Royce Lewis is no longer on the Twins big-league roster. The top prospect slashed .308/.325/.564 with the ballclub, a total impressive for most hitters in the game, much less one who just recently played his first professional baseball game in two-and-a-half years. But the Twins, whether so enamored by Gio Urshela that they couldn’t possibly DFA him, or doggedly set on having Lewis play shortstop no matter the cost, optioned him to AAA. While Lewis is now literally just 15 minutes away, let's dive far too deep into his offensive numbers in the majors.
Looking first at his O-Swing%, Lewis swung at 33.3% of pitches outside the strike zone, placing him 34th highest amongst qualified hitters in MLB, sandwiched between two Austins; Hays and Riley. There’s nothing inherently damning about that stat—O-Swing rate is more descriptive of how the meat is made rather than its quality; that he’s between a great hitter in Riley and a forgettable one in Hays makes that point by itself. Dave Cherman’s work allows us to understand that O-Swing rate is correlated with walks, meaning that Lewis did not show much of an affinity for taking a free base, which we knew.
The following important stat is O-Contact %—how much contact did Lewis make with pitches outside the strike zone? He put up a 70.0% mark, an elite total that would tie him with teammate Gio Urshela and Ozzie Albies for 24th in baseball. If you can believe it, making contact with pitches outside the zone is a great way to lower your strikeout rate (as pointed out by general baseball logic and Cherman’s work from above), and Lewis rocked this area. His otherworldly 12% strikeout rate is probably lower than it will be when his numbers stabilize, but he should still settle in with a punchout rate well below average (in a good way).
Finally, we’ll observe Z-Contact %. Zone contact rate, again using Cherman’s work to help, is correlated with strikeouts—a swing and a miss inside the zone means as much for the count as a swing and a miss outside of it. Lewis’s 88.2 % mark is well above average, sitting 54th among 172 hitters, right above José Abreu. Again, this number is hardly world-altering, but it reflects a hitter capable of putting the ball in play at the major league level.
What is incredibly odd is that Lewis saw 56.8 % of pitches inside the strike zone, a total that would top the leaderboards if he qualified for them. MLB pitchers, rather than berate him with junk, thought the best course of action would be to hurl him enough strikes to make Jimmy Hoffa proud.
That level of zone-filling will certainly change whenever Lewis re-joins the team.
Batted Ball Nuggets
Lewis popped an xWOBA of .347, good enough to tie him with known elite bats Gavin Lux and Andrew Knizer; Austin Hays isn’t far behind. Perhaps most impressive was his smoked “officer, I didn’t mean to kill him” 114 MPH line-out that could have cartoonishly blasted José Ramírez through brick walls if we didn’t live in such a dull reality. Instead, it was just an out. So it goes.
Not Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, or another big-meaty man, Pete Alonso, have hit a ball harder this year.
The baseball gods gave Royce Lewis 139 pitches to sculpt an impressive resume from, and he did a solid B+ job, hinting at a tool collection full of noisy, consistent contact. Happenstance chose otherwise this time, but Lewis is guaranteed another shot at staying in the majors whenever the universe next carelessly chooses to injure an unfortunate starter. Hopefully, for that player’s sake, their nickname isn’t Wally Pipp.