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Fantasy Baseball 2024 early plate discipline improvements

There's a lot of noise in early season stats for fantasy baseball and it's certainly too soon to start overreacting to great or poor starts. However, recent data has suggested that we start to see plate discipline metrics like strikeout rate (K%) and walk rate (BB%) stabilize between 50-60 plate appearances, which most starters will reach this week. As a result, it makes sense to keep an eye on players who are showing real growth in those areas.

Before the season started, I looked at some of the hitters with the best plate discipline and also covered some with the worst; however, this article is going to be filled with just positive vibes. I created a top 20 leaderboard for the hitters who have improved their K% and BB% the most compared to the 2023 season. I've posted those leaderboards in full below and will also provide a brief analysis of some of the hitters who stand out to me.

All stats are updated as of Wednesday, April 10th

Strikeout Rate Improvers

Name

Team

PA

2024 K%

2023 K%

K% Change

Evan Carter

TEX

43

0.116279

0.32

-20.3721

Christopher Morel

CHC

46

0.108696

0.310023

-20.1327

Corbin Carroll

ARI

52

0.057692

0.193798

-13.6106

Alex Verdugo

NYY

48

0.041667

0.154485

-11.2818

Gabriel Moreno

ARI

42

0.095238

0.197368

-10.213

Jeremy Peña

HOU

47

0.106383

0.20347

-9.7087

Francisco Lindor

NYM

53

0.113208

0.199418

-8.621

Fernando Tatis Jr.

SDP

58

0.137931

0.222047

-8.4116

Aaron Judge

NYY

55

0.2

0.283843

-8.3843

Riley Greene

DET

47

0.191489

0.274038

-8.2549

Jonathan India

CIN

47

0.12766

0.206049

-7.8389

Ke'Bryan Hayes

PIT

57

0.122807

0.198095

-7.5288

Ozzie Albies

ATL

46

0.086957

0.162121

-7.5164

George Springer

TOR

55

0.109091

0.183016

-7.3925

Corey Seager

TEX

43

0.093023

0.164179

-7.1156

Marcus Semien

TEX

52

0.076923

0.146082

-6.9159

Jazz Chisholm Jr.

MIA

46

0.23913

0.308094

-6.8964

Tyler O'Neill

BOS

41

0.195122

0.25188

-5.6758

Adley Rutschman

BAL

44

0.090909

0.147016

-5.6107

Yordan Alvarez

HOU

54

0.12963

0.185484

-5.5854

Evan Carter - OF, TEX

Weirdly, Carter has become a bit of an afterthought because his teammate, Wyatt Langford, was the talk of baseball for most of spring training. Yet, the 21-year-old Carter continues to play every day for the Rangers and has shown impressive plate discipline gains in his first full season of MLB action. Any time you have a hitter who's walking more than he's striking out, it should pique your interest, but when that comes from a 21-year-old who is still learning how to handle this level of competition, it's even more impressive.

Yes, the surface-level stats are not there yet and Carter is not hitting the ball as hard as he did when he debuted in 2023, but I think those issues will rectify themselves in a matter of time. I see a young hitter who's making good swing decisions and consistent contact with a minuscule 6.5% swinging strike rate (SwStr%). He's consistently putting himself in the position to have success. That success will come.

Christopher Morel - 3B/OF, CHC

On some level, this is who Morel is: he's a streaky hitter who goes on some scorching hot streaks and also suffers through cold spells due to his free-swinging ways. That creates this voice in the back of my head that says, "This is just 50 plate appearances. They just happen to be at the beginning of the season, so don't overreact." However, we also really can't ignore the improved plate discipline that Morel is showing, and he's just 25 years old, so this could certainly be a young player who is learning and adjusting.

Morel is chasing out of the zone less and being more aggressive in the zone. He's seen his zone contact rate shoot up and his SwStr% plummet. He isn't seeing an uptick in barrel rate, pull rate, or HR/FB rate, but his improved plate discipline is allowing those batted-ball skills to show up even more regularly.

Jeremy Pena - SS, HOU

People were souring a bit on Pena coming into the year after he didn't take the step forward in 2023 that people were expecting. While he spent a lot of time working on a new swing in the offseason, it seems like his plate discipline may be the change we need to consider. However, I'm not entirely sold the change is a good thing. Pena is being more aggressive, but doing so both in and out of the strike zone. His chase rate (or O-Swing%) is up over 10% and while he's making more contact on pitches outside of the zone, we usually don't like guys swinging outside of the zone nearly 50% of the time. Yet, he's also posting a 97% zone contact rate and his SwStr% is down, so it's also possible that Pena's new swing is allowing him to make more consistent contact on pitches he would have normally swung through. How pitchers adjust to his more aggressive approach will determine how beneficial these changes are.

Riley Greene - OF, DET

There was much talk in the preseason that Riley Greene was a slap hitter, but he has three home runs through his first 11 games. He also has seen a major jump in his BB% and a decrease in his K%. His barrel rate is also up significantly, as are his launch angle and fly ball rate. While those stats are not stabilizing right now, it feels like the low batting average is the result of a .185 BABIP and not due to poor batted ball quality. Greene is chasing less out of the zone and being more selective in the zone. That has led to him making more contact overall and more meaningful contact, so I'd be looking to buy in if somebody is looking at his batting average and getting concerned.

Jonathan India - 2B, CIN

Coming into the 2024 season we thought that Jonathan India would be traded or be the odd man out in Cincinnati's crowded infield. Then Noelvi Marte was suspended for 80 games and Matt McLain suffered a potentially season-ending injury. Now, Jonathan India is not only hitting lead-off but is making the best swing decisions of his career. As we mentioned above with Evan Carter, a player posting a higher BB% than K% is always something that catches our attention. He's swinging out of the zone less but making far more contact outside of the zone, so he's being more selective in what he chases. He's also swinging in the zone less often but has seen his zone contact jump and his SwStr% fall to just 3.1%.

That could be because he's using the whole field more, with the lowest pull rate he's ever had. That has also led to fewer barrels and a career-low flyball rate. If this continues, we could see India put up a solid batting average and contribute meaningfully in runs and steals at the top of the Reds lineup, but we may not see him reach the 17 home runs he had in 2023. To me, that's still a solid trade-off.

George Springer - OF, TOR

It's not just the young players who make swing changes. As hitters age, they can adapt their approach to get the most out of their skill sets. Through 60 plate appearances, Springer is now posting the highest BB% of his career and the lowest K%. His chase rate is also at a career-low so, combined with his typically consistent zone contact, he's currently posting the highest contact rate of his career. Considering he's also showing no meaningful changes in his pull rate, fly ball rate, or barrel rate, I don't see any reason why he's going to keep hitting as poorly as he has to start the year. This looks like a screaming "buy" opportunity for me.

Walk Rate Improvers

Name

Team

PA

2024 BB%

2023 BB%

BB% Change

Jazz Chisholm Jr.

MIA

46

0.173913

0.067885

10.6028

Mookie Betts

LAD

66

0.242424

0.138528

10.3896

Nico Hoerner

CHC

47

0.170213

0.071221

9.8992

Jose Siri

TBR

47

0.148936

0.054945

9.3991

Riley Greene

DET

47

0.170213

0.084135

8.6078

Bryson Stott

PHI

41

0.146341

0.060938

8.5403

Justin Turner

TOR

43

0.162791

0.08147

8.1321

Jonathan India

CIN

47

0.170213

0.098299

7.1914

Ke'Bryan Hayes

PIT

57

0.122807

0.053333

6.9474

Chas McCormick

HOU

45

0.155556

0.087527

6.8029

Gabriel Moreno

ARI

42

0.142857

0.076316

6.6541

Corbin Carroll

ARI

52

0.153846

0.088372

6.5474

Tyler O'Neill

BOS

41

0.170732

0.105263

6.5469

Marcus Semien

TEX

52

0.153846

0.095618

5.8228

George Springer

TOR

55

0.145455

0.087848

5.7607

Luis Arraez

MIA

54

0.111111

0.056726

5.4385

Alex Verdugo

NYY

48

0.125

0.074751

5.0249

Evan Carter

TEX

43

0.209302

0.16

4.9302

Henry Davis

PIT

41

0.146341

0.098039

4.8302

Cody Bellinger

CHC

51

0.117647

0.071942

4.5705

First, just a quick shoutout to the hitters who currently are in the top 20 in BOTH strikeout rate gains and walk rate gains: Jonathan India, Ke'Bryan Hayes, Tyler O'Neill, George Springer, Evan Carter, Alex Verdugo, and Marcus Semien.

Jazz Chisholm Jr. - OF, MIA

The issue for Jazz Chisholm has never been talent but simply health. However, we're not complaining that he seems to be putting himself in better positions for his talent to shine through. His walk rate has jumped a ridiculous amount and he's making almost 13% more contact while rocking a minuscule 9% SwStr%. He's also clearly trying to do as much damage with this new approach, pulling the ball a ridiculous 70% of the time with a 17% barrel rate. Now, I think 70% is probably a touch too high, and he does have a 50% groundball rate, which could be contributing to his poor batting average, but the fact that Jazz is making more contact and being more selective at the plate is great to see. If he tweaks the pull-centric approach just a touch, I think he could be in for a huge season (barring health issues).

Jose Siri - OF, TB

I've talked about Jose Siri a lot in my Sunday waiver column because he claims he wants to steal 30 bases this season and is already up to six. What's helpful when you want to steal more bases is to get on base more and that's exactly what Siri is doing with this new approach. Yes he's still striking out a lot and that's never going to go away, but he's also chasing out of the zone less so he's not getting himself out as much. It's entirely possible that pitchers will adjust and stop trying to get Siri to chase but challenge him in the strike zone more since he still has an 18% SwStr%. However, it's clear that Siri is trying to clean up his approach to get on base more so that he can run more. As fantasy managers, we like to see that.

Ke’Bryan Hayes - 3B, PIT

Yes, the power hasn't been there yet for Hayes, who has not hit a home run yet this season, but I still believe there are things to like about his approach so far this season. His walk rate is the highest it's ever been while his strikeout rate is the lowest. He's chasing out of the zone less, but he's also swinging less at pitches in the zone. Since his zone contact is improving and his SwStr% is also declining, it's safe to say that Hayes is being more selective and looking for pitches he can make meaningful contact on. He's also sporting the highest pull rate of his career, so I believe he's trying to do damage on these pitches, but his groundball rate is too high right now. That has led to a strong batting average, but no power. I expect the power to come as well if he keeps this approach.

Tyler O’Neill - OF, BOS

Never underestimate a player in a contract year. Also never underestimate a player who is freed some a bad situation and out to prove something. Tyler O'Neill fits both those situations after being traded to Boston from St. Louis following a public spat with his manager last year. So far, that combination of motivation has allowed O'Neill to be one of the best fantasy hitters through the first two weeks of the season. While his strikeout rate hasn't changed much, his SwStr% has been cut in half to less than 7%. Much of that is him being less aggressive in the zone. His zone swing rate is just 51% this year after being over 70% in every single season in his career. However, he's sporting a 24% barrel rate and a career-high 60% flyball rate. This is a guy who is hunting his pitch and doing damage when he gets it. Clearly, that's an approach that's working for him.