Swing decisions have become a topic this year for a couple of reasons. On the positive side, Nick Pratto has talked about them helping to get back to the majors, and actually producing as well. On the negative side, Bobby Witt has not progressed as many of us were hoping he would. We could talk about Witt more, though lately I have liked his approach. But instead I want to talk about MJ Melendez, who is not being selective like last season to his detriment.
For almost all major league baseball players, swinging at pitches is on average a bad thing to do. That is because most of the things you can do when you swing hurt your team, or are weighted toward negatives. When you swing you can miss and get a strike, which is bad. You can foul a ball off, also bad unless you already have two strikes. You can hit it to a fielder and get out, or get your teammate out, or get him and yourself out, or the very worst is getting two of your teammates and yourself out. Swinging is dangerous, and you only have 27 outs guaranteed to your team each night, so giving them away hurts. There are good things that can happen, if you hit the ball in play and a defender can’t get you out, or if you hit it over the fence, but when you put it in play it turns into the bad outcome about 70% of the time and the good outcome only 30% of the time. Again, most swings have a negative run value for most players.
There are very few players who have a positive contribution with their swings. - Tom Tango
So, in general, swinging less is better, but not all of the Royals are very good at that, and the young players are not improving at it so far this year. Bobby Witt has taken a lot of criticism for his pitch selection, though it has improved some this season. He is swinging at pitches outside the zone 35.3% of the time versus 37.3% last season. His overall swing rate has not really dropped though, because he is swinging more at pitches in the zone, which can be good or bad depending on where in the zone. For instance:
If Bobby is swinging at pitches down and away, but in the zone, that is bad most of the time. He should only swing in that zone or the top of the zone when he has two strikes and it will result in a strike out. Otherwise, he should be looking middle in, where he does a lot of damage according to the heat map of SLG/P for him this year. It is not enough to swing at pitches in the zone for major league hitters. You must go up hunting good pitches for you, and wait until you get something you can handle. That is the only way to consistently produce positive value on average.
That brings us to Melendez. Plate discipline and plus power were the billing for MJ as he approached the majors. In 2022, as a rookie, he showed both at times, and overall I was optimistic even with him struggling at the end of the season. This year, he has regressed. He is the only young, hopefully core, player that is swinging more at both in and out of zone pitches so far this year. His overall swing rate has gone from 44.6% to 47.3% with out of zone swing rate increasing by 3% and Z-swing increasing by 1.4%. Unsurprisingly, based on the premise of this article, it has not helped to swing at more pitches.
He has not turned into a free-swinger like Salvador Perez or anything. Perez has a 60% swing rate, but he has extreme contact skills that keep it from ruining him, though I would argue it may end up keeping him out of the Hall of Fame. Melendez does not have great contact rates, and they have dipped way down with his increase in swings this year. Last year he made contact on 74.5% of swings, and this year he is only making contact 66.4% of the time. This has made the walk rate drop by almost 2%, while strike out rate has gone up by almost 6%! That is nominal rate, relative to his strike out rate last season, it is an overall increase of about 25% more strike outs.
I wish I could tell you that I knew exactly what was causing this. Maybe it is just an eye sight issue and he needs LASIK, it could be something that simple. My fear is that his swing is eerily reminiscent to Eric Hosmer’s, a little longer and lots of moving parts, which could lead to inconsistency. My lack of scouting background makes that a very amateur observation though, so until someone with more knowledge than me in that area says that, go ahead and take that with several grains of salt. Regardless, the outcomes have been bad, and his power seems diminished to boot.
This might be an ideal time to send Melendez back to Omaha for a bit to see if he can get right. Give him specific things to work on to get back to the majors, as it seems they did with Pratto earlier this year. He needs to work on his outfield defense anyway, so taking the spotlight off might be beneficial in more ways than one. The Royals have recently added Drew Waters, Dairon Blanco, Samad Taylor, and Matt Beaty to the roster so the corner outfield positions have plenty of reinforcements. It doesn’t matter if the move makes the team better or worse as they are well out of contention. MJ Melendez needs to be valuable to this team as a player or as a trade asset, and now is the time to turn him around because he is neither at the moment. You don’t want to trade him at the trough of his value. Now is the time to send him down.
Should Melendez go back to the minors?
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