Will Becoming a Dodger Change A.J. Pollock?

A.J. Pollock is going to be a tough player to project for this season. For the purposes of forecasting, we like our hitters to have consistent skill sets, and when healthy, Pollock had been that sort of player. In 2018, he made several changes, though they were ones we have seen many hitters make in recent years. For his swan song with the Diamondbacks, Pollock hit more flyballs and became pull-heavier. He also became much more aggressive, increasing his Swing% from 42.3 percent to a career-high 48.1 percent. This, in combination, with a higher whiff rate, gave Pollock his highest-ever strikeout rate (21.7 percent) and lowest Avg (.257) for a season with at least 200 plate appearances.

So which Pollock should we expect to see in his first season as a Dodger? Counting on regression is usually a good bet, so a higher Avg and a lower ISO are probably in order. His new team will have an impact on his production as well, but the impact could go beyond his surrounding lineup offering more run-producing opportunities. Even if Pollock had stayed with the Diamondbacks, we would likely expect him to take fewer swings in 2019, but he happened to sign with the team that collectively recorded the lowest Swing% in the majors for each of the last two seasons. There could an organizational bias that could impact Pollock’s approach in 2019.

Then again, the Dodgers’ selectivity at the plate might simply reflect the personnel they have. One way we can try to discern how much impact coaching could have on Pollock is to look at other hitters who have joined teams at the extremes of the Swing% rankings over the last two seasons. Manny Machado offers a window into what could be in store for Pollock. Prior to becoming a Dodger last summer, he had spent his entire career with the Orioles, a team that has perennially been among the least selective in the majors. In terms of approach, Machado fit right in with his former team, and he was no less prone to swing after joining the Dodgers. In fact, Machado’s 49.8 percent Swing% with the Dodgers was 1.8 percentage points higher than his 2018 mark with the Orioles.

However, not every hitter who moved to a team with an extremely low Swing% over the last two seasons left their approach unchanged after switching uniforms. Below are all of the hitters who joined the Dodgers, Twins or Astros in 2017 or 2018 and amassed at least 300 plate appearances with their new teams. These are the teams with the lowest Swing% over this two-year period. Of the eight players, only Ehire Adrianza and Matt Kemp had posted a Swing% above the major-league average (46.5 percent) the season before they joined their new clubs, and both were less aggressive with their new teams. So was the Dodgers version of Logan Forsythe, even though he was already a highly selective hitter. All of the other hitters either maintained their prior Swing% or increased their rate, but all had a history of being more selective than the average hitter.

Players Moving To a Low Swing% Team
Hitters Career Swing% Swing% Year Before New Team Swing% First Season With New Team YTY Difference
Ehrie Adrianza 47.3% 50.2% 42.5% 7.7%
Logan Forsythe 38.9% 39.6% 32.5% 7.1%
Matt Kemp 49.9% 54.8% 50.7% 4.1%
Josh Reddick 45.9% 44.2% 43.7% 0.5%
Jason Castro 45.6% 43.9% 44.6% -0.7%
Max Muncy 37.4% 35.7% 37.0% -1.3%
Carlos Beltran 43.8% 46.0% 47.8% -1.8%
Logan Morrison 44.1% 46.0% 48.8% -2.8%

Hitters who went to one of the three least selective teams (Royals, Braves and White Sox) over the last two seasons generally showed an inclination toward adopting an aggressive approach. That was not a notable feat for Kurt Suzuki, Matt Adams, Brandon Phillips or Brandon Moss, as all four had high Swing% rates with their previous teams, but Charlie Culberson and Lucas Duda went against their prior tendencies after switching teams. The only confounding case among this group was Jorge Soler, who got more selective after getting traded by the Cubs (one of the most selective teams in 2016) to the Royals.

Players Moving To a High Swing% Team
Hitter Career Swing% Swing% Year Before New Team Swing% First Season With New Team YTY Difference
Charlie Culberson 53.8% 44.4% 53.4% -9.0%
Kurt Suzuki 45.3% 48.0% 52.8% -4.8%
Lucas Duda* 41.1% 40.2% 44.4% -4.2%
Matt Adams** 50.7% 50.9% 54.6% -3.7%
Brandon Phillips** 53.6% 57.8% 56.1% 1.7%
Brandon Moss 49.3% 51.0% 48.3% 2.7%
Jorge Soler 45.5% 45.2% 40.3% 4.9%
* Split 2018 season between Royals and Braves.
** Spent part of 2017 season with Braves.

These 15 cases are far from conclusive, but the presence of a few hitters who made notable changes in approach after changing teams suggests the need for further research. Concerning our task at hand — assessing Pollock’s chances of another high swing rate — we can note that at least there have been a few recent precedents for a player falling in line with a team’s tendency towards selectivity (or aggressiveness). That provides one more reason to look for Pollock to veer towards his old ways of taking more pitches, both inside and outside of the strike zone. In turn, we should look for Pollock to walk more but possibly also miss out on some opportunities for extra-base hits.

Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.

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