Adventures in Extreme Plate Discipline

How do you have non-existent power (second worst in baseball), an average BABIP and still provide above average offensive value? One way is to walk 2.39 times for everytime you strikeout like Luis Castillo has done so far this year. Luis Castillo is leading the league in BB/K, a little bit higher than Albert Pujols.

Castillo does it by swinging at nothing. He has the second lowest O-swing rate to Marco Scutaro and by far the lowest Z-swing rate, the only player under 50%. Throw Luis Castillo a pitch in the zone and he is more likely to take it than swing at it. When he does swing he makes contact over 94% of the time, tops in the league.

Effectively Castillo is just waiting for the pitcher to walk him. Taking almost all pitches out of the zone, over half of them in the zone and hoping to accumulate enough balls for a free pass. When he does swing he almost always makes contact, so he rarely strikes out. I wanted to see how it does it. First I looked at how often his swings by the number of strikes.

 Swing Rate
| Strikes  |  Castillo |   Average |
| 0        |     0.129 |     0.291 |  
| 1        |     0.322 |     0.489 |
| 2        |     0.536 |     0.600 |

So his difference from average is the largest early in the count. By the time he has two strikes he swings at about league average rate, which is how he keeps his strikeouts down. Let’s see what that looks like in terms of his swing contours. Castillo is a switch hitter but I plotted just his at-bats as a lefty and compared him to other lefties. Recall that I am plotting his 50% swing contour, that is inside the contour his swing rate is greater than 50% and outside less. Additionally for zero strikes I also plotted the 25% contour. Right along that contour he swings 25% of the time, inside of it greater than 25% of the time and outside less.


With no strikes Castillo doesn’t have a 50% contour. There is no location where he is more likely to swing at a pitch than not when he has no strikes. In fact his 25% swing contour is about the same as the average lefty’s 50% swing contour. So he is about half as likely as the average lefty to swing at a pitch down the middle of the plate. As he gets more strikes his contour looks more and more like the average lefty. With more strikes he starts to swing more, since he doesn’t want to strike out looking.

Since he has no power and very rarely swings at pitches out of the zone opposing pitchers have no reason to throw him anything but strikes. His in zone percentage is high, 51.6%, but there are lots of batters higher. J.J. Hardy, Colby Rasmus, Mike Cameron, B.J. Upton and Yunel Escobar, among others, all see a higher percentage of strikes. So pitchers should have the ability to throw him a higher percentage of strikes than they are. I think this is probably because Castillo usually bats in front of the pitcher, while those guys in front of power hitters. Even so you have to think pitchers are making a mistake. The currency of the game is outs, and at-bats to Castillo could be ending in outs more often than they do.

EDIT: I stand corrected, Castillo has led off 14 times, batted 2nd 26 times and 8th 23 times. Based on this there is no one excuse for pitchers not pounding it in the zone 55% of the time like they do against David Eckstein, Willy Taveras and Jason Kendall.

I think most people view Castillo as a pretty boring player, but he is able to provide above average offensive value with no power and a diminishing ability to beat out grounders (his value used to come from an above average BABIP). I think that is cool, he can take extreme plate discipline, and little else, and make it work.

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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.

21 Responses to “Adventures in Extreme Plate Discipline”

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  1. Dan says:

    My favorite baseball article in months, I absolutely love the swing contour graph, and showing how valuable a player without any other real skills can be. Any chance of having a swing contour for other players as a regular part of fangraphs?

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  2. B says:

    Agree’d, awesome article.

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  3. Pat Andriola says:

    Great stuff, but as a Mets fan I’d point out that Castillo hits in the 1-2 spot more than he does in the 8 spot. It makes no sense for pitcher no to throw strikes to him.

    But, I’ll give him credit with 2 strikes. The reason his contour expands to close to league average is obvious, but he also is able to foul off a ton of those pitches, waiting for the next ball to come.

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  4. Craig says:

    I love the swing contour graph too. In fact it’s something I thought about when pitch f/x debuted but never got a chance to look that much into.

    I think swing contours for all batters would be amazingly cool to have on the site. I also think it would be really cool to see them broken down by pitch count, type of pitch, count, etc.

    The same thing for different pitchers but based on how all hitters react to their pitches would be awesome as well.

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  5. Joe R says:

    No wonder Jerry Manuel doesn’t like him. All those team killing walks.

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  6. NBH says:

    Great piece. Castillo also leads the league in fake bunt attempts. At least once per game he squares to bunt and pulls the bat away.

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    • NBH says:

      Clarification – he does this without any intention to actually bunt or swing the bat. He just squares, then pulls the bat back and takes the pitch…even if it is right down the middle.

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    • Pat Andriola says:

      Dave, he does it at all times. He just does it to mess with the pitcher’s head. Anything to get him to throw it wildly. Strictly anecdotally, I’d say it’s semi-effective.

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  7. Brian Recca says:

    Amazing article, I plan on showing this to a bunch of my friends who don’t understand the value of a walk and on base percentage. They just happen to be Mets fans as well.

    @Joe R
    Your comment was funny, sad, and true all at the same time. Well Done.

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  8. Max says:

    “Based on this there is no one excuse for pitchers not pounding it in the zone 55% of the time like they do against David Eckstein, Willy Taveras and Jason Kendall.”

    I’ve been saying this for a while. The only explanation I’ve come up with is the following: Luis Castillo is a jedi and uses the force to push pitches out of the zone.

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  9. Michael says:

    Great work here Dave. I love these contour zones and only wish I could make one myself. I’ve been really interested in the plate discipline data offered here at FanGraphs for analysis of a player’s plate approach, and I’ve done some rudimentary plate approach analysis with some players of interest. Good stuff, keep it up.

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  10. Max says:

    On a serious note. Is it possible to do a quick study to check if Luis’ reputation as a patient hitter gets umpires to call borderline pitches in his favor more often than the average hitter?

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  11. snowball2 says:

    I am interested in Max’s question as well. Could you do the same type of analysis you did in your Baseball Analysts post ‘Does the Umpire Know the Count?’ (, except only do it for Luis’s at bats.

    Great post Dave!

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  12. Brian Cartwright says:

    Guys who swing and miss a lot can’t afford to take a strike, they are precious commodities not to be wasted. Castillo, on the other hand, can take two strikes (and however many balls) without worrying about striking out, because of his excellent contact skills.

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    • Dave Allen says:

      Brian, that is a very good way of thinking about it. I wish I had phrased it that way in the article.

      Do you know if it is generally true that there is an inverse relationship between swing rate and contact rate?

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  13. iyh says:

    Hey Dave,

    Is there Hit F/X data for minor league games? If so, I’d like to know why, or at least get a sense for why, Chris Davis isn’t striking out as much in Triple-A. Obviously, it’s partially (if not mostly) a function of the competition, but I suspect there’s also been a slight change in approach/selectivity on Davis’ part.


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    • Dave Allen says:

      Just to be clear this analysis is based on the pitchf/x data, which gives, among other things the location of the pitch in the zone. The hitf/x data gives information about the ball after it is hit.

      They do not have the pitchf/x system, or hitf/x for that matter, set up in minor league parks. At the pitchf/x summit I thought I heard that some teams have or are planning on installing the system in their minor league parks. If those teams have done so already the data are not publicly available.

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  14. Joe says:

    What about Castillo as a right-hander? Is it any different? He has 25 career HR as a RH and only 2 as a LH. .427 SLG RH vs .328 LH and .005 lower OBP RH with a .009 higher AVG. Is there a change in his approach?

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    • Dave Allen says:

      Joe, great question. He has about twice as many PAs as a lefty and sees more pitches as a lefty so even more than twice as many pitches seen as a lefty than a righty. That made it harder to make as finely resolved swing contours after breaking the data up also by number of strikes. I should probably have done generally though a swing contour as lefty vs as righty not broken up by number of strikes. It does look like he walks much less as a righty (walk rate is halved). He does swing more as a righty 33% of the time versus 30% of the time as a lefty.

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  15. D says:

    As a Mets fan, I appreciate the 2009 version of Castillo, even if he did drop a routine pop-up. And I wish Manuel would bat him 2nd more often.

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