Former Yankees great Don Mattingly -- now the Marlins manager -- was nicknamed “Donnie Baseball,” and for good reason. The guy had a great batting eye. During his peak years from 1984-89, Mattingly was one of New York’s best power hitters, averaging 27 home runs and 114 RBIs. Most power
Former Yankees great Don Mattingly -- now the Marlins manager -- was nicknamed “Donnie Baseball,” and for good reason. The guy had a great batting eye. During his peak years from 1984-89, Mattingly was one of New York’s best power hitters, averaging 27 home runs and 114 RBIs. Most power hitters have a tendency to strike out in bunches. Not Donnie Baseball. He never struck out more than 41 times in a season during that stretch, with the 41 strikeouts coming in '85 -- his MVP season. Talk about putting the ball in play.
This week, we asked our American League East beat writers to pick the best batting eye for each of the five teams in the division. The reporters believe these hitters will continue to be nightmares for opposing pitchers in the future.
Blue Jays: Third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
So much focus is put on Guerrero's incredible strength and ability to hit for contact, but his batting eye is what makes him so special. With more walks (151) than strikeouts (139) in the Minor Leagues, Guerrero showed a willingness to take free bases from pitchers who preferred to stay off of his home run highlight reel. While he did expand the zone uncharacteristically in his Major League debut in 2019, both Guerrero and hitting coach Guillermo Martinez see Guerrero as a pure hitter, not just a power hitter. Teammate Cavan Biggio deserves mention, too, with a patient and advanced plate approach that helps him profile as another high-on-base bat in the Blue Jays' lineup. -- Keegan Matheson
Orioles: Outfielder DJ Stewart
This category takes a bit of projection for the Orioles, whose young and inexperienced lineup posted some of the AL’s lowest OBP and walk rates last year. Trey Mancini’s team-leading .364 OBP in 2019 was more a function of his batted-ball production than command of the strike zone, and Baltimore’s dual leaders in walk rate -- Chance Sisco and Chris Davis -- both also struck out at least 30 percent of the time.
Let’s then highlight the skilled stinginess of Stewart, who has only appeared in 61 big league games, but routinely displayed strong plate discipline in the Minors. Across parts of five Minor League seasons, Stewart’s cumulative OBP was a solid .358. He coupled a 10 percent walk rate with an 18 percent strikeout rate in the Majors last season, leading the O’s in BB/K ratio in limited action. He also led Baltimore in in-zone swing rate (74.3 percent) and placed second on the team in chase rate (22.6 percent) per Statcast, ranking better than league average in both metrics. -- Joe Trezza
Rays: Third baseman Yandy Díaz
After posting a .369 on-base percentage in 2019, Tommy Pham would’ve been the clear pick for the Rays, but he’s with the Padres now. Yoshitomo Tsutsugo also demonstrated good plate discipline in his limited time during Spring Training, but it’ll be interesting to see how he adjusts to the Majors after 10 seasons in Japan. Despite that, it’s hard to argue with Díaz’s ability and the kind of eye he has at the plate. Díaz doesn’t do much pregame work on opposing pitchers, relying strictly on his ability to pick up pitches. That alone is incredibly impressive. Díaz drew 35 walks in 79 games and struck out 61 times in '19. The Rays third baseman also had an impressive stretch in June, when he struck out just three times in 42 plate appearances. -- Juan Toribio
Red Sox: Shortstop Xander Bogaerts
Bogaerts first displayed his keen batting eye in the Minor Leagues, when he had a .373 on-base percentage in 379 games after the Red Sox signed him out of Aruba. And as a 21-year-old in Game 4 of the 2013 AL Division Series against the Rays, he somehow laid off a borderline pitch for a crucial walk that led the Red Sox to the clinching victory in that game. Bogaerts had career-highs in walks (76) and on-base percentage (.384) last season. In fact, Bogaerts frequently joked that former manager Alex Cora often got on him about being too selective early in the count. Cora wanted his hitters hunting pitches. It will be interesting to see what type of approach Bogaerts takes under new manager Ron Roenicke. You can be sure he won’t get himself out very often. -- Ian Browne
Yankees: First baseman Luke Voit
When Aaron Boone declared that his lineup was filled with "savages in the box," Voit was one of the hitters that the manager was referring to. Voit's excellent eye played a large part in leading the Yanks to acquire him from the Cardinals in 2018, and they have been rewarded with 35 homers, 95 RBIs and a 140 OPS+ across 157 games.
Advanced stats make a compelling case for the value of Voit's eye: According to FanGraphs, Voit's 78.6 percent Z-Swing% (swings at pitches in the strike zone) tied for fourth in the AL last season. Voit's eye has resulted in a .384 on-base percentage thus far in his pinstriped tenure; that ranks eighth among AL players with at least 500 plate appearances from 2018-19. -- Bryan Hoch
Bill Ladson has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002. He covered the Nationals/Expos from 2002-2016. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.