Asche Found His Bat

Back in 2013, Cody Asche made his major league debut for the Phillies following a quick rise through their minor league system. While he wasn’t topping any prospect lists, Asche looked to have a capable bat, and he represented a much needed injection of youth in an otherwise aging roster. But the capable bat didn’t fully translate to the major league level, and Asche spent the next few years posting consistently sub-par offensive numbers while working his way down the defensive spectrum. So coming into the 2016 season, it’s fair to say that most fans had given up on Asche as any part of the team’s future.

But following an oblique strain that kept him sidelined through the end of May, Asche has spent the better part of the last month looking like the hitter the Phillies thought they were getting back in 2013. Through 80 plate appearances this year, Asche has a wOBA of .343, a number that places him 14% better than the league average. And while this wouldn’t be the first time Asche has hit this well over the course of a month, it is the first time his success at the plate is supported by any underlying changes.

Asche spent his first 1000+ plate appearances doing pretty much everything at or below a league average level, with his only notable trait being a pretty good line drive rate. But hitting a few more line drives is not going to lead to offensive success on its own. So this year, Asche has gotten considerably better at doing one other thing: not swinging the bat.

O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing%
2013 30.7% 66.5% 48.5%
2014 30.6% 63.2% 46.8%
2015 33.4% 64.6% 48.4%
2016 25.8% 59.6% 43.0%

Asche has gone from being one of the more aggressive hitters in the league to one of the more selective hitters, and much of the impact has come by reducing his O-Swing%. Pitches out of the strike zone induce a lot of swing and misses, so simply not swinging at those pitches would imply an increase in contact rate. And that’s exactly what’s happened with Asche, who has increased his year over year Contact% from 77% to 81%. As a result of the improved contact, Asche has lowered his strikeout rate from 24% to 19%, and to put context on the extent of this drop, here it is in graph form*:

Cody Asche K Rate

* K% in this graph is based on AB’s and not PA’s

Because Asche’s patience also extends inside the strike zone, as can be seen in his lower Z-Swing%, the implication is that he is being more selective with his swings, looking for pitches that he can square up. So far, the results have played out that way, as both his line drive rate and hard hit percentage are in the top 10% of their respective categories this year. But even with some likely regression in those areas, Asche’s improved strikeout rate alone is enough to sustain a solid offensive game going forward.

Because swing rate is quick to stabilize, at a little less than 50 plate appearances, we can’t write off the numbers on account of the sample size.  There is legitimate change driving these improvements, and the key will be for Asche to stick with his patient approach as the season progresses.

Asche is still a flawed player. His lack of range is probably going to keep him from ever being considered more than a below average outfielder. But for the first time in his career, his defensive shortcomings are actually being outweighed by what he’s doing at the plate. He’s still hitting line drives, but now he’s added a little more contact and power to his offense. In doing so, he’s raised his profile from replacement level player to average major leaguer. It’s not the most exciting of outcomes for Asche, but it’s a lot more than most expected coming into this year, just as long as he keeps that bat on his shoulder.

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7 comments

  1. Bob S

    June 29, 2016 03:51 PM

    I am in the vast unwashed minority who feels that Asche can still be a serviceable player. I know he used to spend a lot of time learning from Utley at Spring Training. Maybe as he has matured what was said or observed is finally beginning to sink in. The current team needs a few line drive hitters because the long ball power is not consistently there yet. IIRC the Giants won a WS about 6 years ago without big bats but a lot of guys who put the ball in play and extended innings. Not saying they are playoff bound this October, in fact I’m hoping for a top 5 pick next year, but it would be nice to create an identity as a team that can wear you down even if they cant reach the fences (think Myers at bats against Sabathia).

    • Romus

      June 29, 2016 05:19 PM

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      Bob S….I’m on your wagon. He seems to have found his groove. This past off-season he worked very hard only to see the oblique in march throw him a detour. If anything he will become a viable trade chip if the Phillies feel he is expendable.

  2. Edwin

    June 29, 2016 04:09 PM

    Excellent timing. Maybe they can trade him. He has no defensive upside and for team built on pitching and defense he is a liability. Like the guy and his grit but he has no future in Philadelphia, so do everyone a favor and ship him out.

  3. Henry

    June 30, 2016 06:59 AM

    Trade him. Asche, although a nice guy, is not a serviceable player. Harsh as this sounds it like flotsam and jetsam. Throw in Hernandez too. Culmulative bb iq is too low to mention.

  4. Milton T

    June 30, 2016 10:03 AM

    On this team, each player to improve at all causes others to improve as well. All of a sudden, Hernandez is hitting. Galvis is beginning to hit. Paredes is becoming a dangerous pinch hitter. Bourjos is making solid contact and picking up hits and driving in a few clutch runs.Yesterday, the Phils got 17 hits, none of them by Joseph, Franco or Herrera. They got nine runs, none of them driven in by that trio either. Mackanon’s patience is paying off. They are not going to be world-beaters and probably will not reach .500 but they are fun to watch. They play every out. The pitching is spotty but the kids are learning and growing. The deadwood is beginning to self-select out of the picture.

  5. Ross

    July 01, 2016 07:31 AM

    I’m not trying to nitpick, but if a graph is going to “put context on the extent of this drop” doesn’t the y axis have to start at zero? You’ve essentially zoomed in on the graph, which exaggerates the extent of the drop.

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