Detroit Tigers: Free swinging ways could be hurting them

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 23: Niko Goodrum #28 of the Detroit Tigers hits a two-run home run against the Minnesota Twins during the fourth inning of the game on May 23, 2018 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Tigers defeated the Twins 4-1. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 23: Niko Goodrum #28 of the Detroit Tigers hits a two-run home run against the Minnesota Twins during the fourth inning of the game on May 23, 2018 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Tigers defeated the Twins 4-1. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /
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The Detroit Tigers swing at a higher rate than every other team in baseball. Unsurprisingly, that has led to the lowest walk rate.

The Detroit Tigers are free swingers. If you’ve been watching this team this year, you already knew that. Eight Tigers hitters have swung at over 50% of the pitches they’ve seen this year, including four players who play consistently. That cut-off just misses Leonys Martin (49.1%) and Victor Martinez (49%) as well.

Unfortunately, as one would expect this limits Detroit’s opportunities to draw walks. They currently have the lowest walk rate in the entire MLB, at 6.9%. This isn’t an issue of seeing more strikes than other teams, as they see roughly the same % of pitches in the strike zone (43.6%) as the rest of the league.

The issue is simple: They are swinging at too many bad pitches. O-Swing% is a measurement of the rate at which hitters swing at pitches that are outside of the strike zone. As a team, the Tigers swing at 33.5% of all pitches that are not in the strike zone. That is third in the league, behind fellow AL Central foes Chicago and Kansas City.

The Culprits

Three Detroit regulars have a walk rate at or below five percent: Jose Iglesias (5%) Nicholas Castellanos (4.3%) and JaCoby Jones (3.1%).

This has been a career-long issue for Iggy, who has never seen the ball particularly well at the plate. Even in 2015 when he hit .300, he only posted a 5.5% walk rate and was boosted by a .330 BABIP.

For Castellanos, this is (somewhat) new. His walk rate in the previous four seasons was between 6.2 and 6.6%. While that’s still not very high, his 4.3% mark this year is concerning. He’s chasing bad pitches at a higher rate (37%) then ever before. He’ll need to stop chasing balls out of the zone if he wants to increase his walk rate, OBP and his chances of making his first All-Star game.

Jones has done a good job of dramatically decreasing his strikeout rate, which is down from 42.2% last season to 26.7% this year. With that has come a drop in his walk rate as well, from 5.8% to 3.1% this season. Despite a huge drop in strikeouts, Jones is actually swinging at more pitches out of the zone than he did last year. He’s simply making more contact. Hey, progress is progress.

What happens when they hit it

The Tigers aren’t struggling when they make contact. They boast the ninth highest hard-hit rate in the league, and the third highest rate of line drives. Their batting average on balls in play (BABIP) as a team is a league average .301.

Next: Exploring a trade with the Los Angeles Angels

This is a simple issue: the Detroit Tigers need to lay off bad pitches. They hit well when they make contact, but as long as they keep chasing junk off the plate they’ll struggle to get base runners.