2016 Hitter Review: Logan Forsythe
Continuing in our review of last year’s hitter performance I wanted to take a few moments to analyze how Logan Forsythe batted. Narratively, he came out like a house on fire, but the league tired of his well above average performance so a vigilante hit him in the back with a pitch. The ensuing broken bone in Forsythe’s shoulder effectively derailed his season as he would mix roughly six weeks. It took him some time to get going, but he had a nice peak before finishing the season a little light. Let’s see how he compared to the 482 batters that received at least 60 plate appearances:
Despite the time missed to injury he still ended up in the top quarter of players for plate appearances, though games played is a little lower. You can infer that difference means that he’s pretty much an everyday guy that is never pinch hit for. This is important, because he is one of the few positions that the Rays did not need to field a platoon. He demonstrated little preference for the types of base hits, though his above average home runs as a percent of hits and below average doubles rate give me the impression that 2017 will bring fewer of the former and more of the latter.
Walking at a roughly league average rate is fine, but it did come with a below average strikeout rate. I want to come back to this in the plate discipline section so hold that thought. Logan contributes in all three portions of the slash line as he put up an above the norm batting average, a little better on-base percentage and an even better slugging percentage relative to the rest of the league. None of this should imply that he is a great hitter, but he is a solidly good batter that can rack up hits, take his walks and provide enough power to be an ideal fulcrum at the top of the lineup.
Getting to his batted ball profile it is easy to adore his line drive approach. In 2016 he compared very favorably to his peers for liners, while being below average putting the ball on the ground. Each of his fly ball rates were essentially average, and his homers per flyball was in the good range, though not so high that he becomes an obvious negative regression candidate. Add all of this up and you can see the well above average rankings for his wOBA, which takes another step forward once factoring the park and the league via wRC+.
Getting to the aforementioned plate discipline you can immediately see that he’s got a type. His obscenely low swing rate grades him as one of the best at staying off pitches out of the zone, but this also has the effect that he also has one of the lowest swing rates within the zone. This is a hyper-passive approach, and it shows up when you see the below average strikeout rate paired with a quite good swinging strike rate. The only way to balance these books is to come to the realization that he must be taking a relative ton of called strikes to end the at bat. Pitchers recognize this by rewarding Forsythe with one of the highest zone percentages in the game. Though interestingly enough the first strike percentage is lower. I’d infer that Logan puts enough fear into the hearts of pitchers that he will ambush their lame first pitch fastball. I was a bit surprised that his zone contact rate was a good bit below average despite the passive, liner approach. Something to monitor.
Rounding this out we see him as a very poor base stealer, but a borderline elite baserunner once under way. However, he will hurt the team with the ground ball double play more than most. Moving along you can see an opposite field approach, but that comes without a huge tradeoff on pulled balls in play. This looks like another area where he is able to keep pitchers honest enough so that they cannot exploit a weakness. Lastly, he avoids soft contact at an elite rate, while hitting the ball hard at a good to great level.
Forsythe is an extremely balanced hitter that can contribute in a variety of ways at the plate and on the bases. I feel he is the ideal two-hole hitter that can keep a defense honest, move guys around, drive them in, and get himself on to keep the chain moving. Let’s move along now to how he handles each type of pitcher starting with lefties:
The first thing that jumps out to me is how much of a pull-hitter he becomes against southpaws. Nearly all of his hits are left of second base, but you can see a couple of just-enough dingers and a triple into the corner. Against lefties you see his rate of grounders sit still, but he turns a ton of fly balls into harder line drives. This is an approach with some sustainability. You can see in the heatmap that he destroys most stuff inner-third or down with his only real weakness coming on pitches up/middle or up/away.
Sticking with lefties you can see that his swing rate shows strong awareness of the edges of the rulebook strike zone, but there is a spot a little in and another down where he will get a little over aggressive. Those shouldn’t be all that concerning as they’re small, and detract from the high swing rates in the bottom-third and over the plate where his line drive approach should play up pretty well.
His misses only really comes on those low/away pitches though he does have a hot spot up, as well. The rest of the zone shows pretty good coverage. I’d imagine the reason for the slightly elevated miss rate on the outer edge pitches is due to breaking balls that start on the plate and move off. I’m fine with that. I want this guy to be up there swinging hard even if that means he’ll look silly on a good breaking ball from time to time. There is a reason you get three strikes.
Looking at his ISO is where you can really get a feel for where he can drive the ball. We see similar hot spots to his wOBA map above so you can get a good sense that he’s doing quite a bit of damage on these pitch locations. Lefties have to find it pretty tough to pitch to Forsythe as he combines a patient approach with the ability to deal real damage when pitchers do catch too much of the zone. They want to get ahead, but they cannot come into the zone without getting hurt. This quandary is why so many folks aren’t able to cut it as a pitcher. Let’s move on to righties:
Here you can see that he’s still really good on the down/in pitch, and adds a little more to his arsenal up in the zone. Additionally, he is really good on the pitches off the plate away showing great discretion on these pitches that entice most batters to chase. Also, you can see just how much more willing he is to spread the ball around the field against same-handers. I get the impression that he has more of a “take what you can get” approach and just try to get yourself on. The really interesting thing is to see so many doubles to the oppo track, and the ability to drive the ball out of the yard to both alleys. It takes a lot of power for a righty to take another out to that right field porch, but Logan does a good job of that. It would seem that he doesn’t make it any easier on the righty despite his reputation as a lefty-masher.
Against righties you see a preference to swing in the down/in quadrant, all things considered. He doesn’t swing much on the up/away pitch that doesn’t really seem geared for his approach. He does have a tendency to miss up there, everywhere upstairs, really, and you do see more of an inclination to chase those pitches breaking away from him off the plate. His power shows up all over the upper-half of the zone with some other hot spots throughout the inner-third. He struggles to hit the low/away pitch with much authority, but most do. Forsythe maintains the ability to do damage against righties, but to maximize his ability he needs to stay within the zone. Something he doesn’t do as well of against same-handers.
As you know I like to look at how a player’s approach and results shifted as the season went on. Note that Forsythe’s shoulder injury came right around the 500 pitch mark, so early on will contain some of that, and then more of it as you move to the right. It looks like pitchers tried to attack him more within the zone early on as he was showing a passive approach, and putting up results that weren’t striking fear into pitchers’ hearts. That started to change once he came back from the injury as they left the zone abruptly. While he was able to mirror their new approach by swinging even less often he still saw his results start to fall off again at the end of the season.
Switching over to just his swings you can see the fairly low swing strike rate at the bottom that really didn’t show much spike in either direction after some initial monkeying around. He did a better job of swinging at strikes early in the season, but it is interesting that during the later part when we saw both the swing and zone rates drop that he didn’t see an increase in his rate of swings within the zone. I’m left to surmise that he was a little off balance towards the end of the year or between offerings. The in play rate also showed steady fall off throughout the season reaching its lowest point towards the very end. The results started off at an incredible rate, but he never got quite back to those heights. You can see the adjustment period around the injury before getting comfortable again and then the end of season collapse.
Once we switch focus to all contact, or pitches put in play, you can see how small the samples start to get. That means that each event can alter the direction of the line in ways that tend to get smoothed out over larger samples. Still, you get the same sense as the chart above that he started off very well, got derailed by the injury, then took a bit of time to get his timing back following the stint on the disabled list. Again, we can see the poor way that he ended the season. I’d expect more of the good stuff in 2017 with less of the bad assuming health. That leaves the Rays with another potent bat in their lineup, especially against lefties, that can hold his own against righties. Even there, if he can keep his swinging zone tight then there is a good chance that he could also be an above average hitter against them. Quite the weapon the Rays have for the next two years.