Take this article well salted, as the basis for all of it is a grand total of 47 plate appearances- a very small sample size. That being said, I'd like to break down Scooter Gennett's season so far, trying to figure out where he has improved and whether or not we can expect the improvements to be sustained.
In a trend that is representative of the Brewers' new team philosophy, Scooter's plate discipline has improved dramatically from last year to the present. Unsurprisingly, the diminutive second baseman's triple slash line has also become much more appealing this season. Take a look at Scooter's statline during his first three seasons versus this current year:
The stats from Gennett's first three seasons don't look terrible. However, if you consider the fact that that line is bolstered by a very good .324/.356/.479 rookie year, and he performed progressively worse in 2014 and 2015, you see that his three year average is a bit deceptive. Now, you could look at that table and assume the improvement is the product of a small sample size. However, there is an underlying improvement in pitch selection that seems to be driving Scooter's renaissance.
In the chart below, I've listed Scooter's O-Swing% (Swings at pitches outside the zone / total pitches outside the zone), Z-Swing% (Swings at pitches inside the zone / total pitches inside the zone), and Swing% (swings / pitches) for his 2013-2016 seasons.
Looking at that table, you might have immediately noticed the difference in his swing habits in the present season versus the previous three. His percentage of swings per pitches thrown is down to 44.7%, and while that is a seemingly low number, it is actually right around the league average. Each year that his Swing% was over 50%, he was beating the league average by about 10 percentage points. It may sound good to swing at more pitches than league average, but the way he was doing it wasn't by swinging at more pitches inside the zone. On the contrary, he accomplished that high percentage by swinging at more pitches outside of the zone, as exhibited by his high O-Swing%. The result of a high O-Swing% wasn't high strikeout totals, as one might imagine, but rather very low walk totals.
And that is where Gennett has improved in 2016. As you saw above, he has cut his O-Swing% through 47 PAs to 27.8%, which is better than league average over the past 15 years. Even without knowing these stats, you've probably taken note of the results: So far in 2016, Scooter has walked 9 times through 12 games. In comparison to his 44 walks over the previous 320 games, that is a huge improvement. And for someone who is often placed near the top of the order, that is an important development. His .400 OBP so far this year is much better suited for the 1-2 spots than was his .294 OBP last year.
But with Scooter, there are always two questions to be asked. "Can he get on base?" and "Can he hit lefties?" The answer to the first question has already been answered above, and, moving forward, I believe we can be quite optimistic about the answer to that question. As for the second question, that is a bit tougher to be optimistic about. Though he created a lot of optimism among Brewers fans due to his 2nd inning blast off Madison Bumgarner on Opening Day, that still remains his lone hit off of a lefty all season. Let's take a look at some of his splits from this young season:
So it doesn't appear that Scooter is any better at actually hitting lefties. Afterall, his .111 BAvg against lefties is right in line with his career average against lefties. What has improved significantly is his ability to walk against lefties. As proof, look at his 119 PAs against lefties before this season; in that time, he earned only 1 walk against an opposing southpaw. And, as mentioned above, 15 PAs later, he has added 6 more free passes against lefties.
So while there has yet to be any significant proof that Gennett can get hits against same-handed pitchers, he has still been effective by getting on base via the base on balls. It is apparent that a significant chunk of his high O-Swing% from the last several seasons was spent on pitches outside the zone by lefties. By being much more selective overall, Scooter has improved his OBP drastically, especially against left handed pitchers. This leaves me with a great deal of optimism for Scooter Gennett going forward. If he can continue his selective ways, getting on base at an above average rate while coupling that with 10+ HR power, that is a productive second basemen.
Will this trend continue or is it an anomaly early in a long season? Perhaps the best thing we can do is to take a lesson from Scooter Gennett and the 2016 Brewers: be patient and watch.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs