I’ve written about a few changes like this lately. I wrote about Ryan Goins, whose hot streak coincided with a new unwillingness to swing the bat. I wrote about Joey Votto, whose Bonds-esque second half has come with greater discipline and a preference for very particular strikes. In Goins’ case, the analysis was done in response to improved performance. In Votto’s case, the analysis was done in response to improved performance. There’s nothing quite like that here, no red-hot offensive tear commanding broader attention. Maybe that’s still to come, but I think the observation is interesting enough regardless of everything else.
Evan Gattis is patient now. He’s not Joey Votto-patient. He’s not Matt Carpenter-patient. His patience is relative, but compared to what he’s been, this is a whole different type of hitter. As always, you have to wonder how much of this is actually nothing. Sometimes the numbers we look at aren’t reflective of any deeper truths. But this isn’t based on outcome data. This isn’t based on the usual things that bounce around. This is about swinging. Hitters who like to swing will swing; hitters who like to wait will wait. Gattis has been a swinger. Now Gattis is more of a waiter. This is interesting because of how unexpected it has been.
You never really know when these things start. It’s not like a hitter has ever woken up and just decided, “Today’s the day I start taking pitches.” Patience takes work. It takes re-wiring, and sometimes it can never be achieved. One thing we know about Gattis is this: He didn’t start this season any different. It’s come on. Out of convenience, we can split at the All-Star break. The split works, and the split’s dramatic.
We can look at Gattis’ swing rate over time. Since this year’s break, he’s played 46 games, so this is a 46-game rolling-average plot of Gattis’ swings.
Right now, he’s at an obvious low. While maybe that’s obscured by all the white space, I didn’t want to manipulate the axes. But I could have, because swing rates tend to be found somewhere between 30% and 60%, so Gattis has seen a big drop-off. It used to be that he was a very aggressive swinger. Now he’s more in the neighborhood of average, which is particularly un-Gattis-like.
Gattis swung a lot in the minors. He swung a lot in the majors. Between 2013 and 2014, 310 different players batted at least 500 times each. Gattis had the 14th-highest swing rate. He had the eighth-highest chase rate. He’d strike out, and he’d very seldom walk. People became familiar with Gattis’ offensive identity. After his move to the Houston Astros, there wasn’t any sign of immediate change. Gattis kept swinging — and running into the occasional mammoth dinger. Then something flipped. Something turned on, if you will. Gattis made a change to his approach, readily apparent right here.
By a few percentage points, the contact rate has improved. But the swing rate is way down. The swing rate at strikes is way down. The swing rate at balls is way down. The swing rate at first pitches is way down. There are 326 players who have batted at least 50 times each in both this year’s first and second halves. Gattis easily has the biggest drop in chase rate. He easily has the biggest drop in swing rate. His zone rate, if you’re curious, has barely moved.
This much has to be said: Gattis has yet to catch fire. His second half hasn’t been a real strong one, as he’s improved from just an 89 wRC+ to 98. He remains inconsistent, but he’s probably still adjusting to this approach, and after posting a first-half K-BB% of 19%, his second-half mark is 8%. The power hasn’t left him. If you keep the power — then add walks and subtract strikeouts — it makes sense you’d end up with a better player. That player hasn’t yet totally materialized, but there’s a new sort of promise.
From Baseball Savant, here are Gattis’ first-half swings:
And, his second-half swings:
I know that might not be very helpful, so if you can’t see anything in the images, maybe some data will make things clearer. Gattis hasn’t just reduced his swings across the board. There’s some selectivity at play.
Swing rate at pitches 3 feet or more off the ground
First half: 52%
Second half: 53%
Gattis loves the high pitch. He can clobber some unthinkably high pitches for unthinkable power. He hasn’t been any more patient with pitches at or above belt-level. Which means the changes have happened elsewhere.
Swing rate at pitches no more than 2 feet off the ground
First half: 47%
Second half: 30%
There’s the bulk of it. Gattis has trimmed his first-half rate by more than a third, and a lot of these are attempted put-away pitches. Secondary pitches to make Gattis swing and to make Gattis miss. He hasn’t been spitting on all of them, but he’s been spitting on a lot more of them, and that’s allowed him to get into better hitting positions. These aren’t pitches Gattis could regularly punish. At least, not the low-away ones, where he’s seen the greatest swing-rate decrease. For so many aggressive hitters, you just wish they’d chase less often low and away. Somehow, Gattis has found a way to do it, while remaining aggressive on pitches up.
Again, it hasn’t yet led to tremendous, sustained success. Again, it could eventually reverse itself, if Gattis falls back into old habits. But he’s no longer a catcher, so maybe he has more energy to keep this up. It makes sense that if he does keep this up, he’ll be better for it in the long term. Gattis at the moment is striking out less often, he’s walking more and he’s still fitting in homers. Those are all good things. He’s laying off pitchers’ pitches. That’s a good thing. I don’t know what happened to allow this to happen, but it’s happening. The rewards might be around the corner.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.