Going Deep: Dansby Swanson Has Made a Change
* note that Swanson went 1 for 3 with an RBI double plus a walk last night after I wrote this. (Photo by John Adams/Icon Sportswire)
SS Dansby Swanson is currently in the midst of a .245/.302/.409 season with 14 HRs and 9 SBs. He’s supported that line with a 7.3% walk rate and 23.2% strikeout rate and all told, it’s been worth a below average 82 wRC+. There were obviously higher expectations for Swanson as he was a former #1 overall draft pick back in 2015 out of Vanderbilt University and later was considered a consensus top 10 prospect in all of baseball by 2016. Many scouting publications including Baseball America and MLB.com’s Prospect Watch gave him a future 60 hit tool in 2016, and MLB.com’s Prospect watch said this about his ability to hit: “Swanson should be an average and on-base machine with the ability to steal bases. He showed more power at Vanderbilt in 2015, and he could have Major League average pop when all is said and done.”
So now we’re 1188 PAs into Dansby Swanson’s MLB career and he has only shown flashes of the type of success that many thought he would, but his most recent flash looks promising. He’s very quietly put up a .273/.333/.534 line despite a low .286 BAPIP over his last 30 days (101 PAs). Over that time, he’s hit 6 HRs and added 4 SBs, while walking at a 7.9% clip and striking out at an improved 20.8% rate. His 121 wRC+ over that time ranks 7th best among qualified SS’s, and is a top 60 mark overall among all qualified batters. xStats buys into Swanson’s growth over the last 30 days too with an xAVG of .307 and xSLG of .532 while his 14.9% Value Hit rate ranks in a tie for 18th best over the time period. This may be the result of a recent swing change as according to MLB.com, Swanson has worked with Atlanta Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer to widen his batting stance and improve his swing path.
Now those numbers aren’t earth-shattering, but for a guy that struggled to produce for much of the year, his sudden growth makes him a viable option in the fantasy playoffs this year and helps give him positive momentum heading into next year. It gets better when you look at some of the underlying metrics supporting Swanson’s recent production: He’s posting a SS best 47.9% Hard Contact rate over the last 30 days which ranks 20th best in the majors over that time. He’s making the most of that hard contact by hitting a ton of flyballs with a 45.6% mark over the last 30 days, and he’s also pulling the ball tons with a 46.5% mark. Pulled flyballs that are hit hard have a good chance to leave the yard as HRs or go for extra bases, and that is what Swanson has been hitting lately.
The flyball growth rate is shown by looking at his first half splits where he posted 35.5% flyball rate and a 41.1% Pulled contact rate along with a mediocre 34.4% hard contact rate. This is just a 30-day sample and it obviously still fits within the small sample size window, but the changes he’s made to his batted ball profile give him the look of a completely different hitter at the moment.
He’s been able to make this change for power while actually impacting his contact skills very little. In the first half Swanson posted a 24.2% strikeout rate supported by an 11.5% swinging-strike rate, and over the last 30 days he’s posted a 20.8% strikeout rate and supported it with a slightly below-average 11.7% swinging-strike rate. Let’s take a look at how the rest of his plate discipline metrics over the last 30 days compared to league average this year:
|Out-of-Zone Swing%||37.4%||MLB average is 30.8%|
|Zone Swing%||69.8%||MLB average is 67.3%|
|Overall Swing%||51%||MLB average is 46.5%|
|Out-of-Zone Contact%||62.7%||MLB average is 63%|
|Zone Contact%||87.6%||MLB average is 85.6%|
|Overall Contact%||77%||MLB average is 77.1%|
|His % of pitches seen inside the strike zone||42.2%||MLB average is 43.1%|
|Swinging-strike%||11.7%||MLB average is 10.7%|
Overall, he’s been more aggressive than league average and opposing pitchers have taken advantage of that by throwing fewer strikes to Swanson than league average. He has the contact skills to make the profile work though, particularly inside the zone where he is above-average. The O-Swing rate is definitely of concern as it has been 6.6% worse than league average, and he could really take off if he tightened his strike-zone but he makes enough contact that it shouldn’t completely crater his batting average. Here is a visual representation of Swanson’s zone profile over the last 30 days:
You can see in the first image that Swanson over this 30 day period is getting pitched down and away a ton, but is laying off those areas reasonably and instead, attacking pitches both inside and up where he can more easily do damage. If he wants to take further steps forward, he’s going to have to learn how to counter the down and away assault that he sees at the plate more effectively, but this ability to wait on his pitch is a sign of progress.
Here is Swanson in 2017 against the Toronto Blue Jays hitting a HR to CF.
And here is Swanson in late August of this year hitting a HR against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The first thing that stands out between the two swings is the front foot motion to start his swing. In the first video, you can see his swing begins with a very small load, it’s really a toe tap and the result is his front foot is down early. This isn’t ideal because a hitter’s front foot is used to initiate their swing and when this foot plants and doesn’t carry the momentum forward by almost immediately continuing the swing, the player is losing positive momentum and potential power output. Swanson’s enhanced leg kick in the 2nd video shows much better timing as he’s able to get it down and continue that positive momentum as he easily turns on the inside pitch.
Also, notice how much more Swanson is stacked in the 2nd video by keeping his weight on his back foot and his upper body coiling back slightly before driving forward. In 2017, you can see that he started his hands high and kept them there for the duration of his pre-swing rhythm. Now, his momentum is built up into the hitting position, yet the path and aesthetic of his swing after his load are nearly identical to the naked eye. This means more momentum forward when he swings and in turn, that means more power potential with the most recent swing.
I also notice a difference in where Swanson’s front foot lands the first video compared to the 2nd video. He’s definitely more closed in the first video with his front foot being in front of his back foot at batted ball impact and he really needed the hard unleashing of his back hip coil to get that ball into the seats. In the second video, he’s slightly more open with his front foot landing close to the same depth as his back foot and that makes it easier for him to simply uncoil his built up momentum and turn on that inside pitch and lift the ball into the seats.
Overall, Swanson seems like a different hitter statistically and there’s visual evidence to support it and I think these changes are worth remembering going into next year. The numbers presented are definitely still in the small sample size category, but we now have a month’s worth of data and if this was the beginning of the season, we’d be talking about it so I’m here to present the in-season changes that he’s making as he helps the Atlanta Braves playoff push.