Jennings Needs To Refine Approach

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 16: Desmond Jennings #8 of the Tampa Bay Rays strikes out in the ninth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park September 16, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Red sox won 4-3.(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Coming into the 2011 season the Rays top position prospect was Desmond Jennings, who was ranked 20th overall by Keith Law over at the Four-Letter, and Rays fans could not wait to see him in action with the parent club.

Sadly, though, the Rays did not call him up until July 23rd to help avoid Jennings reaching super-two status. And it is not as if Jennings were having a bad season in Triple-A, he had a 136 wRC+ at the time of the call-up and he had nothing to prove in the minors.

When Jennings arrived in Tampa Bay he arrived in fashion going 2-3 with a double, triple, two walks, and stolen base. He would have multi-hits in each of his first three games and finish the season with 20 stolen bases and a 131 wRC+ in 287 plate appearances. This left lofty expectations for the young out fielder that he has not quite duplicated in his sophomore season yet.

Jennings is currently hitting .239/.309/.364 with 19 stolen bases and a wRC+ of 97 in 341 plate appearances, a far cry from what he posted in his time with the Rays in 2011.

Some of us Rays fans may have set our expectations for Jennings too high thanks to his 2011 season but some of it was out of his element, especially in the power department where his .190 ISO beat any season he had in the minors. But, some of what Jennings did in 2011 could be duplicated and help him regain some his ability at the plate.

In 2011 Jennings O-Swing% was only 22.3% compared to the league average of 28.6%. His 2012 O-Swing%, while right around league average, has jumped to 28.7%. Jennings' jump in O-Swing% could be a result of his passive approach and swinging in too many two-strike counts.

Jennings has 341 first pitches and has fallen behind in the count 48.7% of the time, taken a called ball 39% of the time, and put the first pitch in play 12.3% of the time. He does well when putting the ball in play on the first pitch but after that he becomes incredibly passive and almost waits to get into a two-strike count to swing. Here are the counts where he has put the ball in play the most with his results:

Count PAs AVG SLG K
1-2 55 .164 .200 22
2-2 52 .115 .135 21
0-0 42 .447 .813 0
3-2 46 .156 .250 12
0-2 39 .179 .231 12

Over 56% of the plate appearances Jennings has had an outcome in have been in two-strike counts. This is similar to his rate from last season but with his increase in O-Swing% could be a major reason he is struggling. Here are the counts that Jennings has been in the most with his rates after getting into that count:

Count PAs AVG OBP SLG
0-1 166 .184 .218 .272
1-1 158 .213 .297 .312
1-0 133 .248 .383 .339
1-2 101 .121 .139 .152
2-2 81 .110 .198 .164

As you can see from both charts, Jennings is behind in the count more than he is ahead and the few times he has been ahead in the count he has either crushed the ball or worked his way on base. Of the 341 outcomes Jennings has had as a hitter this season he has been behind in the count 114 times, even with the count 122 times, and ahead in the count 105 times.

Another trend I noticed in Jennings' 2012 season is that he is putting the ball in the air much more often than in 2011. His ground ball rate is down from 47.3% to 41.9% while his fly ball percentage has increased to 38.5% from 35.2% and his pop-up rate has more than doubled to 18.9% from 9.4% in 2011.

While Jennings is showing patience at the plate I would argue that he may be too passive and his plate discipline is lacking, leaving him in bad counts, and he is swinging out of the zone more than before and his results are suffering from this. Jennings needs to change his approach and maybe then his offense will get back on track.

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