Paulo Orlando was sent to Class AAA Omaha on Friday, a move that appears necessary given recent troubling changes to the outfielder’s hitting profile.
You’ll hear a lot of talk this time of year about small sample size, and for good reason. We’re only about 10 percent into the season, meaning many stats still need more time to be considered reliable.
Having said that, one of the quickest stats to stabilize for hitters is contact rate, as each plate appearance can provide multiple data points on whether a player is swinging and missing or not.
For Orlando, these numbers have cratered so far in 2017.
The most stark change has been Orlando’s inability to hit (or even foul off) pitches outside the strike zone. It’s led to an unmanageable offensive profile.
Swinging strike rate measures swings and misses per pitch seen. Since 2002 (when the data started being measured), here are the worst swinging strike rates among 2,449 qualified players.
The sample is tiny in 2017, so it makes sense that a lot of this year’s players on the list. Still, Orlando ranking second is obviously not a good sign, especially considering his overall offensive profile.
Some other guys above have made a swing-and-miss style work for them. The best example is 2012 Josh Hamilton, who hit 41 percent better than league average according to weighted runs created plus (a stat where 100 is average) because of his immense power.
Orlando, obviously, is not this type of player. He’s the only person on this list (besides Byron Buxton, who also is having stories written about whether he will be demoted) with a slugging percentage below .300, perhaps illustrating that low contact and low power players don’t often stick in the majors for long.
It’s not too late for Orlando. There’s still time to improve these numbers in Omaha and get back to the type of production he had last year.
We shouldn’t be surprised, though, that he was sent down Friday. MLB players with low contact rates can survive if they have power, while high contact guys can do OK without pop.
Succeeding without both, however, has proven to be a rare formula for success.