HomeTrending MLB NewsThis Isn’t the Same Adley Rutschman

This Isn’t the Same Adley Rutschman

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Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, I wrote about at the mysterious disappearing zone rate of Mookie Betts. Today, we’ll be looking at a player who has seen his zone rate go in the other direction: Adley Rutschman. This season, opponents are throwing 51.7% of their pitches in the zone against Rutschman, up from 47.3% in 2023 (and 45.9% in 2022). That jump of 4.4 percentage points is the fourth largest among all qualified players. The trend is much stronger when Rutschman is batting right-handed, but as you can see from the world’s tiniest table, it’s also there when he’s batting lefty.

In-Zone %


SOURCE: Baseball Savant

In yesterday’s article, I broke down the reasons that throwing fewer pitches in the zone to Betts (or at least the approach that led to fewer pitches in the zone) made some sense. I don’t have any such argument today. If anything, I think pitchers should be throwing Rutschman way fewer strikes. The reason is simple: He’s chasing way more than he did last year. In 2023, Rutschman swung at 23.4% of pitches outside the zone, which put him in the 81st percentile. This season, he’s at 32.5%, which puts him in the 22nd percentile. That is an enormous change, the third highest among all qualified players, and it hasn’t been limited to one side of the plate.

In 2023, Rutschman saw 4.26 pitches per plate appearance, which was the 11th most out of the 212 players with at least 400 PAs. That’s the fifth percentile. This season, he’s seeing 3.91 pitches per PA, which puts him just a hair under league average. Keep in mind, this is a player who walked more than he struck out in college and was just nine walks away from doing so in the big leagues last season. Not only that, but he’s on a team that has placed a huge emphasis on swinging only at pitches that can really be driven. As you may recall, the Orioles have been preaching patience for years. They have an app that gives players scores for their swing decisions after every game. If that app bears any similarity to Robert Orr’s SEAGER metric, which saw Rutschman drop from the 93rd percentile in 2022 to the 61st in 2023, and then all the way to the sixth (!) this season, it’s likely flooding his phone with push notifications right now.

At this point, I need to stop and make it clear that this drastic shift in plate discipline has not yet hindered Rutschman’s performance. It has crushed his walk and strikeout rates, but he’s currently running a career-high 140 wRC+ because there are plenty of positives to being aggressive at the plate. In addition to chasing more, Rutschman is swinging at more strikes, especially pitches right down the middle. His meatball swing rate has jumped from 64.3% to 74.5%. As a result, 17.2% of the balls he’s put in play this season have come on meatballs, a huge increase from 11.8% last season.

But being aggressive isn’t limited to pitch selection. I’ve quoted this line from Nathan Grimm before, but it bears repeating: “As the ball gets deeper into the zone, batted-ball speed decreases along with the probability of hitting a home run. Good power hitters are aggressive during the pitch.” Rutschman has been going out and meeting the ball in front of the plate. As a result, he’s cut both his groundball rate and his opposite field rate by nearly 10 points. He’s increased his hard-hit rate by the same amount, taking it from the 35th percentile to the 85th. So that’s where Rutschman is right now. His plate discipline has gone out the window, but being aggressive has allowed him to make up for it by improving his contact quality. However, he’s also running a .369 BABIP, and regardless of his contact quality, that doesn’t strike me as particularly sustainable.

For a while now, I’ve suspected that there’s an ideal level of aggression for each batter. If you’re too aggressive, you’re going to end up striking out way too much and making poor contact on pitches that are hard to barrel up. If you’re too passive, you’ll let a lot of hittable pitches go by, and when you do swing, you’ll be less likely to attack the ball and get your A-swing off. That balance point is different for each hitter. At the moment, I suspect that Rutschman has veered a bit too far toward aggression. He’s making better contact, but because he’s striking out so much more and walking so much less, he’s become much more dependent on BABIP.

With that, let’s get back to the original reason we started talking about Rutschman in the first place: He’s seeing way more pitches inside the strike zone than he did last year. I don’t have a great guess as to why this is, except that I think a player’s reputation can precede them, and sometimes it takes the rest of the league awhile to notice that something has changed. Plate discipline has been part of Rutschman’s aura since he was in college, but if I were in an opposing dugout right now, I would tell the pitchers to throw him fewer fastballs and more breaking pitches outside the zone.

Rutschman has been especially swing happy against breaking stuff, and his results against them have been much worse. According to Baseball Savant’s run values, he was worth -0.7 runs against breaking stuff last season, just about average. Although he’s faced less than a third as many breaking balls this early in the season, he’s already been worth -4.2 runs against them. Only 12 other players have been that bad against breaking balls this season. Meanwhile, he’s been worth 10.9 runs against four-seam fastballs, the highest value of any single player against any single pitch. Yet somehow, he’s actually seeing slightly more four-seamers than he did last season, and his breaking ball rate has only risen by 0.8 percentage points. You have to imagine that at some point, opposing pitchers are going to notice. Either Rutschman will start laying off those breaking pitches or they’ll make him pay for all that aggression.


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