Luke Scott missed 98 games last season due to a variety of injuries. So pardon the highly energetic 33-year-old if he seems a bit eager to get back into the swing of things this season. With 180 plate appearances under his belt this season, the Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter is swing at the highest rate of his career (52%).
The good news is Scott’s power has returned in full force. He has already matched his home run total from a season ago despite appearing in 18 fewer games. Should he continue to hit home runs at his current pace, and receive 600 plate appearances, he would eclipse the 30 home-run plateau for the first time in his career. He is also on pace to hit an equal number of doubles which would give him nearly 60 extra-base hits.
The bad news is when Scott is not hitting home runs and doubles, he has been making outs. His current .300 on-base percentage is 46 points below his career average. His six percent walk rate is a career low.
Last week, I examined B.J. Upton’s targeted aggression. Like Scott, Upton is swinging more this season, but the majority of those increased swings were on pitches in the strike zone. Scott, on the other hand, is swinging at slightly more pitches in the zone and a lot more on pitches outside of it.
Currently, Scott is swinging at 36% of pitches outside of the strike zone (o-swing%). The league average this season is 30%. For his career, Scott has offered at 25% of these pitches. Overall, he is making a decent amount of contact on these pitches, but there is one location that is really limiting the amount of damage he can do.
Scott has seen nearly 400 pitches out of the strike zone this season. The majority of those have come away or down in the zone. Where he has had the biggest trouble is on pitches thrown both low and outside. To date, he has whiffed on nearly 50% of pitches in this area. Of his 38 hits, only two have come off pitches in this location.
It is not a coincidence that opposing pitchers have chosen this spot against Scott. In his last full season (2010) the bulk of his home runs came on pitches located belt-high or above spanning the horizontal plane. Meanwhile, the low pitch on the third-base side of the plate has been a cold zone for him.
Until Scott makes the adjustment to these types of pitches, expect the opposition to put a target on the location. The simplest fix would be laying off the low-and-away pitches located out of the zone. That sounds easier said than done, but it would do a few things. First, it would increase the amount of walks he receives. Second, it would force pitchers to throw those pitches higher or closer to the middle of the plate.
A few weeks ago, Rays’ skipper Joe Maddon moved Carlos Pena into the leadoff spot in an attempt to get the slugger to accept walks. Pena has gladly accepted the free passes as shown in his 15% walk rate. With just a few games before regular leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings returns, Maddon may want to flip his left-handed power hitters and see if Scott can warm up to a few more bases-on-balls.
Luke Scott should continue to swing, and swing hard; however, he might want to curb swinging low and away. Instead of going hunting in that area of the zone, perhaps he can enjoy a few more 90-foot jogs in the park.