Could Reds star Elly De La Cruz strike out less by swinging more?

The speedy slugger is poised to break single-season strikeout records this year. Another name on the 200+ K list, Yoan Moncada, could provide the answer.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Cincinnati Reds
Pittsburgh Pirates v Cincinnati Reds / Dylan Buell/GettyImages

A player of Elly De La Cruz’s unique talents, physique, and skills can’t avoid making history. But as of now, he’s on track to land in some of the more infamous record books in the sport. If he maintains his strikeout rate, De La Cruz will rank among the highest strikeout totals in a single season. As an adage goes, “You can’t steal first base,” so the high strikeout numbers are particularly devastating for the speedy shortstop. Luckily, Reds fans just need to survey that list for a quick fix.

De La Cruz has struck out 113 times in his first 85 games this season, and if he maintains this pace, he could easily join Adam Dunn and Drew Stubbs as the only Reds players to strike out 200 times in a season. He would be only the second switch-hitter to join the 200-K Club after Yoan Moncada in 2018, and that’s exactly who De La Cruz should take a cue from.

In 2018, Moncada was getting his first full-time taste of Major League Baseball. He maintained a decent walk rate of 10.3 percent but labored under a strikeout rate of 33.4 percent. These stats bear a striking similarity to De La Cruz’s output this season: 10.7 percent against 31 percent. Moncada was able to drop his K rate to 27.6 percent in a campaign that garnered MVP votes and 5.2 bWAR.

If Elly De La Cruz takes a cue from Yoan Moncada’s 2019 adjustments, he could transform from human highlight reel to MVP candidate.

After his 200-strikeout year, Moncada made an adjustment that may seem confusing at first. He swung the bat more, particularly when he fell behind in the count. In 2018 in pitchers’ counts, Moncada only took a cut 40.8 percent of the time; by 2019, that number jumped to 50.6 percent. Virtually all of his statistics followed suit. His line when behind in the count improved from .160/.163/.277 to .236/.241/.410. Imagine what De La Cruz would do with a bump like that.

Signs point to De La Cruz’s ability to improve his eye in the box, but it’s not the pitches way out of the zone that are making the difference for the young Reds star. De La Cruz chases pitches far outside the zone at a rate above the league average, but he also lays off pitches in the “shadow” and heart of the zone at rates above the league average, according to Statcast. His tendency to take pitches over the heart of the plate have caused his "swing" and "take" run values to negate one another.

It’s time for De La Cruz to go to the aggressive hitting school of thought. When the first pitch of the at-bat is in the zone, he swings just 46.7 percent of the time, even though he is a remarkable first-pitch hitter. His OPS on 0-0 counts is 1.511. When he falls behind in the count, though, the wheels fall off. He only swings at pitches in the heart of the zone in pitchers’ counts 68.4 percent of the time, the lowest rate among Reds batters. His rate of swinging at pitches in the zone just 63 percent of the time is the 16th worst among qualified batters, according to FanGraphs.

De La Cruz’s 16 runs above average this season prove he’s a fundamental part of the Reds’ positive run differential. Imagine if he could more consistently fight back from 0-1 behind when he currently holds a .184 batting average and a .253 on-base percentage? A simple change of approach could supercharge the Reds’ inconsistent lineup and the star slugger. Good things happen when Elly De La Cruz swings the bat. Why not do it more?