Even David Bote Has Joined the Slump Party as the League Adjusts

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Even David Bote Has Joined the Slump Party as the League Adjusts

Chicago Cubs

Being a good teammate is really important to Cubs infielder David Bote. So that probably explains the recent 0-for-20 bender or his slightly broader 2-22 with 7 strikeouts and 0 walks since hitting that walk-off grand slam against the Nationals a little over a week ago. You get it. The whole team’s struggling and Bote doesn’t want to make them look bad, so he starts whiffing, too. Makes total sense.

Or, you know, maybe he just got hurt at the bottom of the dog pile as his teammates ripped off his jersey.

Hopefully, it’s obvious that I’m kidding about the causes, but Bote’s offensive woes are very real and they seemed to kick in almost immediately after that walk-off grand slam. I’ll come short of saying anything about that night actually having anything to do with his issues (because he did go 2-5 the very next day), but something is off.

Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to spot using the trends in just three graphs, and it’s also pretty easy to remind everyone that the samples here are tiny. The point here is not to project anything meaningful about what comes next, but only to explain how it is that Bote has struggled in the past week, and how the league may be adjusting to his breakout.

Check out the rolling 10-game averages for Bote’s 1) hard and soft-contact, 2) ground balls vs. line drives, and 3) K/BB ratio, with a particular eye on the last seven or so games (i.e., post-grand-slam).

1) Soft and Hard Contact:

The percentage of Bote’s batted balls that have been classified as “hard” have taken a drop here lately, just as the soft-contact has crept up. And it’s important to keep both in mind, because this isn’t a zero-sum game. Bote could’ve been trading his hard contact for “medium” contact, and not taken as big of an offensive hit. But that’s not what’s happening here. And for a guy whose offensive foundation has been built upon hard contact, that’s a problem. But it isn’t his only one.

2) Ground Balls vs. Line Drives

This one doesn’t take much explaining. As Bote has begun to hit the ball softer than usual, he’s also hitting it on the ground more often. No one wants to trade liners for grounders (hopefully that’s self-evident), and, thus, this is an obvious issue for his slugging percentage/extra base hits, among other things in the last week’s worth of games.

Now, to be fair, Bote still has an elevated fly ball rate since hitting that grand slam, and that’s a good thing, but a 57.1% ground ball rate and 0% line drive rate is not a blend you want to keep up for very long. And finally …

3) K/BB Ratio

Just like everything else, Bote’s strikeout and walk rates have trended in equal, but opposite directions lately and it’s hurt his overall production. I could throw another four or five graphs in here to illustrate the point, but the short version is that Bote is swinging at SO MANY more pitches out of the zone lately than he did earlier in the year while also experiencing a stark drop in his contact rate/big rise in his whiff rate. That’s just not going to play.

In this past week, Bote is making weaker contact, putting it on the ground more, walking less, and striking out more. So the obvious next question is … Why? Well, there are probably a number of tiny, interconnected reasons – one of which is simply *THIS IS NOT A BIG SAMPLE SIZE, SO WE SHOULDN’T FREAK OUT OR ANYTHING* – but may I also offer the change in his zone profile before and after the grand slam.

Clearly, big league pitchers have decided to stop challenging Bote over the heart of the plate/in the zone/down, and have instead begun to work him all over away, especially that low-and-outside zone.

Some untouted, unheralded rookie comes up, wholly unfamiliar to opposing pitchers, and they simply try to challenge him right over the plate, hoping the quality of their stuff is so overwhelming to a guy who’s spent his entire career in the minors that he simply won’t connect. When it stops working because he’s crushing everything in sight, however, they just adjust and try to find the next best place to pitch him.

In all likelihood, Bote will adjust back – laying off the low-and-away slider will be a start – and then the league will have to respond again, and the cat and mouse game will go on forever. Of course, the story of a successful Major League hitter is one where those periods of adjustment are few and far between – though, with Daniel Murphy in the house, I suspect it’ll be more difficult for him to find time than usual (depending on what happens with Addison Russell and Kris Bryant).

In any case, this is the first time Bote has been been tested, and that’s important. It seems to come for every hitter right as you approach that 80 to 100 plate appearance range. How he responds from here will help us form an opinion regarding what type of player he can/will be in the future (star, starter, role player, bench bat, AAAA guy). The range of possibilities is quite wide for someone who sprouted up so rapidly after a swing change like Bote did the last two years.

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami