Zack Meisel is a good guy, I feel confident saying that. He’s personally been kind to me and his writing displays a lot of heart and humility, not to mention talent. When The Athletic went through layoffs recently, I was ready to cancel my subscription if he was let go.
But maybe Zack deserves even more credit.
On May 10, 2023, he published at The Athletic an article titled “Why Guardians’ Steven Kwan never swings at the first pitch, and doesn’t care that you know.” The article gives great detail about exactly what that title suggests, including quotes Kwan about his approach. He shares how he wants to see pitches for himself and for his teammates, how he’s not afraid to fall behind in the count, and how he wants to make sure any contact he makes is good contact.
Other teams surely already knew this about Kwan, as they have much more robust data available than Meisel or any of us fans have; however, a funny thing has happened since that article was published. From the beginning of the season to May 9 (36 games, 165 PA), on a 0-0 count Kwan took 85 called strikes (51.5%), 69 balls (41.8%), and swung just 9 times (5.5%). From May 10 to July 6 (49 games, 225 PA), Kwan took 113 called strikes (50.2%), 83 balls (36.9%), and swung 27 times (12%).
While the number of first-pitch strikes Kwan has taken has been essentially static, the percentage of first pitches he chose to swing at more than doubled. Over the same time frames, Kwan’s wOBA has slightly fallen, from .314 to .305, but those first pitches do not seem to be the problem. Going back to the third reason Kwan likes taking first pitches from the Meisel article — he wants to make good contact — we can see that Kwan is doing just so, as his wOBA on those 27 first-pitch swings is .423. This is a tiny sample size, but I think it is at least an indication that Kwan, a professional hitter, is identifying pitches he can strike solidly and adjusting his game to create the best results.
As I mentioned, teams surely already knew Kwan’s tendency to let the first pitch go, but once Meisel made it canon the number of balls called on a 0-0 count decreased by about five percent. So, give Meisel credit for possibly playing a role in Kwan seeing more pitches he can drive, and give Kwan credit for being less rigid in his approach to first pitches. This is a pretty small thing – Kwan has not become a different hitter, attacking first pitches with abandon – but it seems like a good example of how a player adapts in order to continue improving. And small things like this add up over the course of the long season, and hopefully good things continue to happen as a result for Kwan and the Guardians.