The dust from the winter meetings is settling, and GMs across the league are giving us a better picture of what their Spring Training rosters might look like. Everyone is off trying to find the 2014 version of Chris Davis or Jean Segura, but I’d like to suggest we take a break from that for a moment. Instead, let’s focus on something more sinister (MUHAHAHA!): who will be the biggest bust of 2014?
In a Fangraphs article last year, Bill Petti laid out a novel framework for predicting player collapses based on a few metrics. I won’t repeat his research here, but I encourage you to check out that article. I’ve decided to focus on one indicator he targets: Z-Contact%. This is the percentage of pitches in the strike zone that a hitter makes contact on when swinging. A decline here could indicate that a hitter is losing bat speed, which could cause a drop in AVG among other things.
Large Z-Contact% decliners 2012-2013:
Anyone that owned Upton last year knows he had some issues, and I’m here to pile on. His Z-Contact% dropped from 85.6% in 2012 to 77.3% in 2013 - far and away the greatest drop among qualified hitters.
The power is seductive, yes, but he had serious difficulty making contact on pitches in the zone, dropping from 84.7% in 2013 to 79.1% in 2013. This combined with a heavily inflated BABIP (.322 last year vs. .297 career) should make you wary.
Although his time as a starter in the Bronx is probably over, some of you might still be thinking about a late round flier. Don't. Suzuki's Z-Contact% dropped from 94.6% in 2012 to 90.3% 2013. This is something to be concerned about, as contact is really the only thing Ichiro has going for him at this point.