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Analysis Supports Edouard Julien’s Discerning Approach

Should Julien swing more often? Probably not. Is he too passive? Probably not.

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Division Series - Houston Astros v Minnesota Twins - Game Three
Edouard Julien #47 of the Minnesota Twins strikes out looking during Game Three of the Division Series against the Houston Astros
Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Edouard Julien has always been a discerning, patient type of hitter. He’s said he modeled himself after such plate discipline luminaries as Joey Votto and Max Muncy. That selective approach led to league-leading walk rates in the high teens (as a percentage of plate appearances) as a prospect. Julien’s combined 110 walks across two minor league levels in 2021 were the most of any player in the minors that season. He followed that up with 98 more in AA in 2022, and then 96 last season between AAA St. Paul and the Twins.

In 408 plate appearances with the Twins last season, Julien slashed .263/.381/.459, which worked out to a .366 wOBA and 136 wRC+. Among the 212 players to take at least 400 plate appearances, Julien’s 15.7% walk rate ranked 5th, and his on-base percentage ranked 15th.

Those results speak for themselves, and Julien’s plate discipline metrics support the idea that he has an elite grasp of the strike zone and the pitch locations he wants to target. He swung at just 37.6% of the pitches he saw last season, the 4th-lowest rate. Only Lars Nootbaar, Juan Soto, and Kyle Schwarber swung less often.

On pitches out of the strike zone, Julien paced the majors by swinging at just 14.8% of them, per Statcast. That mark bested the supernatural plate discipline of Soto by a whopping 2.4 points. The gap between Julien and the 2nd-ranked Soto in this metric was the same as the difference between Soto and the 20th-ranked hitter, Matt Chapman.

You can see in the chart below that Julien’s strike zone judgment — i.e., the “correctness” of his swings and takes, using the likelihood of a pitch being a called strike (for swings) or a ball/HBP (for takes) — was top of the scale:

Julien was patient, and he was dangerous when he did swing. Julien cracked 33 extra-base hits with the Twins (16 homers) and his .459 slugging percentage ranked in the top third of those 212 players mentioned above.

Even more impressive were Julien’s results on contact, which ranked among baseball’s best sluggers. His .483 weighted on-base average on contact (wOBAcon) was 9th-best and in the company of players like Corey Seager and Luis Robert.

Is Julien Too Passive?

Going back to Julien’s prospect days, the debate about his power and patience approach has been about its balance. With his results on contact and ability to put the ball in the seats, the question has been if Julien is too passive at the plate and too willing to let opportunities to drive pitches go by. Should he let it rip more often?

That was the developmental focus the Twins asked of Julien in 2022. “My approach was less passive this year,” Julien acknowledged to FanGraphs’ David Laurila during the Arizona Fall League. “In 2021, I was waiting for pitches way more. This year, I wanted to be more aggressive, swinging early on off-speed pitches that were hung, and going after fastballs that I felt I could do damage on.

While we’ve come a long way since the Moneyball era helped us better appreciate the value of a walk, hitting philosophy is still primarily driven by the “get a good ball to hit” ethos of Ted Williams.

Hitters Swing Too Often

When I wrote about the Twins’ struggles with the bases loaded early last season, one of the potential reasons I suggested for their issues was that they were simply swinging too frequently. That idea was informed by several recent analyses, like this one from Driveline and this summary scan by Eno Sarris, that have concluded that batters, on the whole, swing too often, even in the types of ball-strike counts that are traditionally thought to be to hitters’ advantage.

Tom Tango recently had a post with this summary chart of hitters’ run values per 100 pitches results, by ball-strike count and zone location. (Click to enlarge it).

Credit: Tom Tango

There are a lot of interesting things to take away from that chart.

For me, one of the first was how many of the cells in the swing columns were blue (negative). On average, swinging results in negative outcomes for the hitter all over the zone, even in the heart of the plate (two-strike counts being the obvious exception).

Those numbers generally track with the adage that even great hitters make an out six or seven out of ten times. That wisdom is often presented as a reason for hitters to focus on the things they can control, like going after good balls to hit, but something about seeing that play out in these numbers hammers that point home in a visceral way.

The most surprising thing that stood out to me was pitches in the heart of the plate in the 3-1 counts and 2-0 counts. Those are the situations that we reflexively expect hitters to cut it loose, especially in the middle of the plate. Get into one of those counts and then seek to do loud damage, the thinking goes. Yet, in both situations, the average run values from swings are negative.

That’s not to say hitters shouldn’t swing in those opportunities. That data shows that swinging is better than the alternative in those counts and locations. That’s very clear in the 2-0 counts (-2.5 from swings vs. -6.1 from takes), but it’s much closer in 3-1 counts (-6.1 vs. -8.2). But once you leave the heart of the plate locations in those counts, the decisions are in favor of not swinging.

Tango’s takeaway from that data was that batters are not, on average, discerning enough to consistently tell the difference between a pitch in the heart of the plate that they should swing at and an in-zone shadow zone pitch that they should take. Therefore, maybe they’d be better off not swinging in 3-1 counts as a rule.

That Doesn’t Apply to Julien

I say often that group statistics are not very good indicators for individual outcomes. While it might make sense for the average MLB hitter to follow Tango’s advice, that advice might not have as much applicability for someone with Julien’s refined skill set.

When Julien was ahead in the count last season, and the pitch was located in the heart of the plate, he swung 73.4% of the time, which is more or less the same as the 74.5% league average in that situation. So, he displayed more or less average aggressiveness in the middle of the plate in hitters’ counts.

But where he differentiated himself is on pitches in the shadow zone. Against those pitches, when ahead in the count, Julien swung just 35% of the time, the 4th-lowest rate in the league among the 170 players to see at least 200 shadow zone pitches. The rest of the league swung at 51.4%. On pitches out of the zone, he went after just 7.9%, less than half as often as the league’s 16.8%.

On shadow zone pitches, inside the strike zone, Julien swung at just 21.3%. The league did so at 33.0%. Julien’s swing rate against such pitches was the lowest in the league.

The league might not be able to discern heart from shadow strike finely enough to make good swing decisions, but Eddie Julien seemingly can. That’s illustrated well by these heatmaps from Pitcherlist:

In particular, I’ll call your attention to the swing aggression (top left) and power (bottom right) charts. Look how well they overlay one another. Where Julien’s power plays best is also where he’s being the most aggressive in swinging. That’s a great approach.

Should Julien swing more often? Probably not. Is he too passive? Probably not. He just has an outstanding grasp of where he can do damage and the skills and approach that enable him to execute to his strengths.

John is a writer for Twinkie Town and Pitcher List with an emphasis on analysis. He is a lifelong Twins fan and former college pitcher. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnFoley_21.