The Dodgers have gotten plenty of attention for their in-season roster shakeup, and justifiably so, because the Dodgers have been busy. Beginning in late July, they added Hanley Ramirez, they added Brandon League, they added Shane Victorino, they added Joe Blanton, they added Adrian Gonzalez, they added Nick Punto, they added Josh Beckett, and they added an injured Carl Crawford. It’s hard to believe the Dodgers did everything they did because those were a lot of big moves in a short amount of time. Yet when the Dodgers made their first big move, adding Ramirez, they were eight games over .500 and sitting in second place. Today the Dodgers are eight games over .500 and sitting in second place.
They’re chasing the Giants, and the Giants made some moves of their own. On July 27, the Giants picked up Marco Scutaro, and on July 31, the Giants picked up Hunter Pence. Pence hasn’t worked out yet, and the Giants also lost Melky Cabrera to a suspension. But Scutaro has worked out and then some, and it’s Scutaro to whom the rest of this article is devoted.
Scutaro’s been around for a long time, and you’re familiar with him enough. He’s come to the plate 170 times in a Giants uniform so far, batting .329 with a near-.800 OPS. Early on, he handled third base. Since then he’s shifted to second, plugging what was once a Theriot/Burriss void of disaster. He’s versatile, he’s reliable, and he’s performing, and while the Giants couldn’t have banked on the last part, the first two parts were what made Scutaro desirable in the first place.
Now I’m going to show you something that says a lot about what Scutaro is. Here are six .gifs, all in a row.
What you see above are six Marco Scutaro swinging strikes. These are all six of Marco Scutaro’s swinging strikes since he joined the Giants toward the end of July. Just six times over 170 plate appearances has Scutaro swung at the baseball and missed it. His first one came on July 30. Then August 8, then August 9. Then August 22, twice, then September 4. Marco Scutaro has practically gone two-week periods without swinging and missing.
For the sake of additional reference, that’s six swinging strikes over more than a month. On July 31, Brandon Hicks batted three times against James Shields, and he swung and missed seven times. Brandon Hicks had more swinging strikes in one game than Marco Scutaro has had over 38 games.
This isn’t a new thing for Scutaro — he’s always been an outstanding contact hitter. But he’s been extra-outstanding since joining the Giants, and that presumably has helped to drive his early success. One of the problems with Pence is that, since he joined San Francisco, his batting approach has been worse, as he’s gone after more balls. Scutaro’s approach has been better, at least in that he hasn’t really missed, not that he ever really missed.
And this leads us somewhere else, somewhere a little less 2012-specific. Over the last three years, Marco Scutaro has posted the highest contact rate in baseball among players with at least 500 plate appearances. He just edges out Juan Pierre, and Jeff Keppinger is looking up from third. Over the last three years, Scutaro has also seen the highest rate of pitches in the strike zone among players with at least 500 plate appearances. At 56.5 percent, he beats Denard Span by a full percentage point. He also beats Chone Figgins and Jack Wilson, suggesting that pitchers have been more comfortable going right after Marco Scutaro than Chone Figgins and Jack Wilson.
And while, over the last three years, Scutaro hasn’t been thrown the highest rate of fastballs, he has been thrown a very high rate of fastballs — 64.1 percent, where the average is more like 58 percent. Scutaro’s name is at the bottom of the first page on the FanGraphs fastball-rate leaderboard. Add in cutters and Scutaro moves up a few more slots.
So, in Marco Scutaro, we have a guy who usually gets fastballs, usually in the strike zone, and when he swings he usually hits the ball. Scutaro’s actual swing rate isn’t that high, as he’s a selective sort, but when he swings, he either puts the ball in play or fouls it off. This year about five of every nine Scutaro swings have put the ball in play. As a Giant, it’s been more like six of every ten.
With some guys, it can get complicated. A pitcher can over-think how he wants to attack a batter, and a batter can over-think how the pitcher is going to attack him. There doesn’t seem to be much over-thinking as far as Marco Scutaro is concerned, and in fact there hardly seems to be thinking at all. A Marco Scutaro at-bat might be the most like an at-bat on autopilot of any at-bat in the majors. The pitcher will throw fastballs over the plate. Scutaro will eventually put one of them in play, probably not for extra bases. It might turn into an out, or it might not.
In theory, it can get simpler than this, but in reality, I don’t think it gets much simpler than this, not as long as we exclude pitchers as hitters. The Marco Scutaro Experience is the Marco Scutaro Experience, and it’ll remain that way until Scutaro gets worse and stops playing. For now, the Giants know exactly what they have in him. And I mean pretty much exactly.
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