David Bote has had his share of big hits in his brief time as a Cub and he got off to great start in 2019 by showcasing home run power and a pretty good plate approach. As the year has progressed, however, both of those skills have diminished significantly.
The cult hero is hitting a paltry .200 with just three home runs since June 1, but the real issue is his ballooning strikeout rate. Despite his struggles at the plate in June, he was only striking out 23.1% of the time. But so far in July, he has gone down on strikes in 16 of 32 plate appearances. I don’t have a calculator handy, but my calculator says that’s a…50% K-rate. Woof.
The cause of this alarming increase appears to be the bane of Bote’s existence from the start, something he had been working to improve against: high fastballs. Opposing pitchers have thrown him four-seam fastballs nearly 40% of the time (39.3%), up a little from last season (36%). Because of their “ride,” four-seamers tend to be higher in the zone than sinkers which are coming to him 4% less frequently than in 2018.
The general location of the fastballs Bote is seeing hasn’t changed to a great degree this year, but his performance against them sure has. The charts below show his whiff rate against four-seamers last year and in 2019, and just look at what he’s doing with offerings at the top of the zone this year.
Word has gotten out to other teams that Bote can neither lay off of nor hit high heat. An early attempt to change his swing mechanics in order to adjust to this tactic seemed to be paying off, but that has all gone out the window over the last couple months. Ian Happ‘s similar issues led to Happ his demotion to Iowa, where he may finally be turning the corner.
That isn’t to suggest Bote should be sent to Iowa right now to work on swing adjustments, but if he doesn’t stop chasing high fastballs soon it may come to that. Major league pitchers don’t harbor sympathy for hitters and will mercilessly attack any known weaknesses. Adjust or be destroyed, those are the only options.
Bote had better do the former pretty soon because he’s absolutely being destroyed by high fastballs.