Amid a season in which the Padres have seen a marked increase in lineup production as a team, the team still has a ways to go as far as making contact is concerned. While it is understandable to see rookies strike out a fair amount, players such as Manny Machado need to set a better example at the plate for the aforementioned younger hitters. Let’s get into the specific data behind the Padres’ less-than-ideal tendency to whiff on the pitches they’re thrown.
Even in today’s day and age of true three outcomes hitting, making consistent contact is highly essential to every team’s success.
The Padres rank 29th among all teams in contact percentage, which has been a part of why they’ve struggled in the second half. Furthermore, San Diego has the league’s highest strikeout rate at 26.0% — For reference’s sake, the World Series contending Astros have the lowest such rate at 18.4%. The Padres must put bat-to-ball more often to give themselves a better chance of getting on base.
What has been behind the team’s issues making contact?
With only the 17th-highest swing rate, it doesn’t seem to be a problem related to the hitters being overly aggressive at the plate. More specifically, they rate around league average in terms of outside and in-zone swing rates. Thus, pitch selection by the Padres’ hitters can’t be a significant culprit for their contact issues.
The disappointing truth here is that San Diego hitters rank 27th in contact percentage on pitches thrown in the strike zone. It’s surprising that they’re struggling to hit pitches inside the zone in the context of their aforementioned swing rates. This brings up the question of why they are having trouble on pitches that should be more hittable in the strike zone?
To start, it’s important to look deeper into the specific types of pitches that the Padres have struggled with in the zone:
Rank in MLB by Number of Whiffs in Zone:
So what’s interesting here is that the Padres have hit better than any other team in baseball against offspeed pitches in the strike zone. They’re really good at hitting hanging changeups — What they need to improve upon is their number of whiffs on breaking balls thrown in the zone. Further adding to the team’s problems with breaking balls is the fact that they are tied with the White Sox for having the highest percentage of whiffs on breaking balls.
Those struggles against breaking balls speak to a larger issue the team has had against breaking balls this season. Considering the team’s youth once again, it’s not surprising to see this happening. Yet as San Diego looks towards the 2020 season, these are things that will have to be fixed if the Padres are to contend at that point in time.
To be clear though, this is an issue that is just as relevant to the veteran players on the roster as the rookies. Manny Machado is striking out in 20.0% of his plate appearances, which is far higher than his career 16.8% rate. The same can be said of Eric Hosmer, who has a 20.8% strikeout rate despite a career average of 17.2%. Even the current best player on the team in Fernando Tatis Jr. has shown that his nearly 30% strikeout rate may be his most significant weakness. Further exacerbating the strikeout issues are two primary catchers in Hedges and Mejía, whose combined strikeout rate is 27.7%. Whiffing on pitches is a problem for nearly every hitter in the San Diego lineup.
This tweet from the East Village Times Facts account speaks to the team’s issues with the strikeout as a whole:
All but two hitters on the #Padres roster are striking out in one of every five plate appearances ( Margot & Kinsler). All other position players for San Diego have strikeout rates of 20% or higher. @EVT_News
— East Village Times Facts (@EVTfacts) August 10, 2019
As the Padres look to become a team that has success in the same way the Astros have in the last three years, it’ll be essential for them to cut down on the number of strikeouts they’ve had this season. Championship caliber teams such as the Dodgers and Astros both rank as the fifth-lowest in the league by strikeout rate. That’s no coincidence, as we can tell by both teams’ recent success in the regular season and the playoffs. For all the talk of three true outcomes, the teams that have won championships in recent years have struck out less than almost every other team in the league. That tells us a lot about what hitters on great teams do. It also helps the Padres get an idea of what they should be working towards in terms of cutting down on strikeouts.