To some extent, sure, pick up George Springer in all leagues. Dude obviously has power, and he’s supposed to have speed, and he’s got enough upside to be owned in all leagues. And yet, if you’re talking about buying him, or it’s a shallow league and the dropper is someone with a decent track record… there are still reasons to doubt that he’ll be a star in all leagues.
The obvious question mark is the strikeout rate. He’s got the fifth-worst strikeout rate among hitters with more than 150 plate appearances this week. Peppered around him are noted batting average heroes Danny Espinosa, Mark Reynolds, and B.J. Upton. We know strikeouts and batting average are negatively related — the batting average on a K is zero — and last year, the average BA for a batter with a strikeout rate over 29% was .231.
So now we know why the projection systems are calling for a worse batting average going forward, but are we sure that Springer will continue to strike out like this? In a word, yes. Springer also has the fifth-worst swinging strike rate in baseball, right there with Mark Reynolds. Last year, batters with a swinging strike rate over 15% averaged a 29.3% strikeout rate. And contact rate is stable.
Fine, he’ll strike out a bit much and is a batting average risk. If he has enough power and speed, we won’t care. Sure. But exactly how much speed will he have? He stole 45 bags last year, but this year he’s only taken off seven times combined between the minors and majors. You have to take off to steal, and I’m sure learning major league pickoff moves takes a bit. I’ll take the more conservative route and project him for another 15 attempts (ten successful).
My natural pessimism has hit a wall. Even with Doubtful Dan or Debbie Downer’s glasses on, we’ve got a .235 hitter with big power and ten steals — probably a play in any league, even if it’s a bit borderline in shallower leagues.
Springer has hit all of his homers in the last fourteen games. Perhaps there was some sort of skill change that we can notice and appreciate?
Over his last fourteen days, Springer’s swinging strike rate is down to 13% and his strikeout rate is down to 19.6%. He’s swinging less (42.1% down from his season number of 49.4%), but about the same on pitches in the zone and outside of the zone. In fact, his improvement in contact rate has been mostly on pitches outside the zone, as his in-zone contact rate has stayed the same (74.5% for the season, 74% over last two weeks).
Still, that doesn’t mean he’s not adjusting at the plate. Take a look at this swinging heat map from baseballheatmaps — he’s swinging much less at stuff high and low and away from righties.
Maybe the starker change has been in his swing plane. Over the past two weeks, he’s been hitting two fly balls per ground ball. For the season, he’s been hitting one fly ball per ground ball. That’s a new swing that’s built to use his prodigious power — his 302 feet on homers and fly balls is 21st in the league. His major league numbers are a bit short of his minor league ones in terms of outfield fly balls (32.9% in minors, 23.6% in majors according to Minor League Central), so let’s call this Springer finding his way back to where he’s always been.
So it looks like Springer’s recent mini-breakout is one part finding his old swing plane and one part learning how to adjust to major league pitching. He’ll always miss too much, the batting average will always be a risk, but the power is already here and the speed should be above-average if not better. Skepticism is always healthy, but at this point, there’s got to be a way to find Springer a spot on your roster if he’s on your waiver wire.
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