Making it Work with Lots of Whiffs

A couple weeks ago I looked at Chris Davis‘s contact struggles. In that post I displayed a histogram with all contact rates from 2003 to 2008 and Davis’s half season of 2009. Here is the same figure without Davis, but with Mark Reynolds‘s 2008 contact rate indicated.


Not as much of an outlier as Davis, but last year Reynolds’s rate of 62.3% was the lowest of any regular since 2003. This year he is similarly lowest in the league with 63.4%. Reynolds, unlike Davis, makes it work. Even with this very very low contact rate Reynolds has a wOBA over .400, 12th best in the league.

One thing he has over Davis is much better plate discipline, swinging at only a quarter of pitches out of the zone compared to Davis’s 35.4%. As a result, and because pitchers don’t throw in the zone to him that much, he has a healthy walk rate of 11.8%.

In addition the pitches that Reynolds does make contact with are very likely to be HRs. Fly balls make up 46% of his balls in play and 28% of those are HRs. That means 12.9% of his balls in play are HRs (tops in the league with Adam Dunn second at 11.6%). As a result Reynolds is second in the league in HRs with 32.

Reynolds represents what Davis needs to be if he is going to succeed with a huge whiff rate. He needs to stop swinging at pitches out of the zone, and make sure the pitches he hits go a long way. Not rocket science, but it is helpful to see someone how makes it work with a big whiff rate.

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

13 Responses to “Making it Work with Lots of Whiffs”

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  1. First off, as a fantasy owner of Chris Davis, I hope he follows your advice and turns it around.

    As you said, striking out at a high rate doesn’t necessarily mean that you will translate into a bad hitter with a low batting average. Another guy who is known for an extremely high strike out rate is Ryan Howard… and he is making it work.

    I’m curious to see how Chris is going to bounce back. Looking at his minor league #’s there are a few different stories going on.

    In the minors he has only struck out 26 times in 27 games compared to 114 K’s in 77 games in the bigs. On the flip side, he has only hit 4 home runs in 109 at bats.

    If I had to guess, Chris took his demotion to heart and has tried to work on his overall game. Look for him to bounce back next year.

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    • Joe R says:

      Chris Davis was just too much whiffs (and didn’t walk much, either).

      He’s still not much of a walker, but from his re-call on, he posted a .308/.338/.496, and cut his K/PA down to 25.35% (sounds high, but is Ichiro-esque compared to the 41.16% he pulled for the first half of the year). Small sample size, but a contact focus looks like it’s helping Chris Davis, and it’s good he was able to learn and try to fix it at just 23.

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  2. kris says:

    I’m moderately intrigued by this, because I looked at Reynolds the other day out of boredom.

    First, Reynolds is great and all, but that BABIP is bridging on ridiculous. Secondly, compared to other *power* hitters, Reynolds is seeing an above average amount of pitches in the zone — especially when you consider that it’s essentially been Miguel Montero protecting him. Finally, Reynolds’ HR/FB rate is absolutely insane, even for someone killing the ball.

    I didn’t bother to really break it down, but given the rate at which Reynolds is hitting GB/LD/FB — something just doesn’t make sense.

    If Reynolds can keep this up, his season will warrant some serious digging.

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    • Chris says:

      His BABIP was even higher in his rookie season, so it doesn’t seem too ridiculous that this is simply a guy that will constantly post a high BABIP a la Derek Jeter.

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  3. Levski says:

    What exactly is ridiculous about Reynolds’s BABIP? The guy hits the ball really really really hard. We’re not talking about a weak slapping third baseman like David Wright here (who, by the way, happens to have high BABIP too). I think people need to stop quoting BABIP as if they really understand what it means.

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    • kris says:

      First off, i think it’s terribly presumptuous to assume that someone else doesn’t know what they’re talking about. I debated even dignifying this with a response.

      What’s intriguing about Reynolds is two-fold, as I mentioned earlier. The first is how pitchers are approaching Reynolds, the second is of course Reynolds’ BIP statistics.

      Both Reynolds ability to scatter the ball, and his fairly low IFFP% percent give us a look into how a power hitter maintains a rather high BABIP. What’ll have to be broken down is Reynolds BABIP on different BIP.

      Reynold’s clearly warrants further investigation, and I apologize for my adjectives earlier. I feel the need to insert them into just about every sentence.

      …and to Josh: What are you trying to prove by quoting statistics? That it’s possible? Everything’s possible, I’m trying to deal with the probable – or what *should* be happening and WHY it’s happening.

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    • Joe R says:

      At 17.5% LD rate, though?

      I don’t see him play much, are a lot of his grounders the “hot-shot” variety that find holes a lot easier than the Ichiro-style “leg it out” grounder? Educate me, I’m willing to learn here.

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      • kris says:

        I haven’t the fondest clue, but as I’ve mentioned quite a few times — it warrants investigation.

        Just incase anyone cares, Reynolds xBABIP is about 30pts lower if i’ve done my calculations corrected.

        I tried throwing the data into the Hardball Times “LUCK” calculator, and once again, barring any massive screw up on my part, Reynolds has a score very close to the max of .06.

        Yup, Diggin’ is required.

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  4. Josh says:

    Reynolds BABIP .366, David Wright .419, what exactly qualifies RIDICULOUS?

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  5. Josh says:

    Reynolds 2009 HR/FB rate 28%, Ryan Howard’s HR/FB 2009 23%. Howard’s in 2006 39.5% for the WHOLE season. That’s not an outlier either 2007 31.5% 2008 31.8%, now again what is so INSANE about Reynolds’

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  6. david b says:

    It seems that these statistics indicate Reynolds either crushes the ball when he makes contact or is just getting lucky. If he really is consistently crushing the ball when he makes contact, then why is his contact rate so low? You would think if he could hit pitches that hard that consistently that he’d be able to make contact more often. This is probably due to his ability or inability to hit certain pitches. Maybe he absolutely crushes fastballs, but can’t hit a curve for his life. Looking at his statistics based on the pitch count, he is twice as likely to hit a homerun when ahead 1-0 versus 0-1. Albert Pujols on the other hand, has actually hit 18 homeruns after 0-1 counts versus only 11 after 1-0 counts – pretty strange actually. I would guess that Reynolds is the master of crushing the fastball. Really if you look at all of his pitch count stats you will notice he destroys when he is ahead in the count and terrible when behind.

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  7. Eric/OR says:

    Apropos of the first few comments here: Reynolds’ career major league BABIP is .359; in the minors it was .335. Surely some regression from his performance this season is to be expected, but I very much agree with the notion that he projects as the type of player who is able to sustain high BABIPs and such. Remember, you have to look at the player’s individual track record for this statistic.

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  8. Joe R says:

    So Reynolds did it, broke the strikeout record.

    And of course, the morons on Baseball Tonight tell America that he’s killing his team with his strikeouts. Also of course, ESPN Sportsnation thinks his strikeouts are killing the team, too. Wonder if the D-backs would be down for a Reynolds/Upton for Lowell/Ellsbury swap. Help them out with team killing strikeouts.

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