Red Sox infielder Michael Chavis must lay off high fastballs

DETROIT, MI - JULY 6: Michael Chavis #23 of the Boston Red Sox singles to drive in Andrew Benintendi against the Detroit Tigers during the first inning at Comerica Park on July 6, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - JULY 6: Michael Chavis #23 of the Boston Red Sox singles to drive in Andrew Benintendi against the Detroit Tigers during the first inning at Comerica Park on July 6, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images) /

Boston Red Sox infielder Michael Chavis can cut down on his staggering strikeout rate by laying off high fastballs to narrow the strike zone.

“Lay off the high ones,” warns Dottie. “I like the high ones,” a defiant Kit fires back. We’re reminded of the classic dialogue from A League of Their Own when Michael Chavis steps to the plate. The young infielder had a bit of Kit Keller in him during his rookie campaign with the Boston Red Sox.

Chavis impressed in his first taste of the big leagues, showcasing his impressive raw power and a knack for coming through in clutch moments. As with most young hitters, he struggled once opposing pitchers found his weaknesses. The book is out on Chavis – the high fastball gives him fits. Now it’s up to him to adjust.

A mediocre .254 batting average is acceptable from a rookie who provides plenty of pop, as Chavis did with 18 home runs in only 95 games. The next step in his development will be cutting down on the strikeouts. His 33.2 K% was the fourth-highest strikeout rate among major league hitters with a minimum of 350 plate appearances last season.

The zone charts provided by Baseball Savant show that pitches high in the strike zone were by far where he whiffed the highest percentage of the time. Chavis found the most success on pitches over the middle of the plate and down in the zone.

The high fastball is inviting, tempting hitters to drive the ball deep in the air. They can sneak up on you though, with the fractions of a second longer that it takes to reach up to swing at those pitches seemingly adding to the velocity. Major League pitchers have adapted by throwing up in the zone more often to combat the rise of the launch angle movement. Hitters must adjust their swing path to chase those pitches or risk a swing-and-miss or a harmless popup.

Or they can simply let it go. Lay off the high ones. Challenge the pitchers to hit their marks in a tight window up in the zone. If pitchers can’t do so consistently, they’ll be forced to attack lower in the zone and that’s where hitters like Chavis can pounce.

It’s not that Chavis can’t hit a high fastball, as he explained to John Tomase of NBC Sports Boston. His quick hands are capable of getting his swing to that level but those pitches aren’t in his wheelhouse. The problem with chasing those pitches is that Chavis was expanding the strike zone too much, trying to cover too much of the plate at once.

"“You can’t hit the ones that aren’t a strike,” Chavis said. “Essentially what I was trying to do was cover everything. I tried to cover the fastball middle in, the fastball up and in, the fastball up and away, I tried to cover everything and I started expanding up. So then I started getting worried about expanding down, and it snowballed.”"

Chavis admits to being too aggressive at the plate when frustration began to boil over. He started chasing pitches outside of the zone and was constantly falling behind in the count. He handed the opposing pitcher an advantage without them needing to throw him a strike.

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Per Brooks Baseball, Chavis hit .113 (6 for 53) on four-seam fastballs above the belt and he swung and missed at 39 percent of four-seamers in the upper third of the zone. He may feel that his quick wrists give him the tools to drive those pitches but the results simply weren’t there last season.

His 51.6 swing percentage would have put Chavis in the top-10 in the American League if he had enough plate appearances to qualify last season. The 18.5 swinging strike percentage he produced would have easily led the league. The free swingers who find success are those who don’t miss often. Rafael Devers is a prime example (54.9 Swing%, 12.1 SwStr%). When a proclivity for swinging at everything coincides with a staggeringly high swinging strike rate, that’s a problem that will result in strikeouts piling up in a hurry.

There are times when being aggressive is the right approach but Chavis would benefit from a bit more patience. Letting those difficult to hit high fastballs go by him should improve his meager 8.1 BB% since not all of those high pitches he chases are strikes. Working the count in his favor should lead to more pitches lower in the zone where he can feast.

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Chavis has a tendency to get in his own way by trying to do too much, particularly when he’s slumping. Improved plate discipline is the key to taking the next step as a hitter. It’s a common lesson for young hitters to learn and it’s encouraging to see that Chavis recognizes what he needs to work on. This season we’ll see if that knowledge translates to his production at the plate.