In January, the Tampa Bay Rays signed 33-year-old Luke Scott to a one-year, $5M contract (plus a club option for 2013) to serve as the team’s primary designated hitter.
He struggled last season with the Baltimore Orioles, only hitting .220/.301/.402 and failing to be at least a one-win player for the first time since his rookie season in 2005. The vast majority of his struggles, however, could be explained away by his mid-season shoulder surgery, which he underwent to repair a torn labrum. Finally healthy, the Rays looked to capitalize on an undervalued asset, hoping Scott would regain his previous form and produce somewhere around his career-average wOBA of .358.
This year, after a torrid start that saw him compile a .380 wOBA with eleven extra-base hits in the month of April, things have begun to cool off. He has hit .219/.286/.384 in the month of May, and his current .331 wOBA ranks below average amongst league DHs, who average a .347 wOBA on the year thus far.
Some of his drop off in May can be attributed to a .224 BABIP. In fact, his year-to-date BABIP of .240 is 52-points below his career average. The Tampa Bay Rays should expect that number to climb, especially since his 18.8% line drive rate has been slightly better than his career average. A few more balls in play find the outfield grass, rather than an outfielder’s glove, and his production should no longer be below average for the designated hitter position.
Perhaps the winds began to change for Scott on Tuesday evening against the Toronto Blue Jays. He went 2-for-4 with a double, his eighth home run of the season, and two runs scored.
The home run came on a 1-1 fastball from Drew Hutchison, though none of the pitches were actually within the strike zone. He fouled off a first-pitch changeup that was low-and-away. He then watched a fastball that was well below the strike zone, and subsequently, lined the following outside fastball over the left-field wall for a solo home run.
His home run on that outside fastball mirrored what he has done all season. Seven of his eight home runs have come on pitches in the outer half of the plate. The other came on a 3-2 fastball from Clay Buchholz that was up in the zone, but cut the plate in half. His preference for the outside fastball extends beyond the home run ball, though. The vast majority of damage that he has done at the plate has come on pitches on the outer third of the plate. He is hitting .420 (21-for-50) on pitches put in play in that location.
Scott knows where his success lies at the plate, too. That is overwhelmingly evident when studying his swing chart from this season.
The vast majority of his swings are concentrated on pitches either in the middle or outer portion of home plate. He rarely swings at a pitch in the inner third, and he is 0-for-5 on pitches put in play in that location, including another 0-for-5 on pitches put in play just off the inside portion of the plate. Of course, that does not count pitches on which he swung-and-missed, either.
Despite focusing his efforts on pitches on the outer portion of the plate, Tuesday night’s home run was his first of the season to left field. He still prefers to pull the baseball for power. Six of his eight home runs have been to straight-away right field. In fact, only eight of his 69 home runs since the 2009 season have gone to the opposite field, and only 12 of those 69 home runs came on pitches on the inner half of the strike zone.
Right-handed pitchers should work to bust him inside more often. Not only has Scott not found success on pitches on the inner third of the plate, but he also consciously chooses not to swing at those pitches. He wants to extend his arms and will wait for a pitch out over the plate (or even off the plate) in order to facilitate that extension. Right-handed pitchers should take advantage of that overt discrimination against inside pitches. Lefties, on the other hand, should keep doing what they are doing. Scott is only hitting .180/.236/.300 off lefties this season and is striking out 21.8% of the time.
Tuesday night’s 2-for-4 night epitomized what Luke Scott has done all season. He has demolished right-handed pitching to the tune of a .384 wOBA and does all his damage on pitches on the outer portion of the plate. Toronto’s right-hander Drew Hutchison gave Scott a fastball away, and it resulted in a home run to left field. He later hung a slider on the outer portion of the plate, and that resulted in a lead-off double in the fourth inning.
Just another day at the office for Mr. Scott.
J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).