Always a Virtue?: A Case Study of MLB’s Most Patient Hitters

Picked some guys to see what patience actually means.

There’s something of a misinterpretation in the world of those who follow Major League Baseball — and the sport at large, probably — as to what “approach” actually means. For many, it simply means being patient. Taking pitches. Working counts. Those who cling to the belief that patience manifests in the rest of your offensive game taking care of itself. It’s not a widespread belief, necessarily. Or one detrimental to our understanding of the game. But the oversimplified mindset exists nevertheless.

Of course, it’s a concept that offers far more nuance than some might be willing to acknowledge. It’s not a mere matter of taking pitches. It’s about taking the right pitches and swinging at the… other right ones. It requires a keen awareness of the strike zone. A targeting of specific pitch types or spots within the zone.

At the same time, no two hitters are the same within the general idea of approach. Some hitters do, in fact, take a high volume of pitches in that simple sense. They work deep counts, some to the extent that they provide more value in BB% than their actual bat. Think of 2024 Ian Happ prior to his recent power surge. Then you’ve got the folks who hop on a specific pitch type that they’re searching for in each plate appearance. Others, like Juan Soto, can showcase the balance between patience and actual hitting ability. To say nothing of the free-swingers that represent the other end of the spectrum.

Our focus here, though, is on those hitters who maintain an approach in the very broad sense noted above. Those who take the highest volume of pitches and/or feature the highest BB%. With that, the goal becomes examining the link between patience and performance within the context of a minuscule sample of players. That link, in turn, should help to illustrate the nuance present within the approach concept, given the varying skill sets of players examined.

In pursuit of examining the link, I’ve selected five players. Players within this group sit among the highest in either BB% or Pitches Per Plate Appearance (P/PA) or are hanging at the bottom of the Swing% leaderboard. The aim of the sample was to choose a group that represented different narrative profiles. That led to the following group:

  • Kyle Schwarber: The high-volume walk guy who bops but isn’t known for much outside of the two.
  • Ha-Seong Kim: The glove-first infielder known for a clutch hit but not sustained stretches of offensive excellence.
  • Elly De La Cruz: The electric talent who strikes out a ton despite taking a lot of pitches.
  • Bryson Stott: The still-young infielder who has doubled his walk rate, perhaps at the detriment of the rest of his offensive game.
  • Jonathan India: The former Rookie of the Year working to re-establish himself with the bat.

This offers us the variance we seek as far as the narrative profiles are concerned. You’ve got the heavy hitter, the budding star, and three different variations of light-hitting infielders. Of course, when you’re talking about the sample, it’s probably important to note that all five hitters are National League guys. This is somewhat of a coincidence. This happened largely due to names that were left off the selection.

For one, 13 of the top 20 hitters in BB% are in the NL. Eleven of the 20 lowest Swing% guys are NL hitters. Same goes for the highest P/PA. The remaining American League guys are names like Soto, Aaron Judge, and Kyle Tucker. These are actually elite hitters who can fuse patience into impact contact. This is why other NL names were similarly left off (Freddie FreemanMookie Betts, etc.) despite featuring in the section of the leaderboard we’re examining.

Of the five names selected, four are in the top 20 in BB%. All five are in the top 30. Three are in the top 30 in P/PA. And all five feature one of the 15 lowest Swing% figures in the league. Three are in the six lowest. There’s patience here that manifests both in taking pitches and doing so in a valuable fashion in terms of OBP.

And, again, the goal here isn’t to necessarily prove anything about approach. It’s simply to showcase the nuance inherent in the concept and its existence across multiple types of skill sets. So let’s talk about ’em.


Kyle Schwarber


  • Swing%: 39.5 (6th)
  • BB%: 16.4 (4th)
  • P/PA: 4.10 (29th)

Schwarber is a fascinating presence within this case study. The last two seasons have featured the highest BB% marks of his career, despite hitting just .197 last year and .202 through the first month of this one. Not only is his Swing% one of the league’s lowest, but his Z-Swing% is also one of the league’s 11 lowest rates as well. His Z-Contact% ranks even lower. This really feeds into a question as to whether there’s a link between Schwarber’s patience and his overall output. Because there doesn’t appear to be.


Remember the part in the ramblings above about targeting a specific pitch type? Schwarber’s power comes primarily from fastballs & breaking pitches. Only 14 percent of his home runs in the last three years have come on offspeed pitches. Fastballs, though, account for 62 percent of his home run totals over that stretch. While Schwarber has shown more of an ability to reach base with casual singles (he has 45 singles thus far in ’24 against 48 all of last year), the source of his value is in the power. As such, the heavy swing production on the hard stuff represents our link.


Ha-Seong Kim


  • Swing%: 36.8 (3rd)
  • BB%: 14.5 (6th)
  • P/PA: 4.20 (18th)

Kim represents an interesting contrast to Schwarber. The skill set is entirely different, except for the fact that his walk rate has also risen in the last two years. His 2024 BB% is almost twice what it was when he was a rookie in 2021. However, while Schwarber is parlaying a singular pitch type into his most valuable offensive contribution, Kim’s developments in the approach game are much more comprehensive.

In 2021, Kim’s overall Swing% stood at 44.2. His O-Swing% was 24.0, and he made contact at just about an even 80 percent clip. Those are fine numbers, to be sure. You’re getting balls in play from a guy who can run the bases quite well. But the longer Kim has been in the U.S., the more comfortable he’s grown at the plate. This is indicated by his drop in Swing%, his drop in O-Swing% (18.3 this year), and his steady rise in Contact% (84.8 this year). So in that very broad concept of approach, wherein the hitter takes pitches and it leads to better results, Kim may very well be the poster boy.


Elly De La Cruz


  • Swing%: 40.5 (10th)
  • BB%: 11.5 (28th)
  • P/PA: 3.97 (54th)

De La Cruz is perhaps the most interesting name on this list. We know what he brings to the game because none of it’s subtle. He has massive power, massive speed, and a massive arm. But a guy with a K% north of 30 is actually showing far more of an approach than we might think, given that penchant for the punchout.

Like Kim, De La Cruz has experienced drops in overall Swing% & O-Swing%. He’s reigned it in between last year and this year. Interestingly, though, his development hasn’t featured the same results as someone like Kim, who has boosted his overall contact ability through approach. De La Cruz is actually making less contact and demonstrating only slightly better quality of contact. Yet, the on-base and power numbers look better. This is courtesy of his work in the zone game.

The 2023 iteration of Elly was non-discriminatory as far as the strike zone was concerned. He swung everywhere. High, low, inside, outside. This year, he’s become more concentrated with middle-middle and middle-up representing his highest Swing%, according to Baseball Savant. I’ll give you one guess as to from where his most impactful swings are coming.


Bryson Stott


  • Swing%: 41.5 (15th)
  • BB%: 12.2 (19th)
  • P/PA: 3.97 (55th)

Thus far, we’ve got the pitch type approach, the comprehensive approach, and the zone awareness approach. Now we get to something entirely different in Stott. The Philadelphia Phillies started the year with a concerted effort to reign in their collective approach. It’s why someone like Nick Castellanos has struggled; he’s simply caught in-between given that early work. Stott is experiencing something similar. And different.

Stott’s Swing% is down across the board. His Whiff% is also down. But his CS% is up, and he’s making less quality contact. Interestingly, Stott is swinging within similar zones. The results within those zones have remained fairly constant as well. Of perhaps even more note, Stott isn’t actually taking more pitches. He’s swinging less, but it’s not automatically translating into lengthier plate appearances.

What Stott offers us is a glimpse into the paradox of approach. The walk rate is up, sure, but virtually nothing else along with it. While he’s doubled his walk rate from last year, he’s also working through pitch types, as breaking pitches, in particular, represent a source of chase and a lack of quality contact. His is worth monitoring within the grander scheme of not only the development of approach, but what approach actually looks like in the most nuanced of senses.


Jonathan India


  • Swing%: 35.5 (1st)
  • BB%: 13.3 (11th)
  • P/PA: 4.20 (17th)

Which brings us to our final case study. Jonathan India has struggled mightily since winning National League Rookie of the Year back in ’21, to the point where he’s been a below-average hitter by essentially all of the cumulative metrics in the three years since. The element of the walk is a new component to his game this year, however.

India’s previous career mark in BB% was 11.3 back in that 2021 season. What’s notable about his approach is that he’s been able to specifically lay off of pitches outside the strike zone. The Z-Swing% has remained the same, while the O-Swing% is down roughly 10 percent of even two years ago (and five off last year). The specific element of all of this appears to be the offspeed pitch.

Offspeed pitches have long been India’s largest source of trouble. They represent his lowest output of slug, while consistently being his highest source of chase. Opposing pitchers have thrown that specific pitch type outside the strike zone more than any other against India. This year, he’s experienced a sharp drop in both his Swing% & Chase% against the pitch type. The result? Well, fewer whiffs for one. But also a HardHit% that matches his 2021 figure against offspeed.

There are still some zone components to be worked out (his GB% is too high to be as effective as he was then), but India is at least doing some of the underlying stuff well again. There at least appears to be some work being done on the pitch type front.


The Paradox of “Having an Approach”


Despite the smallest of samples from only one side of the MLB spectrum, we actually ended up with a pretty decent spread. We’ve got a pair of hitters focused on pitch types (Schwarber/India). We’ve got one improving the approach from a zone perspective (De La Cruz). There’s the comprehensive approach that has improved in a general sense (Kim). And there’s the one still being worked through (Stott).

It wasn’t until I got about 75 percent of the way through the work here and dropped the ‘p’ word that I realized approach isn’t just a nuanced concept. It’s a paradoxical one. Taking more pitches doesn’t necessarily bump up the walk rate. And just because the walk rate is up doesn’t mean more pitches are being taken, either. You might work out one element of your approach, but another leak might spring elsewhere.

At least for now, we have an interesting sampling of five largely very different hitters who are all some of the most patient hitters the game has to offer. The results are vastly different. It’s stuff like this that makes your head spin.

Randy Holt

Randy Holt is a staff writer for Pitcher List & a depth charts analyst for Baseball Prospectus. He's a self-identified Cubs fan who has become more agnostic, instead obsessing about quality defensive baseball wherever he can find it. Randy has a sport management degree from the University of Florida, as well as degrees from Embry-Riddle & Arizona State. When not wasting away on the husk of Twitter/X, Randy is a high school English teacher & a baseball and golf coach.

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