After the advent of Willians Astudillo, it became apparent to people watching baseball that there is still, even among sabermetrically-inclined fans who are perfectly A-OK with strikeouts and home runs, a desire for the contact-oriented approach from hitters. When pitchers are striking out 14 per game, and when teams are on pace to shatter home run records, it remains utterly remarkable that there are players who exist, in 2019, that completely buck the trend and decide to build their entire offensive game around just putting the ball in play.
This brings us to the team version of that desired archetype, and it’s the Angels. The Angels, despite being an altogether meh team who likely won’t live up to the hype of the contact-based strategy, are still worthy of note. They rank firmly at the top of the major plate discipline categories:
- K%: 1st (15.6%)
- SwStr%: 1st (7.1%)
- O-Swing%: 1st (24.8%)
- O-Contact%: 2nd (68.7%)
- Contact%: 1st (82.7%)
Once again, it’s astonishing that one team is dominating contact in an age without contact, and they are by no means a good or elite team. Yet I’m not just here to discuss the team writ large, because the fun fact kind of ends there, and it’s because a player also embodies this approach. Teams are made up of players, of course, and one player defines the Angels’ contact in 2019: David Fletcher.
Fletcher was a baseball footnote until very, very recently. Drafted in the sixth round of the 2015 draft, FanGraphs made barely a note of him even just last year other than a “fringey defensive shortstop” who profiled as “a utility man... while others consider him an up-and-down infielder.”
Yet here he is in 2019, a starting outfielder no less after supplanting Peter Bourjos, and he is clubbing a more-than-respectable .296/.343/.440 (113 wRC+) with 0.9 fWAR to start the year. The reason for all of this? By following the model the Angels have laid out.
Even in the age of Astudillo, he even seems to be out-Astudillo-ing him, so to speak:
- K%: 1st (5.2%)
- SwStr%: 1st (1.7%)
- O-Swing%: 26th (23.9%)
- O-Contact%: 1st (90%)
- Contact%: 1st (95.3%)
Just seven strikeouts in 134 plate appearances. Making contact on 19 of 20 swings. Making contact on nine of ten outside the zone. Those are savant-like numbers, contact-speaking, and considering how quickly these numbers stabilize (but don’t take that as a guarantee), it’s hard not to argue this isn’t a fascinating plate discipline profile.
When that’s broken down into how it results via Statcast, the numbers are even more jarring and Angels-like:
Despite sporting an average exit velocity of 84.3 mph, which sits in the seventh percentile, he has an expected batting average of .331, way up in the 98th percentile. In fact, he has maintained a rolling expected batting average above .300 since September of last season:
It can’t last forever, as one would expect. He has received about 6% more fastballs than your average Joe in the league, and he has hit at a 279 wRC+ clip against them. I would expected for him to see more and more breaking stuff as time goes on, and one would expect to see his expected batting average drop.
But contact skills are very often still contact skills, and his ability to make contact even outside the zone is remarkable and noteworthy in a league devoid of the skill, even if the house of cards falls once his weaknesses are exposed. Yet I will still be keeping a keen eye on the newly minted starting outfielder Fletcher and his lone buoy of singles in a sea of extra base hits and strikeouts.