Truthfully? I don't know for sure, but I have a theory as to why Jonathan Singleton is struggling in his first stop in triple-A.
Let's be honest, it's not easy to go from fifty games off and try to pick up where everyone else already is. No, he wasn't sitting on his hind end for fifty games doing nothing. But, the pitching he was facing was in extended spring training for a reason. It's simple. They aren't full season material yet. They one day could be ten times better than anyone in triple-A, but right now they don't hold a light to those guys in overall effectiveness. They may throw harder or spin a breaking ball better, but they don't have good pitch sequencing, control, command, or know how yet. It's a whole new ball game with better pitchers.
Quad Cities: Not a big step up, handled it with ease.
Corpus Christi: BIG step but handled it well. Struck out a good bit but it's a small sample size in which one at-bat changes everything.
Oklahoma City: Wake up time! It's very different and a lot harder. Now that the sample size has grown some we can see the struggles. He's not making much contact and when he does it's not going for the extra base hits it has in the past.
Well doesn't that sound turrible? (Yes, I know I spelled it wrong, but it's always a good time for a Charles Barkley reference.)
It is. But, in perspective of the situation, I think it's more than OK to sit back and say let's give it plenty of time. He's playing catch up of over fifty games. Everyone else in the league started out the season after facing other AAA level pitchers and some even faced major league level pitchers for all of their spring. He faced the same level in the spring has before starting out in AAA, he faced sub-par pitching (relative to his current level right now) for over fifty games. So of course, there should be an adjustment time.
How about we take a more objective look though?
Sure, the majority of his batted ball data has dropped this season in comparison to his standout year in Corpus. But, you would expect some drop in that since he advanced a level and shouldn't square up better pitching quite as well. Maybe not quite this much, but it's still not a big difference. The only real significant difference is the added 3% in his groundball rate.
What this tells us is that essentially his swing is still very similar and it's not a big adjustment that is effecting his performance. And all these numbers are still better than league averages.
This tells us what we already know. He's striking out more and walking less. Not a good combination. Especially in the differences that are here.
A 13% increase is a lot and the two stats next to it show us that he's not just whiffing more on two strike counts, he's also letting more strikes go by with two strikes. But, the KS/KL ratio tells us that swinging strikeouts has increased at a higher rate than the strikeouts looking.
The walk rate, well it's still good. That's actually slightly over a full percentage point better than league average.
But, that still doesn't tell us much.
So, here is some good news. He's not up there hacking. He's seeing more pitches in his plate appearances, which is better than league average (3.79). He has about the same number of pitches thrown at him go for strikes and still is seeing less strikes thrown at him than league average (61.9%). He's swinging at approximately the same amount of pitches and is actually more patient than league average (45% swng%). The contact is the concern. There's a big discrepancy between his 67% and the league average of 78.1%.
Now we have something. But, there's more to it. What is he missing?
This is where we'll learn a lot. The first one is a good number. He swings at just 8.3% of balls out of the strike zone which is less than last year and the league average (9.6%). He is below the league average in swing at strikes in the zone which can be good and bad depending on the location those pitches that he's laying off of and the type of pitch they are. The league average is 70.7%.
Now we get to the big difference. That OCon% tells us his contact rate at pitches outside of the zone that he swings at. And, Singleton is struggling to make contact with those pitches. As he should since they are out of the zone. But, league average is 36.8%. Missing those pitches could be the big difference, but the counting data isn't available so we don't know the sample size on that data.
The ZCon% is also a concern. That's about a five and a half percent drop in his contact rate with pitches in the zone that he swings at. To make it worse, he was already below league average in this last year and is now 9.7% below league average.
The next two stats are about pitches he's seeing. He is seeing about two percent less than the league average of the pitches he faces that are located within the zone. It's up from last year, but pitcher's are still challenging him less than the league average. However, he swings at less pitches within the zone (67.3%) than the league average (72.7).
So, what can we draw from this? Not a whole lot, but we can get some ideas. The main thing is that he is having an issue with contact. His plate discipline is fine. He's swinging the bat at good rates, but he's not getting the contact when he swings.
If we knew the sample size for the out of zone data, we might know more. Those whiffs out of the zone could be killing him. If that is the case, he has to work on just fouling those off with some contact (more likely) or not swing at those balls (tough to do since he already does it less than the league average).
Then there's the issue of missing within the zone. That's a concern. If he can't make enough contact in the zone, pitchers won't have to fear him as much and can attack. That could easily lead to some declining walks down the road. Causes to this could be increased off-speed pitches that he could be seeing or a timing issue.
In the double header that I was at with Tim, the thing that really stuck out in his at-bats were his whiffs. He was fooled on changeups several times and he was very early with his swing and caught out on his front leg. Not saying that's the problem, but it could be.
In closing, he's having to play catch up in understanding pitch sequencing and advanced off-speed pitches which could take time to adjust to. It's obvious that there is something that is causing him to whiff that he has to work on. But, the batted ball data and track record suggest the talent is still all there and capable.
I wouldn't be concerned yet. But, if things don't start looking up by mid-August, concerns could be growing.
Note: All strikezone date is based off of stringer data which is far from being the gold standard in accuracy.