Hank Conger – 2016 Player Card
As we count down the days until the blessed return of baseball we’ll be bringing snapshots from a variety of angles for each of the significant players on this year’s upcoming Rays team. The format will be similar for each player and then we want to take a look at an individual thing for each guy towards the end of each card. Think of these as a quick cheat sheet on what a player looks like. You can use the Corey Dickerson card as a walkthrough, of sorts. Now at the plate – Hank Conger
The largest standout for Hank Conger is that he loves to swing. He doesn’t really care if it’s in the zone or not, and when it’s not he isn’t really capable of being an offensive contributor. However, when he does manage to swing at strikes he looks like a guy that can hit enough to be of some help on a mostly everyday basis. One key for him in this upcoming season will be to hit the fastball. To wit:
If you’re picking up the fastball you have a pretty good idea of whether or not it will be in the zone. Where it starts isn’t usually a whole lot different from where it ends up. The nice thing is that Conger is an average or better hitter against the fastball, but it actually looms even larger because of how very bad he is against secondary stuff. He’s a guy that will need to get himself in fastball counts if he’s going to have any success. We can take a look at what he’s done so far:
I have defined ahead as 2-0, 3-0 and 3-1. Behind pitches are those that came in 0-1, 0-2 and 1-2 counts. When he manages to get ahead he has seen predominantly fastballs and has hit them very well. I don’t put much stock in the success on those breaking balls since it’s such a small sample, and you shouldn’t either. Once he gets behind in the count pitchers can rely on secondary pitches and I’m guessing they’re being rewarded with a ton of chases. We can look into that, as well:
Starting at the top with pitch usage by count we can see that, indeed, he is getting a ton of fastballs when ahead and a ton of guesses when he’s behind. We also see how the the neutral counts slow mesh from group to group. Something we see confirmed that you would intuit is that 1-0 isn’t necessarily a fastball count. Pitchers don’t consider themselves behind there, which makes it harder for a batter to sit on that fastball, particularly so if he is keyholing a zone looking to flex some power.
In the second section you see his swing rate in each count. While he does get more aggressive on the fastball in 2-0 and 3-1 counts he hardly ever swings 3-0. Yes, that isn’t really his decision, but I think I’d like to see more swings out of him on 3-0 if he gets a fastball in a spot he likes. Maybe not the full green light, but a sharp amber. The breaking ball becomes a real weapon when he is behind, and you can see the change up vexes him regardless of count.
Comparing his zone%, in the third section, with his swing rates shows us that when he is ahead he is expanding his zone a bit in order to swing at the fastball so maybe this is an area where he is virtually capped out. He could probably do better protecting the plate against the 3-1 breaking ball where it looks like pitchers are just harvesting strikes, but that gets him away from hitting the fastball.
The last table shows park-adjusted run values per 100 pitches. Most of that table features samples that are probably smaller than you would like so take them with a grain of salt.
I walk away from this seeing a guy that swings a ton. Much more than he’s seeing hittable pitches. While there are some pros to this approach, namely that he gets to hit some fastballs, it’s causing him to get buried in the count very often. If Conger can figure out how to stay within the zone AND keep from falling behind in the count then I think there is a nice hitter to be unlocked here. However, that is an extremely tall order to do both, and it’s why some guys are great hitters and why others aren’t. As a bottom of the order hitter I think I’d prefer him to just keep swinging at fastballs and hope he connects with enough of them. I think putting a credible base-stealing threat in front of him might help him get some more of those fastballs, but there’s downside there, as well. I’m happy to have him, but trying to keep expectations tempered.