I’m not really super enthused to write an article about a player struggling in April when, for one thing, it’s April, and another thing, the shine from Atlanta’s World Series ring is still bright enough to illuminate the even the darkest of night skies. However, we really need to talk about this since the player in particular is struggling in a mighty, mighty way. That’s Dansby Swanson, who is currently in the midst of an utterly mortifying patch of hitting as a major leaguer.
Now granted, we’ve seen this movie before with Dansby. He’ll go on a slump where he looks like he belongs anywhere but a major league lineup (much less one with World Series aspirations) but after about two or maybe even three weeks, he’ll get it together and go on a streak that reminds you why the Braves were high enough on him to put his face on every billboard, bus, and train in the Atlanta metro area that they could. That seemed to be the book on Dansby and it was something that you could live with while he was here.
It turned out that he’s started 2022 in one of those slumps, except this one appears to be different. While Swanson has had plenty of slumps in his time as a major leaguer, I’d venture to say that this is the nastiest one that he’s ever had. We all know about how he’s striking out at a 40 percent rate so far this season. Did you know that he’s currently in the first percentile in that category? He’s also in the first percentile in terms of Whiff percentage as well and it’s really not pretty to see. So far, his Whiff percentage is also in the 40 percent range, and both his strikeout rate and Whiff rate are far higher than his career numbers.
So this means that he’s just going up there and swinging at everything while hitting nothing, right? Well, that’s the thing: He’s also not swinging as much. His Swing percentage is currently at just 42 percent, which would be the lowest of his career if this lasted for the entire season. He’s also not doing too much chasing — his Chase percentage is at 22 percent, which would also be the lowest number of his career. Weirdly enough, he’s also not doing too much swinging at pitches in the zone, either. His Zone Swing percentage would rank at the second-lowest mark of his career (only behind his initial stint in Major League Baseball) and he’s only swung at 72 percent of pitches that StatCast would describe as Meatballs. His Meatball Swing percentage would be the lowest of his career by quite some margin and that brings me to the reason why I’m writing this article.
Last night against the Cubs, Dansby Swanson had what I would say is the at-bat that has summed up his first month here in 2022. Keegan Thompson was on the mound and all he did was pump three fastballs right smack-dab in the middle of the strike zone. Dansby looked at all three of them and then turned around and went back to the dugout.
Vince Lombardi, your thoughts?
Seriously, what in the world is going on here? I could understand if Thompson was just pumping in 99-100 miles-per-hour heaters in there — just like how Tyler Matzek challenged Mookie Betts in Game 6 of the 2021 NLCS (never forget). The fastballs that Thompson threw were 94-95 mph heaters. That’s still a decent amount of velocity but if it’s been thrown there and three times in a row, then surely you can at least give it a swing and even make contact. Instead, Dansby just let all three of them hit the catcher’s mitt as he took the backwards ‘K’. Granted, Keegan Thompson has some really good swing-and-miss stuff going for himself right now but his four-seamer is not his swing-and-miss pitch.
My only guess right now is that for some ABs, Dansby Swanson is going up there and looking for a specific pitch to swing at. If he doesn’t get that pitch, he’s going to spit on it and if it never comes, then oh well. I can’t say this for sure since there’s no way that I could get into the mind of a Major League hitter when I’m just some blogger nerd on the internet but that’s really my best guess in terms of Dansby’s approach right now. Otherwise, it really doesn’t make sense how he can be so selective at the plate right now and still manage to whiff on a metric ton of pitches so far this season. If anything, this is proof that he’s been selective to a fault.
This also could have something to do with Dansby Swanson tweaking his swing a bit-by-bit over recent seasons. Joe Patrick pointed it out a couple of weeks ago and I decided to take trip to the ol’ film room in order to get a year-by-year snapshot of how Dansby’s swing has evolved (or maybe devolved) into what it is today.
Here’s 2018 Dansby Swanson, which may as well be the stone age since that’s before Chipper Jones got with him in the following offseason. He finished the season with 73 wRC+.
Here’s 2019 Dansby, fresh off of getting advice from one of the greatest hitters to ever wear the “A” hat. He still wasn’t doing anything special at the plate, but progress was being made as he completed the season with a 91 wRC+. Look at that stance, though!
Here’s Dansby in 2020, which was the best 60-game stretch of his career. He’s got the stance down pat and he’s actually seeing some success with it!
Take a look at 2021 Dansby, who came back down to earth a little bit but was still a pretty average hitter at 98 wRC+. Wait a second, though: To paraphrase B Rabbit from the classic movie “8 Mile,” he’s still standing tough but notice that this man is starting to put his hands up.
Now here’s Dansby as he’s currently mired in a stretch where his wRC+ is down in the sixties.
Now let’s go through the time machine in case the stills aren’t doing it for you. Be prepared: This is some incredible .GIF content that you’re about to see. This took me a grand total of one (1) try to create!
So as you can see, Dansby Swanson went from having a stance in 2018 that wasn’t doing it for him at this level to eventually getting one that led to a career year at the plate in 2020 before straying from that stance and hitting the doldrums in the present day. Again, this could all be nothing and I’m the one chasing ghosts here but I’d imagine that this does have at least something to do with the fact that he’s having such a rough time at the plate right now.
If that’s not it then Swanson may just be up there guessing and is completely lost at the moment. That’s definitely not where you want to be as a big league hitter and there still don’t appear to be any easy answers as to how Dansby Swanson can get things going again. With that being said, he’s still valuable to put out there every day due to his defense. He’s currently rated as the overall leader in all of baseball in Outs Above Average here in the infancy of the season, so that alone is what’s keeping Dansby in the lineup without giving way to, say, Orlando Arcia. If someone’s doing that well in the field then you may as well stick him in the nine-spot and continue to hope for the best.
Still, there’s at least a glimmer of hope here. He’s picked up at least one hit in five of his last seven games and interestingly enough, he followed up that at-bat against Keegan Thompson with one of his best at-bats of the season so far. Swanson worked his way out of an 0-2 hole against Mychal Givens and managed to poke one the opposite way for a game-tying base hit. What made this interesting was that the pitch that Dansby eventually sent into right field was a fastball that was out of the zone. As we established earlier, Dansby hasn’t been chasing pitches at all (despite his struggles) so this was really shocking to see.
So when you combine this with Dansby’s tendency to eventually get the ship back on smooth waters, you have to figure that things are going to turn around for him eventually. I’m sure that he’d love for things to turn around for the sake of his wallet come this offseason, and I’m not going to put it out of the realm of possibility that he does eventually go on one of his usual tears. It’s just that maybe the peaks won’t be as high but the valleys could be lower than ever before. It’s a strange position to be in, but that’s just life on the Dansby Swanson baseball rollercoaster at this point.
*All stats posted were going into last night’s game. If they’ve changed since then due to all of this being Small Sample Size Theater, then I apologize for any inconsistencies.