Brennan Boesch took just two walks during his time batting ahead of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. (Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE)

Brennan Boesch and the O-Swing% Difference


This winter, you could have put together a lengthy links roundup every week comprised solely of pundits lauding Brennan Boesch as primed for a breakout season. Popular RotoGraphs author Jeff Zimmerman believed Boesch had 20-homer, 100-run potential batting ahead of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, cornerstones of a perceived powerhouse Detroit Tigers lineup. According to Buster Olney on Twitter, David Ortiz was known to think Boesch “headed for a monster year.” Reports from spring training indicated positive signs of a strong and healthy slugger and as Grapefruit League play wound down, he belted three home runs in the span four days to bring his spring total to six, one behind three men—including Albert Pujols—tied for the major league lead.

Boesch was also first on former major league general manager Jim Bowden’s list of “seven players poised to erupt” for ESPN.com Insiders in February. The word from Bowden on Boesch was to not be surprised if the Santa Monica slugger hit 25-30 home runs. The catch, in the words of Bowden, was this realization of Boesch’s raw power would come “as the 26-year-old learns to become more disciplined at the plate and waits for the one pitch he can drive.” Bowden also lamented Boesch’s propensity to “inconsistency” and the “occasional long swing.”

But through more than a month of real baseball, Boesch’s plate approach has changed none. The “occasional long swing” Bowden mentioned is more frequent than episodic. Boesch has walked little—twice in 115 plate appearances—and hit for a .205 average. After being given every opportunity to succeed, he has finally lost his prime spot, high in the Tigers’ batting order.

The problem is not hard to discern if you watch one or two of his at bats and it’s nothing new; Boesch has an O-Swing% (the percentage of pitches outside the strike zone he’s waved at) of 38.8. That rate trails only Andy Dirks (who, coincidentally, has taken over batting second for the time being) on the Detroit roster, but Dirks finds success anyway thanks to a 90.2 O-Contact% (the percentage of swings at pitches outside the zone which the bat finds) while Boesch’s O-Contact% sits far lower at 68.2. The 38.8 O-Swing% for Boesch is actually below his career average of 39.4.

A poor O-Swing% might be the worst quality in a number two hitter, whose main task is to get on base. Naturally, O-Swing% is directly related to poor batting average and walk rates, two statistics of which upkeep is necessary for a decent on-base percentage. Splitting major league baseball by a cutoff of a 38.8 O-Swing% (Boesch’s), the contrast is huge: the 110 players who have made at least one plate appearance and whose O-Swing% is equal or greater than Boesch’s have thus far combined for a 4.04% walk rate and a .225 batting average. Those figures for the rest of the league (before games on May 7th) are 8.81% and .252.

Boesch is neither being selective within the zone, currently holding a team-high 73.9 Z-Swing%. Only 14 qualified players across baseball have swung at a higher percentage of total pitches than Boesch’s 53.4%.

(Plate discipline numbers in this article are from Baseball Info Solutions via FanGraphs.)

Terrible plate discipline has hindered Boesch, a player otherwise teeming with potential, for his whole career and is presumably a significant factor behind his glaring streakiness. Unless he can learn to control his bat like Vladimir Guerrero, Boesch will need to be more selective at the plate. If he doesn’t—and fast—that breakout will never come.

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Tags: Albert Pujols Andy Dirks Brennan Boesch David Ortiz Detroit Tigers Jim Bowden Miguel Cabrera Prince Fielder Vladimir Guerrero

  • ChrisHannum

    You are right on as far as (at least one of) Boesch’s greatest weakness(es)…  but as you point out, that O-Swing % is not worse than his previous career norm.  I doubt we can exactly blame it for the fact that Boesch has been vastly worse the past 5 weeks than in 2010 or 2011.  One of the reasons that it was thought that Boesch would do well this year in the 2-spot was that he would see more hittable pitches in front of Cabrera and Fielder, so it wouldn’t matter so much if he had a propensity to swing at things outside the zone.  He has seen a few more strikes, but hasn’t been made a lot of contact or done much with the balls he has hit.  

    • Double Down

       @ChrisHannum Contact hitters with power like Guerrero are very rare indeed.  It may be hard to platoon Boesch but it needs to be done.  Some guys simply need that, to hit in certain situations only.  He may need to.

      • ChrisHannum

         @Double Down He has done fine, overall, against lefties.  It isn’t as though he’s clobbering righties either.  I’d say platooning him wouldn’t be much of a solution – though he might actually need a trip to Toledo if he can’t pull himself together up here.

  • valordesign

    Sign me up for those that thought Boesch was going to have a beast of a season. Him and Porcello seem due to break out in a major way. I still am very confident in Porcello. I agree about Boesch though, he has been absolutely dreadful at pitch selection. If you swing at bad pitches, I don’t care who is hitting around you, you don’t deserve to see a strike. 
     

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