Frozen At the Plate

Having lived in Seattle for the last couple years it has been my curse to watch a lot of Mariners baseball. A hallmark of that baseball has been aggressive hitters getting themselves out on pitches out of the zone. This season, however, has brought forth an example that has been hitherto missing from my viewing experience. Franklin Gutierrez has come to bat with a seeming plan to make the pitcher work each and every time, even if it meant taking strikes and it struck me that I could not recall seeing a hitter on the Mariners called out on strikes as often as he has so far this season.

With that thought in mind, I decided to look at which hitters had taken the most strikeouts looking this season. I wanted at least semi-regular hitters so I limited my sample to batters with over 50 plate appearances. I ended up with plenty of hitters who just rarely ever struck out at all, such as Juan Pierre. That didn’t spark much interest, so I decided to further splinter my sample size into hitters who had been rung up in at least 20% of their plate appearances to date in order to get a decent sample size of strikeouts. Here then are the five hitters in the Major Leagues who meet both criteria above and have had at least half of their strikeouts been of the called variety.

John Baker, Florida, 69.6%
Travis Hafner, Cleveland, 55.56%
Milton Bradley, Chicago(N), 52.6%
Ian Stewart, Colorado, 51.7%
Carlos Gomez, Minnesota, 50.0%

Baker is playing like your prototypical doesn’t swing much power hitter, but he also makes contact at the rate of a more traditional slap hitter, hence the massive lead in called strikeout percentage.

Travis Hafner‘s line is quite interesting and potentially disturbing for an Indians fan. He is offering at way more pitches outsize the strike zone than previously and a markedly greater percentage of pitches that he takes are within the zone. That’s putting him in more strikeout counts and suggests a breakdown in his ability to read pitches.

Milton Bradley‘s contact rates are up and he has shown positive improvement in laying off balls and swinging at strikes so his placement on this list strikes me as a fluke based on the numerical evidence.

Ian Stewart landing on this list is no real surprise once you take a look at his plate discipline numbers. Last season he swung at 47.8% of pitches thrown his way. This year he is down to 39.3% which includes just a 56.9% rate of swinging at pitches inside the strike zone. That is going to lead to a lot of called strike threes.

Gomez previously had a hard time finding a pitch he doesn’t like to swing at, but has dramatically reduced the number of pitches he offers at, with the side effect being a rise in called strikeouts, but he has cut his swinging strikeout rate almost in half.

By the way, I was right in my intuition. No regular Mariner hitter over the past few seasons has had a greater portion of their strikeouts been of the called variety as Franklin Gutierrez has.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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this is not to mention the number or ridiculous calls that umpires have made that have gotten him called out looking at a “strike”