Colorado Rockies Can Learn From Daniel Descalso
By Nolan Lees
Even if you’re a hardcore Colorado Rockies fan, chances are you haven’t paid much attention to the season Daniel Descalso is having. But the utility infielder (and occasional outfielder) has changed his approach in 2016, and has seen some dramatic results.
Question: What do the Braves, the Phillies and the Royals have in common?
If you answered “They’re the three leaders in pitches chased out of the zone!”, you would be right.
And if you answered “They’re three of the four lowest scoring teams in baseball!”, you would also be right.
That leads us back to Colorado. The Rockies as a team have swung at 30.5 percent of the pitches they’ve seen outside of the strike zone this year, which is above league average. In a lineup full of aggressive hitters, Descalso has been the exception; no Colorado position player has swung at a lower percentage of balls (20.9 percent) or a lower percentage of pitches total (39.3 percent).
It’s a relatively new phenomenon for Descalso, who had been a fairly free swinger since breaking into the big leagues with the Cardinals back in 2010. Descalso’s new approach has coincided with what has easily been the best offensive season of his career.
Descalso has a slash line of .319/.414/.447 in 2016, a massive improvement over his career slash line of .243/.316/.346.
To put this another way: For the first six years of his career, Descalso was roughly the offensive equivalent of Tony Wolters. This season, he’s roughly the offensive equivalent of DJ LeMahieu.
It would be irresponsible to suggest that taking lots of pitches, in of itself, is the path to success for all hitters. After all, Carlos Gonzalez swings at more pitches than any other Rockies hitter, and no one is going to tell him to change what he’s doing.
There is, however, a correlation between patience at the plate and offensive success. There are a number of reasons for this, but the simplest explanation is that a walk is the only offensive result (outside of a home run) that cannot be stopped by defenders on the other team.
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Again, that’s not to say a player can’t succeed by swinging more often than most, but that player will have to make contact more often than most as well. If you’re as naturally gifted as Gonzalez, that’s not a problem. Not many people have those kinds of gifts though, which is why Descalso and other hitters struggling to make an impact need to work the count in their favor.
There’s no guarantee that Descalso has permanently transformed himself into a perennial .300-plus hitter. The sample size is small, and teams will (rightfully) be skeptical of one breakout season after six years of mediocrity.
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But even if this isn’t the beginning of some amazing second act to his career, Descalso has almost certainly earned himself a nice raise for next season. That alone seemed far-fetched after a rough first year with Colorado in 2015. Patience alone doesn’t make success inevitable, but it can make it a bit more obtainable.