The best batting eyes in the NL Central

May 1st, 2020

In an era when strikeouts are prevalent, having a great eye at the plate becomes all the more important. So who are the players on each National League Central team with the best batting eyes? With the help of all five NL Central beat writers, we answer that question here. These are the guys you can count on to make pitchers work harder to try and get them out:

Because we can’t select Christian Yelich for every category, right? Yelich has a case, considering he followed his National League MVP Award season in 2018 with even better numbers in ’19, in spite of getting the fewest pitches in the strike zone of any qualifying Brewers hitter. But Cain’s keen eye also warrants praise, even during a down year in '19, when he swung at 28 percent of pitches outside the zone. But the year before, Cain garnered NL MVP Award votes of his own while swinging at a team-low 24.9 percent of pitches outside the zone and logging a career-best .395 on-base percentage. -- Adam McCalvy

Carpenter has been fairly consistent with his plate discipline over his career, and it has been a benefit for him as he has changed the way he hits. Whether it’s high-contact Carpenter or power-hitting Carpenter, his selectivity lets him focus on the pitches he wants to see in the zone where he wants to swing. Even in his down year at the plate last season, Carpenter’s eye was still one of the best on the Cardinals. His 12.8 walk percentage was just slightly lower than Dexter Fowler’s 12.9, which led the team, and Carpenter’s 22.8 percent O-Swing percentage (percentage of swings at pitches outside the zone) was the lowest among Cardinals regulars. -- Anne Rogers

Last week, Rizzo was our pick as the best "pure hitter" for the Cubs. This week, the Cubs' first baseman is once again the selection for best batting eye. Walk rate alone doesn't tell the whole story. Rizzo's 11.6 percent mark was second on the Cubs and 17th in the NL in 2019. What Rizzo does is combine a keen eye for taking pitches with the ability to cut down his strikeout rate. That second element isn't as common for a slugger like him. But Rizzo had a 14 percent strikeout rate in '19, and he led Cubs regulars with an 82 percent contact rate. His 8.2 percent swinging strike rate was also best among Chicago's lineup fixtures. And, to go one layer deeper, Statcast shows that Rizzo swung and missed at 10.7 percent of the pitches he saw in two-strike counts. For comparison, free-swinging teammate Javier Báez has a 21.7 percent rate. -- Jordan Bastian

If the goal is to swing at strikes and not swing at balls, then Bell displayed the Bucs' best batting eye last season. The switch-hitting first baseman swung at 30.2 percent of the pitches he saw outside of the strike zone, according to FanGraphs, while swinging at a team-leading 77.8 percent of the pitches he saw in the zone. That's impressive discipline when you consider that only 37.7 percent of the pitches Bell saw last season were strikes, the lowest rate on the team.

Bell also led the Pirates with a 12.1 percent walk rate and a 0.63 walk-to-strikeout ratio last season. He struck out 118 times, the second-highest total on the team, but he easily led the club with 74 walks. And he made strides early in the season in terms of not just recognizing pitches to hit, but recognizing his pitch, which led to his 37-homer/37-double campaign. Especially in the first two months of last season, Bell looked like the total package at the plate: a middle-of-the-order presence who can hit for average, get on base and blast balls out of the park. -- Adam Berry

Yes, it’s true that Votto endured a career-worst season in 2019, and that included his walk total (76 in 142 games and 608 plate appearances) and a career-low .357 on-base percentage. But that OBP was just a tick behind team leader Eugenio Suárez (.358). Votto has led the league in walks five times and in OBP seven times. According to Statcast, Votto’s chase percentage since '15 is 16.3, well below the league average of 28.3. -- Mark Sheldon