Pitch F/x: Chris Tillman's Debut

Orioles prospect Chris Tillman made his debut last night, so let’s take a look at how he did. First, his line from his outing:


Baltimore IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA
Tillman 4.2 7 3 3 1 2 3 5.79

Now, let’s go to the Pitch F/x, in all its glory. Click on image to enlarge.
tillman_flight_7-29-09.png
Fastball - 60 at 93.35 MPH
Changeup - 18 at 81.07
Curveball - 15 at 79.38
Now, he has some good movement on his curveball, and his changeup is ok. His fastball is a little straight for my liking, but he may be able to get away with it if he continues throwing it at 93 MPH.
Expect to see plenty more from Tillman this year, as he seems to be up in the bigs for good. He’s already proved himself in the minors (posted a FIP of 2.95 in AAA this year), so the majors are his next task.

Pitch F/x: Chris Tillman’s Debut

Orioles prospect Chris Tillman made his debut last night, so let’s take a look at how he did. First, his line from his outing:


Baltimore IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA
Tillman 4.2 7 3 3 1 2 3 5.79

Now, let’s go to the Pitch F/x, in all its glory. Click on image to enlarge.
tillman_flight_7-29-09.png
Fastball - 60 at 93.35 MPH
Changeup - 18 at 81.07
Curveball - 15 at 79.38
Now, he has some good movement on his curveball, and his changeup is ok. His fastball is a little straight for my liking, but he may be able to get away with it if he continues throwing it at 93 MPH.
Expect to see plenty more from Tillman this year, as he seems to be up in the bigs for good. He’s already proved himself in the minors (posted a FIP of 2.95 in AAA this year), so the majors are his next task.

Where'd Ya Go?

For months, the baseball community has been trying to figure out what happened to Ian Kinsler. Just like Texas, everything about this guy’s season has been BIG. Big expectations, big home runs, big highs… and even bigger slumps. 

Heading into 2009, Kinsler’s young career had been filled with three brilliant, injury-riddled seasons. The 2008 season was his best yet, as he posted a .319/.375/.517 slash line, with a (great) 12.9 K%, 9.2 HR/FB %, and a .339 BABIP. Not bad for a second baseman, especially considering Dustin Pedroia took home some serious hardware in a season short on MVP candidates with a .326/.376/.493 line. 

Kinsler followed up ’08 in stellar fashion, with a .322/.384/.656 run at the dish in April, including 7 HRs in 90 ABs. Then, things slowed down a bit in an unseasonably cold .243 BA/.812 OPS May, and .245/.773 June, before completely fallling off the cliff in July, when he posted a .159/.207/.341 line.

So what happened?

One of the more popular theories out there is that Kinsler is the victim of some terrible, unforgivable luck. I can personally testify that this has been a part, as I played witness to Kinsler’s June 7th performance against Boston. Here, he went 1 for 5, despite ripping four line drives; one which landed in the glove of Jacoby Ellsbury in deep center field, and probably also landed in the top 3 of ESPN’s Top 10 plays of the week. There is more to this poor luck theory than just one game, however, as Kinsler is ripping his line drives, with a .837 BABIP, while barely making a dent with his ground balls (.144 BABIP) and fly balls (.074 BABIP). This screams of poor luck on balls in play, especially when his career ground ball BABIP is .226 and his fly ball BABIP is .109. While his 2009 line drive BABIP (.837) is up from his career line of .738, this has not been nearly enough to even out the rest of his line, leaving him with a .235 season BABIP. This brings me to my next point.

A few colleagues of mine have brought up the fact that Kinsler may be swinging for the fences too much this season, contributing to such a low BABIP. A few points: Kinsler’s power is way up this season, and I mean WAY up. His previous career high in HRs is 20 in 483 ABs in 2007. He already has 23 HR this season through 389 ABs. By all accounts, his triple slash lines should have been his best of the season in his poor months of May and June, when he struck out just 25 times in 217 ABs. As Dave Allen points out in one of the more interesting articles I’ve read in some time, adding uppercut to a swing can have some detrimental effects to a batter’s BABIP.

As per Allen, high-HR, high-K players tend to hit ground balls more poorly than low-HR, low-K players. Enter Kinsler, who has seemingly morphed into a different kind of hitter this season, having abandoned his balanced, line drive approach of the past to post a 55.1% FB rate this season, compared to a 46.6% in his career. When you combine the fact of how poorly Kinsler has hit ground balls this year (.144 BABIP), the picture gets a little clearer. Maybe Kinsler has gained a little uppercut on his swing this season. More home runs, fewer hits on ground balls. It sounds likely.

But before all the mail starts coming in, let it be known that Kinsler is not the same hitter as those outlined in Allen’s article. Kinsler has only struck out at a 15% clip this season, and has a HR/FB % of 12.8, not exactly an elite bomber. Still, the principle makes sense. Ground balls off of the bat of an uppercut swing will deflect harmlessly into the ground when compared to those of a level swing, which will be hit with more velocity; hence, Kinsler’s low BABIP on GBs. More fly balls are an indicator of an uppercut swing, hence Kinsler’s increased FB%.   

After reviewing all the evidence, Kinsler seems to be going through what many thought Jimmy Rollins was going through this season: abandoning a disciplined approach for a fly-ball oriented one. While Kinsler is showing that he can hit for some serious power, it has come at the expense of his batting average. But really, when everyone knows that chicks dig home runs, who can blame him?

From here on out, I would expect the triple slash stats to greatly improve and everyone will benefit from it, especially Kinsler’s agent. Before this happens, however, Kins will have to regain his eye at the plate. His July has been absolutely abominable, with 16 Ks against 2 BBs in 87 plate appearances. That is not Kinsler, and neither is the power hitter we saw in April. While I wouldn’t expect a B.J. Upton-esque spiral into oblivion, I wouldn’t expect him to pace 30 HRs the rest of the way either. Kinsler will be just fine, but it is going to take some serious time in the A/V room to regain his touch at the plate. Hopefully he can put it back together before Texas falls competely out of the race. The lineup cannot afford another Chris Davis imitator, especially at the top of the lineup. Then again, he just went 0-4 tonight against Detroit.

  

Thanks to Fangraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com for their contributions to this article.

Mike Silver recently completed his requirements for the Sport Management Major at THE University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where he is a brother of Theta Chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity, the best house in the country. He is a huge Red Sox and Bruins fan, and longs for the days of the REAL Boston Garden, Cam Neely, and the ultimate Dirt Dog Trot Nixon. If you have any questions, you can reach him at mjasilver@gmail.com. Have a good night readers, and know that Mike hopes to hear from you soon. If you quote Mike in an article, please let him know. He’d love to hear it.

Where’d Ya Go?

For months, the baseball community has been trying to figure out what happened to Ian Kinsler. Just like Texas, everything about this guy’s season has been BIG. Big expectations, big home runs, big highs… and even bigger slumps. 

Heading into 2009, Kinsler’s young career had been filled with three brilliant, injury-riddled seasons. The 2008 season was his best yet, as he posted a .319/.375/.517 slash line, with a (great) 12.9 K%, 9.2 HR/FB %, and a .339 BABIP. Not bad for a second baseman, especially considering Dustin Pedroia took home some serious hardware in a season short on MVP candidates with a .326/.376/.493 line. 

Kinsler followed up ’08 in stellar fashion, with a .322/.384/.656 run at the dish in April, including 7 HRs in 90 ABs. Then, things slowed down a bit in an unseasonably cold .243 BA/.812 OPS May, and .245/.773 June, before completely fallling off the cliff in July, when he posted a .159/.207/.341 line.

So what happened?

One of the more popular theories out there is that Kinsler is the victim of some terrible, unforgivable luck. I can personally testify that this has been a part, as I played witness to Kinsler’s June 7th performance against Boston. Here, he went 1 for 5, despite ripping four line drives; one which landed in the glove of Jacoby Ellsbury in deep center field, and probably also landed in the top 3 of ESPN’s Top 10 plays of the week. There is more to this poor luck theory than just one game, however, as Kinsler is ripping his line drives, with a .837 BABIP, while barely making a dent with his ground balls (.144 BABIP) and fly balls (.074 BABIP). This screams of poor luck on balls in play, especially when his career ground ball BABIP is .226 and his fly ball BABIP is .109. While his 2009 line drive BABIP (.837) is up from his career line of .738, this has not been nearly enough to even out the rest of his line, leaving him with a .235 season BABIP. This brings me to my next point.

A few colleagues of mine have brought up the fact that Kinsler may be swinging for the fences too much this season, contributing to such a low BABIP. A few points: Kinsler’s power is way up this season, and I mean WAY up. His previous career high in HRs is 20 in 483 ABs in 2007. He already has 23 HR this season through 389 ABs. By all accounts, his triple slash lines should have been his best of the season in his poor months of May and June, when he struck out just 25 times in 217 ABs. As Dave Allen points out in one of the more interesting articles I’ve read in some time, adding uppercut to a swing can have some detrimental effects to a batter’s BABIP.

As per Allen, high-HR, high-K players tend to hit ground balls more poorly than low-HR, low-K players. Enter Kinsler, who has seemingly morphed into a different kind of hitter this season, having abandoned his balanced, line drive approach of the past to post a 55.1% FB rate this season, compared to a 46.6% in his career. When you combine the fact of how poorly Kinsler has hit ground balls this year (.144 BABIP), the picture gets a little clearer. Maybe Kinsler has gained a little uppercut on his swing this season. More home runs, fewer hits on ground balls. It sounds likely.

But before all the mail starts coming in, let it be known that Kinsler is not the same hitter as those outlined in Allen’s article. Kinsler has only struck out at a 15% clip this season, and has a HR/FB % of 12.8, not exactly an elite bomber. Still, the principle makes sense. Ground balls off of the bat of an uppercut swing will deflect harmlessly into the ground when compared to those of a level swing, which will be hit with more velocity; hence, Kinsler’s low BABIP on GBs. More fly balls are an indicator of an uppercut swing, hence Kinsler’s increased FB%.   

After reviewing all the evidence, Kinsler seems to be going through what many thought Jimmy Rollins was going through this season: abandoning a disciplined approach for a fly-ball oriented one. While Kinsler is showing that he can hit for some serious power, it has come at the expense of his batting average. But really, when everyone knows that chicks dig home runs, who can blame him?

From here on out, I would expect the triple slash stats to greatly improve and everyone will benefit from it, especially Kinsler’s agent. Before this happens, however, Kins will have to regain his eye at the plate. His July has been absolutely abominable, with 16 Ks against 2 BBs in 87 plate appearances. That is not Kinsler, and neither is the power hitter we saw in April. While I wouldn’t expect a B.J. Upton-esque spiral into oblivion, I wouldn’t expect him to pace 30 HRs the rest of the way either. Kinsler will be just fine, but it is going to take some serious time in the A/V room to regain his touch at the plate. Hopefully he can put it back together before Texas falls competely out of the race. The lineup cannot afford another Chris Davis imitator, especially at the top of the lineup. Then again, he just went 0-4 tonight against Detroit.

  

Thanks to Fangraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com for their contributions to this article.

Mike Silver recently completed his requirements for the Sport Management Major at THE University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where he is a brother of Theta Chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity, the best house in the country. He is a huge Red Sox and Bruins fan, and longs for the days of the REAL Boston Garden, Cam Neely, and the ultimate Dirt Dog Trot Nixon. If you have any questions, you can reach him at mjasilver@gmail.com. Have a good night readers, and know that Mike hopes to hear from you soon. If you quote Mike in an article, please let him know. He’d love to hear it.

Betancourt Set for a Rockie Second Half

The Colorado Rockies and Cleveland Indians swapped age for youth yesterday, as Cleveland shipped stalwart relief pitcher Rafael Betancourt to Colorado for minor league pitcher Connor Graham. The move looks good for both sides. The Rox added a reliever they desperately needed, while the Indians cashed in on the career of a great relief pitcher who has shown signs of slipping in his age-34 season. 

Betancourt has been one of the better relievers in baseball over the course of the last seven seasons, posting a career 3.28 FIP, 8.98 K/9, and an excellent 2.37 BB/9. This impeccable command was the cornerstone of his success while tenured in Cleveland, especially during 2007, when he posted a 2.22 FIP on the shoulders of an incredible 1.02 BB/9.

While this career line may be that of an excellent eighth inning set up man or closer, the Rockies are not receiving such a pitcher. This season, Betancourt’s walk rate has skyrocketed to 4.4 BB/9 (although this is aided by an uncharacteristically high 4 UIBB in 30.2 IP). While his ERA sits at 3.52, he is benefitting from an unsustainably low LD rate of 12.3 %. More importantly, however, is that Betancourt is among the most extreme fly ball pitchers in baseball, making him as unsuited for Coors Field as anyone in the league. With a 0.59 GB:FB ratio, expect Betancourt’s FIP to balloon from a respectable 3.70 to somewhere north of 4.00. While this is still a quality bullpen arm, it is certainly not the makings of an eighth inning reliever a team can lean on in close games. 

With all the relief pitching that gets traded right around the deadline, the Rockies should have acquired a better fit for their team than a fly ball machine. But, with the the kind of pitchers the Rockies were already rolling with, Betancourt will still be a substantial upgrade. 

 

Thanks to Fangraphs.com for their contributions to this article.

Mike Silver recently completed his requirements for the Sport Management Major at THE University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where he is a brother of Theta Chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity, the best house in the country. He is a huge Red Sox and Bruins fan, and longs for the days of the REAL Boston Garden, Cam Neely, and the ultimate Dirt Dog Trot Nixon. If you have any questions, you can reach him at mjasilver@gmail.com. Have a good night readers, and know that Mike hopes to hear from you soon.

Pitch F/x: Clayton Mortensen

Earlier today, Matt Holliday was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for three prospects, one of which was pitcher Clayton Mortensen. Mortensen has actually pitched 3 innings in the bigs, so he has pitch f/x data to his name. Let’s take a look, and as always, click on the image to enlarge.

mortensen_move_6-29-09.png
Mort (I’m calling him Mort, deal with it) has a solid sinker with good sideways movement, and an inconsistent moving changeup. His slider is also highly inconsistent, and doesn’t move much anyway.
mortensen_loc_6-29-09.png
His location is his biggest issue, as the sinker stays up in the zone too often. He needs to pull it all together and become more consistent with his sinker and changeup location.
Resources
Thanks to Brooks Baseball for making the data really easy to find, and Harry Pav for tips on pitch types.

Throwing Strikes: How Important Is It?

The title is a little misleading, as throwing strikes is important. If you don’t throw strikes you can’t win, simple. But, how important are those few extra percentage of strikes you throw. 

I looked at multiple categories of numbers, and looks to see if there was a correlation with strike percentage. I only graphed the two extremes, and the one with the least correlation to keep this from getting out of hand. To the graph-mobile!
Click on graphs for larger view
strk_bb.png
That one should have been obvious, right? The more strikes you throw, the less you walk people. Next up:

Read more of this post

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

The Boston Red Sox are the envy of Major League Baseball. While every other team in the league scours for starting pitching, the Sawx sit comfortably, and confidently, in the lap of luxury. Analysts have gone on and on about the club’s starting pitching depth, which is, after all, “ridiculous”. While such depth is useful, the theory of marginal utility tells us a different story, that the addition of each new pitcher brings diminishing returns, rendering their depth useless. This fable couldn’t be more wrong.

There is no more valuable commodity in the MLB than a quality starting pitcher. Take a quick look around the MLB and it becomes obvious that almost every contending team is looking for a starter to round out their rotation… except the Red Sox. With nine (yes, nine) quality starting rotation candidates, the BoSox are in uncharted territory. If any of their current five fails (Beckett, Lester, Wakefield, Smoltz, Penny), they can call on any of their four supremely talented alternatives (Buchholz, Bowden, Masterson, Daisuke). Talk about an embarrassment of riches.

But depth can only bring a team so far. Unless there are injuries, they’ll never use any of their backups. This is where the genius of starting pitching depth comes in to play, albeit at a more subtle level.

A free agent pitcher signed to a one-year contract is the ultimate low-risk high-reward play. If a hitter is terrible, he rides the bench or is designated for assignment. He loses all value, like Julio Lugo, Edgar Renteria, or any Red Sox shortstop since 2005. If a pitcher can’t cut it, he can be moved to the bullpen as a low-leverage reliever or long-man, where he still maintains a good deal of his value. But there is one additional, more subtle benefit of starting pitching depth: everyone else in the league wants one. If a contending team has a hole in their rotation, they have to compete with dozens of other teams to acquire a starter. If this same team is instead missing a hitter, they will usually only compete with a handful of other teams for the league’s available options. There is always more demand for a starting pitcher than for a hitter because of the number of starting rotation spots that teams need to fill. In any given year, 2 contending teams will need a third baseman, while 15 will need a quality starting pitcher. Demand sets the price, and starting pitchers are in much higher demand.

This surplus can also help in offseason negotiations, as well, as a team doesn’t have to sign an overpriced hitter because the team “needs the bat”. Instead, they can plan to trade one of their extra pitchers for a hitter at the deadline. This helps in the long run, especially, as the team won’t get tied down to albatross contracts when they sign a desperation deal.

Take the Red Sox for example. The signings of Smoltz and Penny gave them low-cost, short commitments that made starting pitching expendable. They avoided doling out millions of dollars for an overpriced free agent hitter, and are now in position to deal for a bat if they need one. If they don’t need a bat, they could even deal a pitcher for hitting prospects, which their farm system is short on. The only thing more dangerous than a good team is a good team with options.

There is nothing quite like starting pitching depth. The Red Sox are in the best position of any team in the Major Leagues: at the top of their division with pieces to trade that won’t take away from their current team or sacrifice their future. Who knows, trading Penny and swapping in Buchholz could even upgrade their rotation. Now, there’s an organizational model we can all appreciate.  

 

Thanks to Fangraphs.com for their contributions to this article.

Mike Silver recently completed his requirements for the Sport Management Major at THE University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where he is a brother of Theta Chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity, the best house in the country. He is a huge Red Sox and Bruins fan, and longs for the days of the REAL Boston Garden, Cam Neely, and the ultimate Dirt Dog Trot Nixon. If you have any questions, you can reach him at mjasilver@gmail.com. Have a good night readers, and know that Mike hopes to hear from you soon.

Fitting the Pieces Together: Putting Time to Good Use

The explosion of free agent salaries in recent years has necessitated a paradigm shift in the way age is viewed in the MLB. Recent literature has shown that the peak years of MLB players tend to be around age 26, with some variability (some guys peak early, some peak late). Therefore, GMs need to stop assuming their “young guns” should be promoted aggressively to the majors. Instead, they need to start considering how their assets relate to each other in major league service time.

Back in the days of the reserve clause, before the beginning of free agency in the 1970s, it made sense to get a player to the majors as soon as possible. Free agency didn’t exist, so player salaries were always low. But now, teams usually only have control over a player for the six seasons before free agency arrives. Therefore, if a team knows that it will only have a player for six years, why not get the ones when he can help the team the most?

If you’re unfamiliar with the process of free agency in the major leagues, here’s a quick synopsis: Each player is under the control of their team for the first six full years of his career (this doesn’t change if he plays on multiple teams; as long as he plays six full years in the majors, he’s eligible for free agency). For the first three years of the six, he receives the league minimum salary. For the next three years, he is eligible for “arbitration”, which bumps up his salary considerably, but not to the price of what a free agent would make. After these three arbitration years, they can sign with another team through free agency.

A player being “ready” isn’t enough anymore. He has to be “good” and, most importantly, come along at when the team is competitive. Major league arrival timelines need to sync so that multiple prospects get to the big leagues at the same time. The Florida Marlins have been doing this for years. Let’s look at a couple examples of skillful and poor time management.

Alex Gordon

Alex Gordon could really have earned his own post with how badly he has been mismanaged by Kansas City. This is not a condemnation of how he’s turned out as a player, as he still possesses tremendous ability. But how could Kansas City have thought it was a good idea to promote this guy to the Major Leagues in 2007 after only one season in the minors? This would have been passable for a number of other teams, as he appeared to be ready for a big league role, but he was not going to be the difference for Kansas City that season. He’s now in his third year toward free agency, and he’s almost certainly destined to never play a meaningful game for Kansas City. He’s still “just 25″, but it doesn’t matter for the Royals when he’ll be gone when he’s 28. Had Gordon played AAA in 2007, he could have premiered in 2008 or later. Better yet, why even play him in AA in 2006 when you can play him a level lower, such as Buster Posey is now with the Giants? This could have pushed his arrival back to 2009, with team control until 2014. Even if Gordon had become the player the Royals had hoped he would be in 2007, KC would have wasted this valuable asset as non-contenders. Even George Brett would have couldn’t save this Royals team.

 

Kila Ka’aihue

Here’s a guy who doesn’t deserve to be in AAA, and is a prime example of keeping an MLB “ready” player under team control by blocking him with a veteran (Mike Jacobs). While this move appears to be prudent, the habits of the Kansas City organization indicate this is not by design.

Ka’aihue has been a good player since his 2005 stint in high-A, with a blip in the record in 2006. He’s got a great approach at the plate and good power. However, the signing of Mike Jacobs this off-season blocked his path to first base after Ka’aihue stormed onto the scene as a prospect in 2008, when he slugged 37 home runs between AA and AAA. Kansas City has not promoted him yet this season, and assuming he does not get promoted full-time until 2010, he will be under team control until 2015.

Maybe signing Jacobs was a ploy to keep Ka’aihue in the minors for the 2009 season. Maybe it wasn’t. Either way, the Royals might get his age 26-31 seasons for minimal cost, where he could be a key part of the first competitive Kansas City team in years. He’ll be an “old” 26 before next season starts, but when you only get six years of him anyway, who cares what his starting age is?

Jordan Zimmermann

The promotion of Jordan Zimmermann defies logic much in the same way that the Gordon promotion did. Zimmermann is a great player and fully deserves to be a major leaguer. However, the Nationals aren’t even close to contending this season and they’re wasting a year that Zimmermann could be contributing to a meaningful D.C. club in 2015.

Zimmermann was drafted in the second round (67th overall) by the Nationals in 2007. He was placed in low-A ball for the remainder of 2007, then high-A to start 2008. He was moved to AA that season after just 27.1 IP in A-. He performed very well in AA, and a 2009 season in AAA would have been a prudent move. However, he’s pitching in the bigs right now for a last-place Nationals team. He didn’t even spend a year and a half in the minors. The Nationals’ brass should have stretched out his minor league service to lead to a premier in 2010 or later. This would have been much better for the organization and the future of baseball in the nation’s capital.

Of just as much concern is the likelihood that the Nationals will treat Stephen Strasburg this way, assuming they sign him. If they promote him as aggressively as they promoted Zimmermann, expect a lot of big numbers with little team success.  Think Zack Greinke from 2007-2009. Prominent MLB writers have been hinting at a September 2009 call up since June. Absolutely foolish. Even Santana couldn’t save this team.

Elvis Andrus and Rick Porcello

Now, this comes with a some amount of hindsight to it, as I didn’t like Andrus move at the beginning of the season, but this was a good move by Texas. The Rangers undoubtedly rushed the 20-year old, as his bat is not quite ready, but he has been a part of their astonishing worst-to-fifth defensive turnaround that has made them a contender in the west. He’s only under control through his age-26 season, but if the team is successful until then, it will be a great move.

Rick Porcello is a young, 20-year old phenom whom Detroit may have been promoted before it was financially efficient. However, as a valuable cog for a contending team, it is difficult to argue against the results and how well he fits in with the team’s goal of winning now. Porcello has a chance to be Detroit’s version of Roy Halladay, but because he was promoted this year, he’ll have to be paid like an ace when he hits free agency. But that’s the tradeoff: win now and give up the cost-efficiency in the future. Imagine having a Cy Young contender whom you only have to pay $400,000. That’s time management, folks.

Had either Andrus or Porcello been on a poor team, this would have been a terrible blunder. However, with these clubs contending for the playoffs, their current value makes it worth accelerating their ascension to the major leagues. Now, if only the Red Sox would give Clay Buchholz a chance.

Age is no longer the number it used to be. From the perspective of a player’s ceiling, age is critical. But, when trying to build a competitive team, years under organizational control is far more important. It’s about how the pieces fit together, not how old the player is when he gets to the majors. Every MLB team needs to adopt this way of thinking. Why else would the Baltimore Orioles be the biggest sleeper for 2011?

Thanks to Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs.com for their contributions to this article.

Mike Silver recently completed his requirements for the Sport Management Major at THE University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where he is a brother of Theta Chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity, the best house in the country. He is a huge Red Sox and Bruins fan, and longs for the days of the REAL Boston Garden, Cam Neely, and the ultimate Dirt Dog Trot Nixon. If you have any questions, you can reach him at mjasilver@gmail.com. Have a good night readers, and know that Mike hopes to hear from you soon.

The Sultans of Selectivity: What Does O-Swing % Say About a Hitter

To me, O-Swing % is one of the most interesting stats on the web. It is a great indicator of a hitter’s plate discipline; one of the most important skills in becoming a successful, well-rounded hitter. With plate discipline, a batter can get into more hitter’s counts, leading to more hittable pitches, more walks, and fewer strikeouts, or so the theory goes.

If you’re unfamiliar with this statistic, O-Swing% measures the percentage of pitches outside the zone that a hitter swings at. For instance, if Mike Silver stepped to the plate and saw 10 pitches, 5 of which were out of the zone, and swung at two of those 5 outside of the zone, he would have an O-Swing% of 40%. For some perspective of this skill, the 2008 league leaders in O-Swing% were B.J. Upton, Troy Glaus (15.0% each), Chipper Jones (15.2%), and Jack Cust (15.3%). Those who swung the most often outside the strike zone were A.J. Pierzynski (40.6%), Bengie Molina (40.8%), Alexei Ramirez (42.7%), and Vladimir Guerrero (45.5%).

But, before we anoint these men the Dukes of Discretion or the Jacks of Judgment, know that O-Swing % is influenced heavily by how often a batter offers at a pitch. For instance, if you swing half the time that Vladimir Guerrero does, it’s perfectly reasonable that you may swing out of the zone half as much just because you swing less. Fewer swings = fewer opportunities to swing outside of the zone. However, this is a complex interaction that would be better served by its own post. For now, let’s get a good starting point and see how O-Swing% correlates with other indicators of success. Here are some correlation coefficients of O-Swing %. 

O-Swing % Correlation Coefficients

Plate Discipline

O-Contact%

Z-Swing%

Swing %

r

0.077987

0.625722

0.917764

Batted Balls

LD %

GB %

FB%

BABIP

r

-0.14743

0.064188

-0.00559

-0.10976

Three True Outcomes

BB%

K%

HR/FB %

r

-0.6988

-0.1905

-0.00633

 

Sample composed of all players who accumulated at least 500 plate appearances in 2008. Statistics from Fangraphs.com. 

There are a number of important conclusions to draw from this data. The strongest correlations reference a point made earlier in the article, that the players who have the worst O-Swing % may not necessarily have poor batting eyes. As a correlation coefficient in baseball statistics, the .917764 correlation between Swing % and O-Swing % is through the roof. The assumption that these players swing more is supported by the fact that their Z-Swing % has a high positive correlation as well. While players with high O-Swing % swing at bad pitches, they offer at a lot of good ones, too. In the end, they just swing more.

Another strong correlation is the negative r value of BB%. Intuitively, if you swing at balls more, you will walk less. Also, if you swing more, and make contact with these pitches, your at-bats will end sooner, meaning fewer chances to walk. This also plays into the negative correlation seen with K%. Again, if you swing more, your at bats will end sooner, assuming you can make contact with the pitches. Players with high O-Swing % walk less, but they also strike out slightly less.  

The rest of the correlations are either weak or negligible, yet they still say a lot about what we know of plate discipline, such as the correlations with LD% and BABIP. These negative coefficients indicate that these players are likely making contact with bad pitches and therefore not hitting them well. I actually expected these correlations to be stronger, but they seem to speak volumes to the problem of selection bias in baseball statistical analysis. To make it to the major leagues, you need to be a good hitter. Therefore, even if a player swings at bad pitches, his acumen as a hitter must have been good enough to get him to the majors in spite of his approach at the plate.

O-Swing % is a great indicator of a player’s plate discipline. However, it does not guarantee success if a player has a low O-Swing %; nor does it condemn a player if he is poor in this area of the game. The correlation coefficients indicate that it is better to be a patient hitter, but by no mean should you dismiss a hitter because of a high O-Swing %. After all, wouldn’t you love to see Vladdy Daddy on your home town team? I know I would.

Thanks to Fangraphs.com for their contributions to this article.

Mike Silver recently completed his requirements for the Sport Management Major at THE University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where he is a brother of Theta Chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity, the best house in the country. He is a huge Red Sox and Bruins fan, and longs for the days of the REAL Boston Garden, Cam Neely, and the ultimate Dirt Dog Trot Nixon. If you have any questions, you can reach him at mjasilver@gmail.com. Have a good night readers, and know that Mike hopes to hear from you soon.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.