Sometimes hitters are terse about their craft. They aren’t all Joey Votto, after all. But if you can pry a few thoughts from them, you’ll still find multitudes underneath seemingly simple statements. At least, that’s what happened after a conversation I had with Prince Fielder last week.
Before a game against the Athletics on April 22nd, I pointed out to the Rangers’ slugger that he makes more contact than most power hitters. “I’m making more contact on pitches that I want to swing at,” Fielder said of maturing as a hitter. The average top-30 home run hitter since 2011 has swung and missed at nearly 11% of the pitches he’s seen. Fielder’s swinging strike rate over the same time frame is 8.7%.
But things have changed in this regard over his career. Over his first four seasons, he struck out 19% of the time and swung and missed more than 11% of the time. Over his last four seasons, he’s struck out 14.5% of the time, thanks to that reduced swinging strike rate.
Ask the slugger, and the answer why seems so simple: “Trying to be ready to hit,” he offered with a shrug before asking: “Being more selective?” His reach rates haven’t improved much, though. In the first four years of his career, he swung at 27.4% of pitches outside the zone and 69.1% of pitches inside the zone. The last four years, he’s swung at 30.4% of pitches outside the zone and 67.7% of pitches inside the zone. Strange way to become more selective.
What Fielder has done is swung less as he’s aged — down from 47-48% to around 44-45%. There’s some evidence that swinging less is good for you, even without slicing it into swinging more at pitches inside the zone and less at pitches outside the zone. The Twins are trying this approach out currently.
But let’s look at this brute force stat — swing% — on an individual level. Since 2011, there have been 233 qualified batters. Take a look at how the top 50 and bottom 50 in swing percentage have done against each over that time frame.
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