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What to make of Miguel Andujar’s plate discipline

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The Yankees’ rookie third baseman has been remarkably aggressive at the plate. Can he be expected to develop better plate discipline?

Oakland Athletics v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Announcers for professional sports teams have tricky jobs. They have to summarize the action in an enthusiastic manner, but there is pressure to come off as impartial. For the most part, the Yankees’ radio duo, John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman, don’t feel this pressure. Love them or hate them, the two generally are unabashed when it comes to their desire to see the home team win.

Listening to the Yankees’ radio broadcast the other day, as the team took on the Rangers, Sterling began to discuss Miguel Andujar. “Could he stand to take more walks? Sure”, Sterling said of the young third baseman. But Sterling intimated that surely, more walks would come with time, as Andujar aged and grew as a player.

That got me wondering. Was this a case of an optimistic announcer, just hoping for the best for the players he covers? Or was there truth to what Sterling said? Maybe Andujar, who has been extremely aggressive, perhaps impatient, at the plate as rookie, was destined to develop plate discipline in the future.

Andujar really has flashed a particular dearth of plate discipline so far. He has walked just three times all year, good for a walk rate of 1.9%. He has swung at over 54% of pitches he has seen, according to FanGraphs, and nearly 40% of the pitches he has seen out of the zone, both way above the league average. When Andujar is at the plate, he is there to get his hacks in.

To see how likely Andujar is to add walks, and to what extent he could add patience to his repertoire, I looked for rookies similar to the 23-year-old Andujar. Using FanGraphs leaderboads, I pulled players since 2002 (as that is the first year for which there is detailed plate discipline data) that had their rookie season between the ages of 22 and 24, walked at most 3% of the time, and swung at over half of the pitches they saw.

That gave me this group of rookie seasons:

Miguel Andujar Comps

Season Player BB% Swing%
Season Player BB% Swing%
2011 Josh Harrison 1.50% 51.1%
2002 Felix Escalona 1.80% 55.6%
2015 Hernan Perez 1.80% 57.6%
2012 Hector Sanchez 2.20% 57.0%
2006 Shane Costa 2.40% 54.0%
2016 Jose Peraza 2.70% 51.1%
2014 Jonathan Schoop 2.70% 53.6%
2002 Brent Butler 2.70% 54.9%
2005 Robinson Cano 2.90% 50.9%
2016 Tim Anderson 3.00% 50.4%
2011 Dee Gordon 3.00% 50.9%
2006 Ronny Cedeno 3.00% 54.6%

So we have a dozen players that were nearly the same age as Andujar when they were rookies and showed similar levels of impatience. Now, to determine whether these players shook off their early lack of plate discipline, I simply calculated their walk rates in the five years after their rookie season. I chose that five-year period selfishly, as the next five years are those for which the Yankees have control over Andujar’s contract status.

Here are the results:

Andujar Comps Five-Year BB%

Player Rookie BB% 5-Year BB%
Player Rookie BB% 5-Year BB%
Josh Harrison 1.50% 3.80%
Felix Escalona 1.80% 5.50%
Hernan Perez 1.80% 4.10%
Hector Sanchez 2.20% 4.50%
Shane Costa 2.40% 4.60%
Jose Peraza 2.70% 3.70%
Jonathan Schoop 2.70% 3.90%
Brent Butler 2.70% 7.10%
Robinson Cano 2.90% 5.30%
Tim Anderson 3.00% 3.60%
Dee Gordon 3.00% 5.00%
Ronny Cedeno 3.00% 5.60%

Good news! Every rookie similar to Andujar that debuted with minuscule walk rates rebounded to post higher walk rates going forward.

To provide more context, I also gathered each player’s swing rates and out-of-zone swing rates for the next five years:

Andujar Comps Five-Year Swing Rates

Season Player O-Swing% 5-Year O-Swing% Swing% 5-Year Swing%
Season Player O-Swing% 5-Year O-Swing% Swing% 5-Year Swing%
2011 Josh Harrison 34.5% 38.0% 51.1% 53.2%
2002 Felix Escalona 33.1% 26.4% 55.6% 50.3%
2015 Hernan Perez 41.7% 40.8% 57.6% 52.4%
2012 Hector Sanchez 42.6% 41.5% 57.0% 57.2%
2006 Shane Costa 36.0% 32.7% 54.0% 47.8%
2016 Jose Peraza 36.7% 36.3% 51.1% 51.3%
2014 Jonathan Schoop 40.2% 40.6% 53.6% 56.9%
2002 Brent Butler 24.1% 20.0% 54.9% 49.8%
2005 Robinson Cano 25.7% 32.6% 50.9% 52.2%
2016 Tim Anderson 36.4% 41.4% 50.4% 54.4%
2011 Dee Gordon 39.5% 34.6% 50.9% 47.1%
2006 Ronny Cedeno 36.3% 34.3% 54.6% 50.4%

The conclusion isn’t as clear cut here, as a few players actually seemed to swing more aggressively as time wore on. Still, on the whole, players similar to Andujar seemed to develop more patient approaches at the plate as the aged.

What should be noted, however, is the limited gains these players seemed to make. Each only was able to add a few percentage points to their walk rates in the five years after their rookie seasons, and none really approached even league average. Yankee fans will remember Robinson Cano eventually posting strong walk totals as he developed into an MVP-caliber player, but that took nearly a decade.

What we can take from this, I think, is that Sterling wasn’t off on a limb, and that more walks actually should come in time for Andujar. It just looks likely that there is a low ceiling on what Andujar’s plate discipline might one day develop into, based on how low of a point he is starting at. Andujar ran walk rates in the four-or-five percent range in the minors last year, and that seems like a reasonable goal to reach for in the coming years.

That being said, even though Andujar’s plate discipline may be wanting, and may not ever develop into something great, when he does make contact, he at least makes the most of it. The average air ball has left Andujar’s bat at 95 mph, one of the better marks in the game, and suggests he has a higher offensive ceiling than all of his non-Cano comparables.

For now, Andujar is a flawed but quite promising hitter, and one who should develop into a more well-rounded player as he progresses through his career. As long as Andujar keeps scalding the ball, he’ll have a place in the majors, and if he develops plate discipline, as he should, there’s room for much more.