Last season, during a rough stretch for my fantasy baseball team, I received a message from an opponent offering a trade. My rival proposed to swap David Fletcher for a rising star in Chris Paddack. In terms of potential, the offer seemed asinine, especially at the time. Paddack was supposed to be the ace of the future, while Fletcher… well, honestly, I had no idea who he was.
I declined the trade and, to my surprise, weeks later, lived to regret it. It being his rookie season, Paddack was on an innings limit and would go on to finish the season with just 363 points whereas Fletcher would surprise the league with an impressive 406 spot.
From that moment on, I’ve had my eyes on him.
Even his current manager Joe Maddon was surprised when he first saw David Fletcher in a mid-season game in 2019 when Maddon was the Cubs manager. After stretching out a double, Maddon told reporters in a postgame interview, “it was love at first double.”
Fletcher is one of those scrappy players that makes you feel things. Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is, but you just know he’s bound for greatness on some level. So, I decided to take a deep-dive into the numbers to try to quantify that “it” factor that Fletcher seems to have.
A Defensive Jack of All Trades
One of the more appealing aspects of David Fletcher’s game is his ability to man multiple positions at Gold Glove levels. As it currently stands, in Fletcher’s brief career, he has played five defensive positions — 2B, 3B, SS, LF, and RF — and hasn’t disappointed in any one of them. As an example, below is a box plot displaying his starting position around the field in 2019 alone.
When looking at defensive runs saved (DRS) and UZR/150, Fletcher has yet to post a negative at any position.
- 2B – 14 DRS | 11.2 UZR/150
- 3B – 11 DRS | 11.9 UZR/150
- SS – 3 DRS | 5.8 UZR/150
- OF – 2 DRS | 9.9 UZR/150
This level of versatility on the field offers the Angels plenty of options. For example, when the team’s third baseman Anthony Rendon was dealing with an oblique issue earlier this season, the Halos slotted Fletcher in at third without having to worry about his ability at the hot corner.
With Rendon back now, Fletcher has been shifted around the field like that Bugs Bunny cartoon. So far this season, aside from third base, he’s also seen time at shortstop and in the outfield.
Elite Plate Discipline
Now, in an era in which experts and analysts reiterate ad nauseam that strikeouts don’t matter and that the home run is king, David Fletcher has made himself stand out by doing the exact opposite. In fact, since making his debut back on June 13, 2018, of all MLB hitters with a minimum of 1,000 PA, he has the fewest amount of strikeouts with 106. Directly behind him is Houston Astros outfielder Michael Brantley, who has 110 strikeouts and is renowned for his plate discipline.
What’s more, it’s not like Fletch opts to take that many walks either. When looking at how he compares across the league in the aforementioned timeframe, Fletcher has the 13th fewest number of walks of any hitter (78) with 1000 PA.
At the same time, Fletcher isn’t some free-swinging amateur, which is what you might expect from someone who doesn’t strike out or walk so much. The guy sports the lowest swing rate (37%) of any MLB hitter since making his debut. He also exhibits plenty of patience by taking first-pitch strikes 57.7% of the time, the 12th most of any player in baseball.
Additionally, when Fletcher decides that he’s going to swing at a ball, typically he makes contact. It doesn’t even matter where the pitcher decides to throw to him. According to FanGraphs, among all MLB hitters, he and Brantley own the number one and two spots in outside contact (O-Contact%) and inside contact (Z-Contact%) rate:
- O-Contact%: David Fletcher – 83% | Michael Brantley 81.7%
- Z-Contact%: Brantley – 96.4% | Fletcher – 96.1%
Overall, our renaissance man is the king of contact, connecting with a hefty 91.2% of pitches he swings at.
To top things off, Fletcher’s swing and miss percentage (SwStr%) is — you guessed it! — the best in the game, 3.3%, since his debut.
If you’re wondering if the trends have continued since then, the answer is a resounding YES! This season, among MLB hitters with a minimum of 50 PA, here’s where Fletcher ranks:
- Swing% – 1st in MLB with 32.4% (close to 5% points fewer than his career total)
- O-Contact% – 1st in MLB with 84% (1% point higher than his career total)
- Z-Contact% – 1st in MLB with 98.1% (close to 2% points higher than his career total)
Statcast’s Worst Enemy
When it comes to power hitting, especially in the era of the launch angle, you won’t see David Fletcher on many highlight reels. In fact, since making his debut, he has the third-fewest number of homers of any MLB hitter, with nine.
In looking at his percentile rankings for the 2020 season, you’ll notice that his Exit Velocity, Hard Hit %, xSLG, and Barrel % are all rated “poor.” As we’ve demonstrated throughout this piece, however, in this regard, Fletcher is a bit of an anomaly because of his plate discipline.
That’s not all, either. On top of discipline at the dish, Fletcher is one of the best in the game at defeating the shift.
Take 2019 (above), for example. In 642 PA last season, teams used the shift on Fletcher just 13 times (two percent), placing him 11th by percentage. His wOBA when opposing teams implemented the shift against him was .441.
Cut to 2020 and it’s essentially more of the same. In 66 PA this season, teams have used the shift on Fletcher just twice (three percent). His wOBA in these situations is a staggering .780. The sample sizes are incredibly small, but when you can hit it anywhere, even when the defense puts on the shift, you don’t leave them much hope.
In many regards, David Fletcher is the type of player baseball fans have recently been conditioned to reject. The kind of player who knows himself and isn’t trying to conform to the norms of a game that has been transformed by advanced stats and Statcast numbers. And he’s forced himself into the same conversation as an elite player like Jose Altuve.
In fact, how both players compare through their first two seasons:
- Jose Altuve: 204 G | 228 H | 45 BB | 103 SO | .286 BA | .716 OPS | 2.1 bWAR
- David Fletcher: 234 G | 251 H | 70 BB | 98 SO | .285 BA | .716 OPS | 6.8 bWAR
Fletcher is the kind of player who features very few negative attributes. Though he might be overlooked for a period of time, soon he’ll become a household name for baseball fans everywhere. The best part about it all? He’ll do it without smoking a jaw-dropping home run into outer space.