With limited information it is a very human inclination to grasp at faulty conclusions; with four games of a baseball it is very human to overreact to an offense as cold as the midwestern weather.
One of the most striking developments of the Indians early struggles has been their inability to put the ball in play to the tune of a 32.6% strikeout rate, second worst in baseball. This is especially surprising considering the Indians were the best in baseball at putting the ball in play in 2018, striking out just 18.9% of the time.
The question raised after four games is whether the Indians contact woes are the sign of things to come or simply an aberration.
First, let’s look at the contact rates of those who exited.
- Michael Brantley 9.5%
- Gomes 27.4%
- Encarnacion 22.6%
- Cabrera 13%
- Gonzalez 23.8%
- Davis 22.2%
- Diaz 15.2%
- Alonso 21.4%
- Chisenhall 12.6%
Brantley, Chisenhall, Diaz and Cabrera were elite contact type but the rest of the outgoing hitters were below average; here is how they were displaced in terms of career K%:
- Ramirez 17.2%
- Perez 28.6%
- Bauers 26.2%
- Plawecki 21.9%
- Moroff 34%
Obviously, the Indians should expect an increase in strikeouts over their elite 2018 contact output but not such an overwhelming rate change. Let’s look at the early wind energy contributors:
First, a few pieces stick out as particularly unsustainable, the strikeout rates of Plawecki, Luplow, Miller, Moroff, Naquin and Stamets are all an aberration. This is particularly informative as a display of how noisy strikeout rates can get in small samples; really anything for that matter.
Further, Hanley Ramirez with his career 17.2% rate should see improvement; Leonys Martin should also see positive regression at 21% for his career. Finally Roberto Perez should also see a reduction in contact issues; though not dramatic.
Indeed, the only player significantly outperforming their contact skills is Jake Bauers; and to a lesser extent Carlos Santana.
The Indians will make less contact in 2019 than they did in 2018 but the first four games of the season have been an outlier. The Indians will make significant contact frequency gains as the season progresses and their offensive output will improve coterminously.