the lowest Swing% rates in the shadow zone in 2021. Included are their total run value (and rank), RV per 100 PA (and rank), and RV (shadow zone) per 100 PA (and rank):

Run Values by Lowest Shadow Swing%
Player Total RV RV Rank RV/100 RV/100 Rank RV/100 (SH) RV/100 (SH) Rank Swing% (SH)
Yasmani Grandal 3 93 2.8 88 -4.7 157 30.8
Robbie Grossman 8 34 4.7 51 -4.1 146 34.3
Max Muncy 17 5 10.4 8 -3.1 122 35.1
Trent Grisham 5 70 3.6 75 -2.2 91 36.3
Juan Soto 2 101 1.9 100 -1.9 81 36.8
Daniel Vogelbach -2 151 -2.0 160 -2.0 84 37.8
Andrew McCutchen 0 133 0.0 133 -2.5 99 39.1
Clint Frazier -7 196 -5.7 202 -7.4 209 39.7
Mark Canha 7 44 3.9 64 -2.8 109 40.6
Carson Kelly 17 5 15.5 1 0.9 20 40.6
Yandy Díaz 7 44 4.5 58 1.9 11 41.1
Josh Rojas 2 101 1.6 106 0.0 27 41.3
David Fletcher -7 196 -4.2 192 -1.2 52 42.2
Jacob Stallings 7 44 5.9 35 0.0 27 42.3
Tommy Pham -4 175 -3.2 180 -4.8 164 42.4
Kyle Schwarber 2 101 1.6 107 -4.8 162 42.6
Dylan Moore 1 119 0.7 127 -7.5 210 42.7
Manny Machado 7 44 4.0 61 -3.4 135 43.0
Mike Trout 14 10 9.7 10 3.4 3 43.1
Alex Bregman 8 34 5.4 43 -0.7 42 43.1
Nate Lowe 11 18 6.1 33 -1.7 65 43.4
DJ LeMahieu 2 101 1.2 117 -3.5 136 43.5
Jesse Winker 12 15 8.6 12 0.0 27 43.6
Randy Arozarena 2 101 1.2 113 -1.8 74 44.0
Justin Turner 6 56 3.7 70 -3.0 119 44.0
Nicky Lopez -6 191 -4.5 194 -5.3 177 44.6
Ronald Acuña Jr. 13 11 8.4 13 3.2 6 44.7
Victor Robles -4 175 -3.3 181 -6.5 197 44.9
Cavan Biggio -2 151 -1.5 153 -5.1 173 45.0
Jake Cronenworth 1 119 0.57 132 -3.4 134 45.2

As the score of bad hitters above can attest to, being tight on borderline pitches doesn’t guarantee success. To help search for fraud, here are the same 30 players with their percentile ranks (min 100 PA) in wOBA and wOBA on contact in the shadow zone, along with the differentials between their xwOBA and xwOBAcon in 2021.

Lowest Shadow Swing% wOBA and wOBAcon Changes
Player 2019 woba 2020 woba 2021 woba 2021 xwoba x-woba 2019 wobac 2020 wobac 2021 wobac 2021 xwobac x-wobac
Yasmani Grandal 85 71 22 45 24 75 71 1 4 3
Robbie Grossman 15 88 42 79 37 5 84 24 79 55
Max Muncy 80 52 48 53 5 85 59 37 40 3
Trent Grisham 98 83 84 75 -9 96 62 95 94 -2
Juan Soto 69 99 54 94 39 39 99 26 76 50
Daniel Vogelbach 43 25 76 31 -45 16 23 82 25 -57
Andrew McCutchen 62 62 55 44 -12 42 71 79 68 -11
Clint Frazier 6 58 3 1 -2 34 92 1 0 -1
Mark Canha 81 72 24 11 -13 65 40 27 13 -14
Carson Kelly 37 74 95 96 1 54 49 82 84 2
Yandy Díaz 89 54 95 86 -9 68 27 65 23 -42
Josh Rojas 16 91 36 -54 24 98 57 -41
David Fletcher 72 89 53 38 -15 15 53 33 16 -17
Jacob Stallings 53 82 82 62 -21 44 94 80 41 -39
Tommy Pham 65 27 41 66 25 57 17 5 12 7
Kyle Schwarber 47 33 41 41 0 57 31 62 71 8
Dylan Moore 30 60 4 6 2 33 76 9 27 18
Manny Machado 60 66 8 49 41 40 33 4 34 30
Mike Trout 100 68 100 94 -6 100 59 100 99 -1
Alex Bregman 100 23 68 40 -28 90 7 62 32 -30
Nate Lowe 76 73 32 -41 93 88 50 -38
DJ LeMahieu 84 98 48 57 9 55 89 36 41 5
Jesse Winker 48 72 89 51 -39 31 76 90 51 -39
Randy Arozarena 59 7 -52 91 29 -62
Justin Turner 74 93 76 81 6 54 92 68 74 6
Nicky Lopez 31 30 19 29 10 10 13 2 1 -1
Ronald Acuña Jr. 74 95 99 100 1 91 95 99 100 1
Victor Robles 40 7 38 20 -18 38 19 51 28 -24
Cavan Biggio 51 29 23 13 -10 86 25 28 18 -10
Jake Cronenworth 81 65 70 5 65 54 60 6

 

Ronald Acuña Jr., ATL OF

Not that I’m breaking news but how about a quick round of appreciation for how much better Ronald Acuña Jr.’s overall discipline and selective aggression has gotten since 2019. His +13 RV is 11th highest (min. 100 PA and pitchers have fewer and fewer places to hide, with a +5 RV (shadow) and +9 RV (chase). His 44.7% Swing% (shadow) is in the 12th percentile, down from the 15th in 2020, 29th in 2019, and 33rd in 2018. And when Acuña does swing at borderline pitches, he’s missing even less; his 9.5% SwStr% (85th percentile) is down from 11.1% (73rd) in 2020 and 13.9% (51st) in 2019. In terms of production, Acuña’s wOBA and wOBAcon in the shadow zone are both in the 99th percentile, while his xwOBA and xwOBAcon are in the 100th.

Ronald Acuña Jr., elite plate-discipline edition, is just a fun leap to see. End appreciation round.

 

Josh Rojas, ARI, 2B/SS/OF

Josh Rojas’s +2 total RV (101st among qualified hitters) and +1.6 RV per  100 PA (106th) are both above average, with the total being split into -3 (heart), 0 (shadow), +3 (chase), +2 (waste). Another good bad ball hitter there but his expected stats in the shadow zone say there may be a Johnny Cage kick coming. His .361 wOBA (91st percentile) is backed by a .257 xwOBA ( 36th percentile), and his .552 wOBAcon (98th percentile) comes with a .354 xwOBAcon (57th percentile).

Regardless, Rojas has been a top-90 hitter in 12-team leagues according to the FanGraphs auction calctulator, slashing .289/.357/.491 with five home runs and two stolen bases. It’s probably too late to grab him but 68% rostered in ESPN and 73% in Yahoo still isn’t 100%. Go check, just in case.

 

Yasmani Grandal, CHW, C

Already leading the league in both walks and line wonkiness, Yasmani Grandal has also been a prolific bad-ball hitter in 2021. He has +7 and +3 run values in the chase and waste zone, respectively, but has a -5 RV in the shadow, and -1 RV in the heart.I won’t go fully back over my thoughts but this is just more evidence of Grandal absolutely refusing to swing at anything close to a ball. He has a 30.8% Swing% (shadow) that is down from 39.9% in 2020 and 44.6% in 2019. His contact-rate is good when he does swing, with a 10.4% SwStr% (shadow) that’s in the 79th percentile but his .116 wOBAcon (1st percentile) and .225 xwOBAcon (4th) suggest he might want to be swinging even less.

 

Robbie Grossman, DET, OF

Heading into Monday, Robbie Grossman had the 34th highest total RV (+8) and was 51st at RV per 100 PA. He does take a dip in his per-PA rate compared to his total but his total run value is dragged down by what he’s doing in the shadow zone (-7 RV), whereas he’s at +2 in the heart, +8 in chase, and +5 in waste.

However, his expected stats in the shadow speak much better than his results. Grossman has a .250 wOBA ( 42nd percentile) and .262 wOBAcon (24th percentile) backed by a .319 xwOBA and .397 xwOBAcon that are both in the 79th percentile. He’s long gone in deeper leagues but is still only rostered in 51% of ESPN and Yahoo leagues.

 

Carson Kelly, ARI, C

It’s too bad that Carson Kelly’s heater was stopped by a tuft fracture on his left big toe, as he’s slashed .338/.491.613 over 28 games, with six home runs, 16 runs scored, and 19 RBI. Seeing him on this list isn’t a surprise given his elite walk- and strikeout-rates, as Kelly has a 20.9% BB% and 14.9% K% over his first 110 PA. 28 games does not an elite hitter make but he has taken a big step forward in patience, dropping from the 37th percentile in 2020 on Swing% in the shadow zone, to the 5th percentile so far this season.

Kelly’s wOBA in the shadow has gone from the 37th percentile in 2019, to the 74th in 2020, to 95th in 2021, and his xwOBA has gone from 12th, to 79th, to 96th this season. Yet another person that’s probably gone but he’s still only 75% rostered in both ESPN and Yahoo; the injury-induced roster crunches are real and some people just can’t afford to carry an injured catcher. Arizona is hoping he won’t miss much more than the minimum and maybe you’re one of the lucky ones where he’s been dropped.

 

Yandy Diaz, TB, 1B/3B

This ultra patient on borderline pitches version of Yandy Diaz isn’t new, his Swing% in the shadow was in the 1st percentile last season and is in the 5th in 2021. But his run values on shadow pitches have gone up dramatically compared to 2020, both on swings (-3.6 RV per 100 PA to +1.9 ) and takes (0.0 RV/100 PA to +1.9). He’s the opposite of the the beloved power+speed combo, with zero combined home runs and stolen bases but is fairly safe batting average boost.

Unfortunately, his playing time could take a hit with the return of Ji Man Choi but while they both can hit RHP, Choi is not going to be an option versus LHP. The playing time needs to be monitored but Diaz is only 10% rostered on ESPN and 5% on Yahoo, and is eligible at first and third, where injured starters continue to pile up.





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elkabong
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elkabong

I don’t believe these graphs are being interpreted properly in this article. You call both Rojas and Grandal “good bad-ball hitters”, but this is the exact opposite of the case. Both Rojas (-1 Chase, 0 Waste) and Grandal (-2 Chase, 0 Waste) are negatives when they swing out of the zone. Both are patient (Rojas is +5 Chase/+2 Waste on takes, Grandal is +9 Chase/+3 Waste on takes), but almost too patient. Rojas is -2 Shadow/-2 Heart on takes, Grandal is -5 on Heart takes.

Interpreting this for each: I would expect pitchers to maybe get a little more aggressive with Rojas. He’s negative on both swings and takes in the Heart zone, while being average to slightly above average everywhere else. He takes more in each of the four zones, so I think he may get more strikes going forward.

As far as Grandal, I’m not sure what is going on. I’m thinking he needs to be more aggressive, but it’s tricky. Looking at his pattern, he’s plus at takes everywhere but the Heart zone, and a minus/zero at swings everywhere except the Heart zone, notably putting up a -7 swing rating in the Shadow zone. He’s swung at 7 first pitches all year, which is 1.3% of all of his pitches. The next lowest is Mark Canha, at 3.1% (min. 500 pitches seen). That being said, he’s also only faced 45 0-1 pitches, and 70 1-0 pitches, the second largest difference in this direction behind Jose Ramirez, who has nearly 50 more PA. It’s a weird situation with him.