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2024 Fantasy Baseball Hitter Fades: Plate Discipline

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D.J. Short and Eric Samulski look at some of the abnormalities from the 2023 season for the New York Mets' Pete Alonso and Atlanta Braves' Matt Olson, as well as where they stack up among MLB's best first basemen.

Last week, I wrote an article trying to find hitter values in fantasy baseball drafts using a new plate discipline metric created by Thomas Nestico (@TJStats on Twitter). Thomas used data to identify which hitters make the best swing decisions both in and out of the strike zone, and I believe this is an often overlooked aspect of fantasy analysis. If a hitter has a poor understanding of the strike zone or makes bad decisions on what pitches to swing at, then they will continuously put themselves at a disadvantage that is hard to overcome, regardless of how exciting their raw tools are.

While I highlighted players who make the best swing decisions last week (you can read that here), today I’m going to use Thomas’ research to highlight hitters who make the worst swing decisions and put themselves in holes that are hard to climb out of. In doing so, we’ll hopefully find some players who it might be worth changing our current valuation on and moving down our draft boards.

If you want to read Thomas’ full article to understand his metrics, it’s called “Modelling Batter Decision Value” and you can read his full article here)

(All ADP is taken from NFBC drafts from January 10th - January 31st which is 72 drafts)

Worst Plate discipline

Elehuris Montero - 1B, Rockies (ADP: 413)

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on Montero, but I know he has sucked some people in, myself included, at times because he plays in Coors and hit .359/.411/.718 in 35 games at Triple-A last year with 15 HRs and 48 RBI. He also only had a 17.2% strikeout rate in the minors last year as well. However, as Thomas’ chart above shows, he makes terrible decisions both in the zone and out of the zone, which should come as no surprise since he had a 45.5% chase rate last year.

Even if you want to bet on the power in Coors Field, I have some news for you: there’s not as much power as you think. He had just a 6.8% barrel rate last year and doesn’t pull the ball often. When he does pull the ball, his average exit velocity last year on pulled fly balls was 90 mph. Yes, 90 mph on PULLED FLY BALLS. That was lower than Jurickson Profar, TJ Friedl, and J.P. Crawford. Montero’s ADP suggests he’s not being drafted outside of draft-and-hold types, but I’d maybe pass there as well.

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Javier Baez - SS, Tigers (ADP: 394)

Listen, we all knew Javy Baez would be on this list, but look at that ADP. People are just over it. While I can’t blame them, it is important to point out that Baez will be the everyday shortstop in an improving Tigers lineup and should still push 550 plate appearances. So can we find any value here?

Interestingly, he cut his strikeout rate for the third year in a row, and his 22.9% mark is actually not that bad. He also cut his swinging strike rate (SwStr%) to a career low 16.7% (that’s still high). Last year, he had his highest zone contact rate and highest overall contact rate since 2016. He continues to chase pitches out of the zone at too high a rate, but he also had his second highest O-Contact rate ever. Which might explain why his strikeouts went down but his offensive production didn’t go up; he’s getting to more pitches, but he’s still chasing terrible pitches and pitches he can’t make meaningful contact on.

In fact, if you look at this chart from Pitcher List, you can see that his ability to make contact is actually (often) better than league average. Even though it did get worse as the year went on.

Javy Baez Contact

However, none of that will matter if he continues to offer at so many bad pitches. It’s clear that he’s trying to make changes, but it’s now been three years of him cutting strikeout rate and making more contact and there has been no meaningful change to his surface-level stats. Still, I think a .230 average with 10+ HR and 15 SB is likely for Baez and that makes him usable in deeper formats given how the lineup is improving around him.

Yainer Diaz - C, Astros (ADP: 95)

Now we get to an exciting one. Diaz is a darling in the fantasy industry, and it’s easy to see why after a rookie season in which he hit .282/.308/.538 with 23 home runs and 60 RBI in 104 games. Now that he’s the full-time starter in Houston, it’s wheels up, right? Well, yes and no. I certainly still like Diaz and would be happy with him on my fantasy team, but there are some concerns here.

As you can see from Thomas’ chart above, Diaz’s swing decisions in the zone are fine, but his decisions out of the zone are not good. Last season, he posted a 46.4% chase rate, which was fifth-worst in all of baseball for players with over 300 plate appearances. While that didn’t hurt him much in 2023, the average, well, batting average of the 10 hitters who had the worst chase rate in baseball was .257, so Diaz drastically outproduced that.

While he did make better swing decisions as the year went on, his strike zone judgement remained below league average for the entirety of the season. To a certain extent, this is just who he is. Like Baez, he’s not striking out much and he makes a fair amount of contact, even though he has a 14.7% SwStr%, so his aggression allows him to reach most of what he swings at. Additionally, I don’t think we should expect the aggression to go away; he’s one of the most aggressive hitters in baseball, even with adjustments to curtail it as the year went on.

Yainer aggression

Now, Diaz can make this work for him, to a certain extent. He plays in a good park for pull power and he happened to hit 14 HRs last year on just 21 pulled fly balls. His average exit velocity on those pulled fly balls was 101.8 mph, which is basically Austin Riley level thump. He should still provide plenty of power production in that Houston lineup, but I just worry that his approach will lead more to a .250-.260 average. If you’re going to swing that often at pitches outside of the zone, I trust the talent of major league pitchers to begin to make you get yourself out.

Ezequiel Tovar - SS, Rockies (193)

Tovar is an intriguing deeper shortstop option, and I think many people forget that he’s just 22 years old. In 2023, he hit .253/.287/.408 with 15 HR, 11 SB, and 79 runs scored in 153 games. He also posted an elevated 17.1% SwStr% that you usually only see for power hitters, and a large portion of that was due to poor out-of-zone swing decisions and a high chase rate.

Tover does have the ability to hit the ball hard with an 8.1% barrel rate and an exit velocity on pulled fly balls of 97 mph; however, he only pulled the ball 33.6% last year in part because pitchers know he’ll chase away. According to Pitcher List approach metrics, in his two MLB seasons, pitchers throw outside to Tovar 49% of the time, which is 91st percentile in baseball, and unlike Diaz and Baez, Tovar is not as adept at making contact when he chases off the plate.

Unfortunately, rolling graphs show that Tovar actually got MORE aggressive and made WORSE swing decisions as the season went on. Also pretty alarmingly, Pitcher List shows that Tovar was ahead in the count (2-0, 3-1, 2-1, etc.) only 7.6% of the time in 2023, which is well below the league average of 12%. I like the raw talent Tovar possesses and think there could be some power/speed developing there, but he has not yet shown the ability to correct his approach at the plate and, unfortunately for him, he’s not in an organization that gives me lots of confidence that they can help him with those decisions.

Alek Thomas - OF, Diamondbacks (ADP: 329)

Alek Thomas was, at one point, a top prospect and potentially the long-time future CF for the Diamondbacks. So far, his first two MLB samples have not been inspiring and he hit just .230/.273/.374 last year with nine home runs and nine steals. Now, Thomas is a plus defensive center fielder, and he’s still just 23 years old, so he’s going to get his chances to right the ship, but should we give him that chance in fantasy?

As you can see above, Thomas makes fine decisions on pitches out of the zone (not great but fine), but he really struggles in the zone. We can see that with his elevated called strike rate and the fact that he gets ahead in the count just 10.3% of the time, which is 22nd-percentile in baseball. Pitchers pound the zone against Thomas and often put him in bad counts.

However, the positive news is that he makes a good amount of contact in the zone and doesn’t really swing and miss often, with just an 11.4% SwStr%. That number does go up to 31% in two strike counts, so he will chase when he gets behind, but that’s just another reason why he needs to ensure that he isn’t too passive early in the count, allowing himself to fall behind.

The good news is that Thomas’ swing aggression did actually improve as the season went on and he started to make more contact overall.


That resulted in a solid 60 game stretch through the summer where he hit .277/.311/.445 with five home runs and four steals in 60 games. His 111 mph max exit velocity and 94.6 mph exit velocity on pulled fly balls suggest that there is non-zero power in his bat, and if he continues to be at little bit more aggressive in the zone, it’s possible he could put together a 15/15 season if he gets 500 plate appearances since his defense will keep him on the field.

Bad Swing Decisions2

Elly De La Cruz - 3B/SS, Reds (ADP: 22)

Now we get to possibly the most polarizing player in fantasy baseball right now. I’ve written some articles and made some videos on why I’m off De La Cruz at this price and, honestly, that discussion would be much longer than we have space for here, so we’ll try to focus just on swing decisions right now.

Last year, De La Cruz made poor decisions both in the zone and out of the zone with well below average chase rates and called strike rates, which is an interesting pairing. While De La Cruz was just slightly below average in terms of his contact outside of the zone, he also posted well below average contact rates on pitches in the zone and below average swing rates. All of that, weirdly, adds up to a hitter who didn’t swing as often we might like, but when he did swing, he missed a lot on pitches in the zone and made poor decisions on pitches out of the zone. That’s, well, not a good combination.

In fact, pitchers threw pitches in the zone just 42% of the time to De La Cruz. That’s ninth-percentile in all of baseball. According to Pitcher List metrics, he also faced a 96th-percentile low location, meaning pitchers were keeping the ball low and out of the zone almost all the time against De La Cruz which makes sense since he saw 54% offspeed/breaking balls, according to Statcast.

Now, his strike zone judgement did get better as the year went on, which we like to see.

Elly Judgement

However, that was, in part, because he became super passive. I mean, like incredibly passive at the plate.

Elly De La Cruz Passive

We covered above that pitchers were rarely throwing De La Cruz strikes, so it makes sense that he would be more patient. Yet, because his strikeout totals remained high, this seems like a drastic over-correction to the earlier problem, and he can’t provide you much fantasy value if he doesn’t want to swing. That’s also why his results were no better in the second half, even while chasing out of the zone less.

All of this suggests a hitter with impressive raw tools but no clear approach at the plate. That’s a hitter who can certainly improve and get better, but that’s also a hitter with major risk, and his ADP is just far too high to take that risk. And this was only focused on the plate discipline aspect of his concerns.

Thairo Estrada - 2B/SS, Giants (ADP: 132)

I know Estrada is on here, but he was injured and playing through injury for a good portion of last season, so I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. He still made tremendous amounts of contact in the zone, but he swung more overall, both in the zone and out, and perhaps was pressing or trying to do too much as he played through injury. I’m not going to go that deep here due to the injury piece, but I think it’s just important to acknowledge he shows up here and keep an eye on his in zone judgement in particular to see if that swinging strike rate increase from last year carries over early into 2024.

Bo Bichette - SS, Blue Jays (ADP: 35)

I know that Bichette’s fantasy value has taken a bit of a hit in recent years because of his diminishing speed, but I didn’t expect to see him on this list. Bichette posted a .306 average last year and is a career .299 hitter, so you don’t usually connect that with bad plate discipline, but Thomas’ metrics show that Bichette makes poor decisions out of the zone. Considering his walk rate fell to just 4.5% last year, perhaps there’s something to this.

Bichette still posts strong contact rates and his 10.3% SwStr% is well below league average. The down side of that might be that he makes well above-average contact outside of the zone, which is also why he swung at pitches out of the zone 41% of the time in 2023. This could simply be the case of a hitter making poor decisions because he’s talented enough to do so.

Bo Bichette judgement

Using Pitcher List’s approach metrics, we can see that pitchers attack Bichette both low and away far above league average. As a result of that, and how often Bichette swings, he posted a career low 27% pull rate in 2023 and a career-low 26.5% fly ball rate. If he’s going to keep swinging as much as he is, it would be likely that pitchers will keep attacking him as they are. Considering Bichete’s swing aggression metrics actually INCREASED as the season went on, that’s likely to be the case. If you hit .300, why would you change what you’re doing?

However, from a fantasy perspective that does worry me a little bit because it’s going to be nearly impossible for him to hit home runs regularly if he’s constantly being pitched low and away. As a result, I think that 20 HR mark from last year might be pretty sticky. That means Bichette could be a high average hitter with diminishing speed who hits 17-20 home runs. I know projections have him back up over 10 steals, but if that’s not the case then I’m not sure he’s going to return value for you at this ADP.

Nick Castellanos - OF, Phillies (ADP: 97)

Unlike some of the other names on this list, there’s no one major flaw for Castellanos. He’s just slightly below average with both his in-zone and out-of-zone decisions. Yay. In 2023, Castellanos posted his highest strikeout rate ever (if you ignore the COVID 2020 season) and posted his second-lowest walk rate ever. He also posted a career-high SwStr% and career lows in both contact rate and zone contact rate. This is not starting off well.

When you look at his rolling graphs, you see that his decisions got significantly worse as the season went on.

Casty Swing

That makes sense when you realize that Castellanos hit .301/.344/.496 in 87 games in the first half with 13 HR and a 26.1% strikeout rate but hit .235/.271/.452 in 70 second half games with 16 home runs and a 29.4% strikeout rate. Castellanos’ xSLG, hard hit rate, and average launch angle all went up in the second half of the season as he seemed to sell out for more power. However, those swing decisions are a bit concerning.

Perhaps it’s Castellanos playing to his home park or perhaps it’s a hitter who is about to be 32 years old making a conscious change to his approach to maximize power output with diminishing raw tools. Whatever the case, if this approach holds, I think it’s highly unlikely he can both hit .270 while also pushing for 30 home runs. His second half would indicate that he’s going to try to get to his power more often, so we could see 26-30 home runs again, but I would expect that to come with an average around .250.

Christian Encarnacion-Strand - 1B, Reds (ADP: 148)

We’ll end with another Reds player and another polarizing prospect for multiple reasons. Much like De La Cruz, I like Christian Encarnacion-Strand as a player, but I have worries about him for fantasy. For starters, playing time could be a major concern. The Reds signed Jeimer Candalario this offseason and manager David Bell has already said he’ll be an everyday player. He’ll play primarily 1B but can shift to 3B for games here and there if the Reds want to get other players in the lineup. When Jeimer is at 1B then the only spot for Encarnacion-Strand is DH, but the Reds will also have to get at-bats for De La Cruz, Matt McLain, Jonathan India, Noelvi Marte, Spencer Steer, and Jake Fraley. With Jeimer at first that means five spots in the lineup for those seven hitters. While injuries and poor performance could eventually make those decisions easier, I think you could see a lot of rotating days off, which makes playing time hard to feel confident with.

However, this article is about plate discipline, so let’s see if we should really be worried about CES. According to Thomas’ data, CES’ swing decisions are worse on pitches out of the zone. That’s backed up by the stats in his small 63 game sample since he chased out of the zone 38.7% of the time and swung-and-missed 14.5% of the time, which is below league average. Much like with De La Cruz, pitchers only threw pitches in the zone 44% of the time to CES, which is well below league average, and he was happy to oblige with swings early in the count, seeing a count in his favor (2-0, 2-1, 3-1, etc.) just 8% of the time.

According to Pitcher List rolling graphs, he also showed worse strike zone judgement as the year went on and was well below league average in decision value throughout his first taste of big league action. He did post elevated strikeout rates in Double-A in 2022, and there were some concerns about his swing-and-miss heading into 2023, but he made clear strides at Triple-A before falling back again in the majors. Given the talent gap between Triple-A and MLB pitching, we can understand why CES’ plate discipline might regress with the jump up; however, it’s heartening to see that he has made meaningful changes year-over-year before with clear results.

He also still posted a solid 84% zone contact last year and only slightly below-average contact rate overall, so if he showcases the same level of improvement with his plate discipline as he did entering 2023, then 2024 could see him at or above league average in terms of strike zone judgement while also possesses high-end power. Now he just needs the clear playing time.