Busting Out: Corey Patterson

Corey Patterson has always been thought of as a guy with tremendous potential. From 1999 to 2001, Baseball America ranked him as the 16th, 3rd, and 2nd best prospect in baseball respectively. The physical talents were obvious; terrific athleticism, quick bat, legitimate home run power, and serious speed from a guy playing a premium defensive position well. However, Patterson struggled to refine his approach at the plate, and by repeatedly chasing pitches out of the strike zone, he made himself a fairly easy out for opposing pitchers. If you can’t make contact, it is tough to be an offensive asset. For seven years, Patterson simply didn’t hit the ball often enough to live up to his natural talent, which led to him being bounced out of both Chicago and Baltimore and finding himself as an unwanted free agent this winter.

After an offseason of rejection, the Cincinnati Reds offered him a minor league contract on March 3rd, giving him a chance to fight for a roster spot in spring training. After they decided to send Jay Bruce to Triple-A to start the year, Patterson found himself with a regular job, and with the way his 2008 season has started (.57 WPA/LI and the Reds best hitter to date), he may just have found a home where he can remind people of the player they thought he would be.

It all starts with his strikeout rate. Look at the graph of his contact ability throughout his career.

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During his time in Chicago, he was a strikeout machine. As you can see, this is something he’s clearly worked on improving, as the line from his 2005 to 2008 strikeout rate shows a huge decline. So far this year, he’s struck out two times in 46 plate appearances. That’s pretty remarkable for a guy with a career K% of 22.7%. His current K% of 4.8% puts him in a group with noted contact kings Casey Kotchman and Placido Polanco. When you look at the pitch data summary from his Baseball-Reference page, you can see the difference. Even though he’s seeing less strikes than in any other season, he’s only swinging at 72% of those pitches in the strike zone, compared to a career average of 81%.

By being more selective in which pitches to swing at, Patterson has managed to put himself in positions to hit pitches he can do something with, and that’s been manifest in his performance. Of his 11 hits, five are doubles and four are home runs, giving him a .405 Isolated Slugging Percentage that ranks fifth in all of baseball. Patterson’s early season performance isn’t going to be sustained at this level (a 7% swinging strike rate is impossible to keep up), but there are legitimate reasons to believe that he’s adopted a new approach at the plate, and his continued contact ability could be just the ticket to stardom that people have been projecting on Patterson for most of this decade.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


12 Responses to “Busting Out: Corey Patterson”

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  1. Eric Seidman says:

    I bet Dusty Baker is salivating over this post, Dave.

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  2. Dave Cameron says:

    For all the crap that Baker and the Reds get for the things they do wrong, they nailed this one and deserve credit for doing so. Patterson’s a legitimate asset, and picking him up for free is the kind of move that earned Billy Beane the genius label. This was a classic case of finding an undervalued talent and turning it into a competitive advantage.

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  3. That is a really remarkable graph. I can’t image a whole lot of players at that point in their career develop plate discipline. I wonder what other players have decreased their strikeout rate by that much in three years.

    I know the cubs were trying to get him to shorten his swing… I wonder if he finally did that.

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  4. Eric Seidman says:

    Yeah I was initially skeptical of the move because it seemed like something a team that really felt they contend would do – and that is not something I honestly see the Reds doing this year. But who knows, maybe they will and maybe Patterson will keep this up. I would love to revisit this in June or July and see if he is keeping everything up. The graph truly is remarkable though. What are Patterson’s called-third strike numbers? I remember reading about Burrell and how his increased plate discipline has caused a jump in walks but also a jump in his percentage of called-thirds.

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  5. dan says:

    His PrOPS numbers are even more impressive (.327/.364/.676), but he’s still not walking at all despite the decline in strikeouts.

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  6. Dave Cameron says:

    When you’re hitting the ball like a .327 hitter and slugging like a .676 power hitter, walks are just getting in the way of your extra base hits.

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  7. drew says:

    The one thing I’ve never understood about Patterson is his sporadic power. In 2005 and 2007 Corey suffered a serious power drop in a significant number of plate appearances. Could it be that Corey doesn’t like extra base hits in odd numbered years? Just Kidding but seriously, does anyone have some insight to this?

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  8. Dave Cameron says:

    Check out his GB%. He had a 46% GB rate in 2005 and a 44% GB rate in 2007, the two highest groundball rates of his career. In every other year, he’s between 38% and 40%. Groundballs lead to singles and outs, not extra base hits. His power didn’t go anywhere – he just hit the ball in the air less often.

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  9. philosofool says:

    I don’t think that this is going to be the year that Corey Patterson emerges as a notable performer. His improved K/PA accompanied a serious decline in power: his HR/Fly rate dropped from over 11% to below 5% from 2006 to 2007.

    One might think that his current performance shows that this will turn around, but observational data from hittracker suggests this isn’t so. (I’d link it, but the last time I wrote a comment here with a link, it never posted, so you’ll just have to google hittracker to get that info.) His average home run distance is 369 feet; one of them would have been a homer in no other park in the country, another in only 12 other parks.

    If Patterson keeps it up, he may stick around for awhile, but my guess is that sometime around June 1st he looses his regular job to Jay Bruce. My guess is that Patterson was hired as a stopgap CF while he Reds wait awhile on Jay Bruce to avoid second year arbitration eligibility for their top prospect.

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  10. David says:

    Interesting analysis.

    Anytime for a quick summary of the pitch data on baseball-reference, I’d like to understand it but can’t find a glossary related to it on the site. Thanks

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  11. Dave Cameron says:

    If you go to a player’s B-R page, such as Alex Rodriguez’s here, you’ll see Pitch Data Summary (show or hide) about halfway down. Click that to expand it, and the data shows up – below the data, on the left side, is a glossary button. If you click that, it will expand again, and give you the meaning of each category.

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  12. David says:

    Thanks

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