Since hating on Ian is the in thing to do (and completely rightfully so, he's been awful) I went back to see what I was worried about when I evaluated Ian this offseason. Contact rate dropping, swinging strike rate going up, unable to turn on pitches down the middle... OK well I guess things have continued on their unmerry way.
Except they haven't.
Looking at the fancy numbers he isn't making less contact, or swinging and missing more. You could argue a tweak here looks worse with his approach, but you could actually argue a tweak here looks better. If he's not getting worse at the plate in what he's swinging at and if he's making contact, why then is he getting worse results? It's not just bad luck (BABIP is fine).
One thing is his HR/FB rate is way down from 18.2% to 9.3%. Now that could be luck or it could not be. What do the charts tell me? Well without taking up all that space - he's turning pitches up and in (in the zone) that he used to hit for FBs into GBs. I don't have to tell you that you don't hit many GB homeruns. The pitches that he is hitting for flyballs on the inside of the plate are no longer going out.
It could be his bat speed is going (he is hitting more soft hits and fewer hard ones) It could. It could also be his bat is just a little off, balls are hit softer when you don't hit them square. Either way that drop in power is the difference between a .222 guy with 5 homeruns you are wanting to see benched and a .242, 10 homer guy you say "there are bigger issues right now" about.
However that's not the only issue. His walk rate is down significantly. This is a bit of a conundrum. How do you manage to take half as many walks without making less contract or seeing more pitches in the zone (that could be taken for strikes)? The answer is potentially in bad contact. Although he's not swinging and missing more, he's swinging a bit more, and doing this more outside the zone than inside. He's making more contact outside the zone so potentially that would mean more foul balls. And yes - that's what we see. A bump in foul balls by over a percent from last year.
Other numbers that have changed - his 3-0, 2-0, 3-1 counts seen are down... his strikes looking hasn't changed.... his P/PA is way down... ok a clearer picture is coming into view.
Despite all the K's Ian isn't wildly flailing at pitches trying for homers, at least it doesn't appear that way. It appears he is being increasingly aggressive (he's swung at neatly 45% of first pitches) and making contact but not good contact. He's fouling away more balls and putting more weak balls into play. He's ending up with a ton of K's again because he's putting himself in a lot of bad counts when he isn't grounding out, but not because he's losing his ability to tell strikes from balls. (He was never all that good at that).
This gives me some hope that it could be an approach issue. If he's trying toget more base hits, either under pressure of free agency or to combat the dropping batting average (or both), then we can see a better Ian the rest of the year. In this case he's just not playing to his strengths, which is crushing mistakes and "his pitches", while lucking into a few walks, and maybe someone can get him back to doing that. He may be a .250-.260 20-25HR guy, crashing because he's trying to put balls in play he normally wouldn't trying to be a .290 guy that he was that one year.
The other possibility is that he's just not able to make good contact anymore. He's just missing on pitches he should be hitting hard and it's bringing down his biggest skill set, his power. Everything else doesn't necessarily have to be this bad. Because we don't see other stats falling, it's likely the extras swings we see are compensation for the lack of power. Frustration swings, let's call them. Calm him down and he could hit .235+ and walk a bit more. Of course this is just a band-aid. Without the power he's not going to be a worthwhile offensive player.