Thought about just letting this thread go and starting a new one, but the owl gif is worth keeping around...
Good article over at VEB about O'Neill and his struggles against sliders:
https://www.vivaelbirdos.com/2018/10/31 ... 018-slider
Feel free to discuss his issues with sliders below. That seems legit.
But, what I wanted to focus on was O'Neills struggles with contact inside the zone:
O’Neill is his strikeout woes may be due to an inability to make contact. He would have a worse swinging strike rate (22.8 percent) than Joey Gallo if he landed on the qualified hitter leaderboard. Oddly enough, O’Neill only chases pitches outside of the zone at a moderately above average rate, not the 95th percentile where his swinging strike rate sits.
His dismal, 66 percent zone-contact rate is what buoys his strikeouts. The mark is nearly 20 points below the qualified hitter median of 87 percent.
The writer goes on to discuss ways for O'Neill to improve this situation. And while that's useful, I want to go back to the assumption the writer makes: that O'Neill's 66% contact rate in the strike zone will be a consistent problem at least partially because of O'Neill's compact swing.
This seems like an over-reaction to a small sample size of data. 142 PA's really shouldn't be used to predict anything. They are not, imo, enough to even consider potential trends.
O'Neill's walk rate is a perfect example. His BB rate from '16-18 in the minors (as a 20-22/23 year old -- he just turned 23 4 months ago) was never below 10%. In 142 PA's, it came in at 4.9%. If you just look at August + September, he was at 6.9% during that time. September alone? He was at nearly 9%. Basically, his first real shuttle service to the majors in April/May -- 41 PA's where he only walked 1 time but absolutely crushed the ball -- made his BB rate look terrible for the entire season. Are we going to let those first 41 PA's convince us that O'Neill won't walk at the MLB level? That would be beyond foolish.
Apply the same logic to his contact rates. Unfortunately I don't have contact rates split up by month. So, lets try comps instead. O'Neill's contact rate inside the strike zone was 66% last year (56% overall). Among qualified batters, the worst Z-Contact% in baseball last season was Joey Gallo at 73.4%. Gallo's career is 71%. Gallo actually isn't the worst comp for O'Neill that I have seen. Exceptional power. Good BB rate. High K's. At the same time, Gallo routinely had BA's in the low .200's in the minors, even with some decent BABIP's. His MiLB BABIP has some pretty wild swings in it that are easy to tie to his atrocious contact ability. In the majors, Gallo has settled in at the bottom of those swings: BA's approaching the Mendoza lines, and BABIP's in the .250 range.
O'Neill's BA's in the minors were regularly above .240. His BABIP's were much more consistent throughout the minors. That doesn't paint a pretty picture for his contact rate, but it's also not difficult to imagine that he should be better at making contact that Joey Gallo. Fair enough?
There are a few other names of interest on the list of Z-contact rates (sorted lowest to highest) that could be O'Neill comps. But, outside of Gallo, you jump into the almost acceptable range pretty quickly. Khris Davis is at 78% career. Bryce Harper - 84% (80% last year). Matt Olson - 78%. Cody Bellinger. Justin Upton. Both of them are in the high 70's to low 80's. That seems to be the baseline for major league caliber players. Below that and they either aren't making the majors or aren't in roles that produce qualifying PA's.
Maybe the most noteworthy part of this list is that the names on it are good names. These are largely productive players. 2-4 WAR players, most of whom are playing at positions where their WAR value is suppressed by the defensive penalty -- 1b. The pure OF'ers on the list -- Bryce Harper and Justin Upton -- have been or are elite caliber players. It's also worth noting that most of them, except Upton, are really young.
Conclusions? Maybe O'Neill is the worst strike-zone contact rate that we've seen lately. Maybe those 142 PA's as a 22 year old are more predictive than I think. That seems highly unlikely. More likely to me is that O'Neill is another example of this growing trend of hitters with huge power, high strikeouts, and questionable contact ability who are able to translate that into serious production at the MLB level. Most likely, O'Neill becomes more like a 23 year old Justin Upton -- with considerably more power and probably weaker contact -- rather than an OF version of Joey Gallo.
If O'Neill can find an 80% Z-contact rate and a 10% walk rate next season -- both seem well within his reach by his MiLB profile -- then he'll be an All-Star next season.