The White Sox have dominated the AL Central, giving stars like Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn plenty of rest. But that’s not the big news of late summer in South Chicago.
Cuban Luis Robert has been on fire, with a line of .374 / .404 / .604 and a wRC + of 174 (eighth among qualified hitters) since returning from the disabled list on August 9 after overcoming a tear in the right hip. But it’s Robert’s most impressive number since then – a strikeout rate of just 15.8%.
The MLB’s once-third-best prospect was looking like the second winner of the American League Rookie of the Year award before he plummeted in September, when he hit .136 with a 34% strikeout rate. The secret spread quickly, with all teams aware that, aside from all of Robert’s power at bat, his plan of attack at home plate had obvious weaknesses.
So with a 12% decline in his strikeout rate between 2020 and 2021 that is the steepest in all of baseball, aside from Matt Olson’s, anyone could expect a familiar story: that Robert is being more selective and doing less swing. Well that’s not really what’s going on. In fact, Robert was second among all Major League Baseball players swinging 62.8% of all the pitches he had seen, and he was also swinging slightly more to pitches out of the strike zone more often than last year.
In short, Robert has stopped swinging, and if you’re going to swing the bat that often, you better be very good at making contact (think Vladimir Guerrero Sr.). Robert was far from successful in that department in 2020, fanning the breeze with 41.5% of his swings and ranking in the worst 2% among qualified hitters. But before Friday’s session began, that story had changed, with a 27% missed swing rate, just above the Major League Baseball average, in 2021. Considerable improvement? Well yes: Robert is on pace to finish with the biggest improvement in failed swings from one year to the next, by a big difference, since all pitches began to be tracked in 2008.
Robert has lowered that rate from 41.5% in 2020 to 27% in 2021, an improvement of 14.5%. Your closest pursuer? Joc Pederson, who improved 9.5% between 2015 and 2016. The difference between Robert and Pederson, as you can see, is almost double. It is no exaggeration to say that we have not seen such improvement when it comes to making contact in recent history.
How is Robert doing this? Robert has cut back on his swing and is trying to drive fewer deliveries to his band when hitting fastballs, cutting his missed swing rate before fastballs by more than half while raising his average against four-seam fastballs to .359. On the other hand, he has also improved remarkably against the corners, cutting his failed swings almost in half thanks to the fact that he is not hitting the corners that fall below the strike zone as often.
“What he’s done at the plate has been impressive in terms of stopping hitting bad pitches and actually hitting strikes, being more aggressive when he’s on favorable scores and cutting his swing a bit to get the ball in play,” said the week. past White Sox manager Luis Robert when asked about Robert. “Those are veteran things. The fact that he’s doing it so early in his career is pretty impressive. “
Robert, for his part, commented: “It’s not that I’m having more patience. The difference is that I have a better strike zone. I understand the strike zone better. “
Pitching in the postseason is a different animal, of course, and it remains to be seen whether the improvements Robert has made extend into October as well. Pitchers are probably going to attack him with more high straights and top-notch breaking pitches, and Robert will have to respond. But what if the burly White Sox gunner is really a mid-order bat instead of a scary ninth-inning gunner? Watch out for the White Sox, then.