The 2012 season has been a disappointment for Desmond Jennings. After a fantastic rookie campaign in 2011, Jennings’ second year has seen too many downs, including a stint on the disabled list in May. Coming into the weekend series with the Twins, Jennings was hitting .237/.303/.369 in 362 plate appearances.
Jennings strikeout rate has increased from his rookie season and his walk rate has decreased. His power, while still respectable for a leadoff hitter, has come in spurts instead of a consistent flow. The one constant for the outfielder is his excellent speed and defense; although he has 19 steals in 20 chances–his low on-base percentage has limited his opportunities on the basepaths.
In explaining the struggles, one possible reason is Jennings’ aggressiveness at the plate. He has increased his overall number of swings by six percent, with the bulk of those extra hacks coming on balls located outside of the strike zone. While he has made a good amount of contact on pitches overall, swinging at balls is typically not a good development.
After batting leadoff for most of his career, Jennings was temporarily dropped in the lineup in late-July. The most obvious reason for the demotion was the overaggressive approach on pitches outside of the zone and passive takes on pitches inside of it. He has since returned to the top of the lineup, but the results have still been inconsistent; at least until this weekend. Following a day off on Thursday, the refreshed 26-year-old exploded in Minnesota by racking up six hits in 12 at-bats (including two doubles and a home run). Jennings also reached base twice via walks and swiped two bases in two attempts.
The big reason for Jennings’ success this weekend was simple: swing at strikes and pass on balls. He took 21 swings in the three-game series. Of those, 18 of them were on pitches located in the strike zone. He was aggressive early in the count when pitchers tend to throw more pitches in the zone to get ahead. Jennings had two hits on the first pitch of at-bats and also doubled on a 1-1 count.
Two of Jennings’ three out-of-zone hacks were in defense-mode situations. In the first inning on Sunday, he fouled off the fourth pitch from Scott Diamond–a two-strike changeup outside–before belting the next pitch for a home run. In the third inning, he fouled off a full-count fastball before taking the next pitch for ball four.
The sample size is far too small to make any declaration of changes; however, both the processes and results of these past three games are encouraging. While many are making much ado about Evan Longoria’s return, a productive Jennings at the top of the lineup could have big implications as well. If Jennings continues to take a more disciplined approach at the plate then the last two months of the season may resemble 2011 more than the first four months of 2012.