Marco Scutaro and Baseball at its Simplest

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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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

43 Responses to “Marco Scutaro and Baseball at its Simplest”

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  1. Alex says:

    I remember Scutaro was the last regular in the majors to record a strikeout at the beginning of the season. According to the game logs, he didn’t strike out until the 12th game of the year.

    For reference, a certain Mr. Dunn had 19 strikeouts by that point

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  2. fergie348 says:

    Pretty much the perfect #2 hitter – Although Bochy doesn’t hit and run much, he clearly can hit and run with this guy at the plate. With Angel Pagan getting on base at a pretty consistent clip these days, there should be more running before pitches thrown to Marco Scutaro.

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    • Oren says:

      He may be the perfect *classic* #2 hitter, but in reality, I’d rather have him bat #6. As we all know, we want high OBP hitters to bat #2 (and #1) to set the table for the big hitters, and Scutaro’s OBP is mostly dependent on his average, so it’s good but not great. I’d much rather have a guy like Brandon Belt bat #2. Scutaro at #6 would be perfect, ideally allowing him to bat in almost a ‘cleanup part 2′ role, where if they have success in the first inning he’s likely to be up with runners on and 2 outs, making his high average much more valuable.

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    • I don’t get why so many people plussed Oren. This is a sabermetric site, right?

      Belt is a classic power hitter, just coming into this own late in the season. This suggestion would be like saying Barry Bonds is a great OBP hitter, so we should bat him 2nd. Scutaro, meanwhile, appears to be better appreciated by those who actually listen to the games and hear about him doing the little things #2 hitters need to do when the leadoff guy gets on base.

      And really, you would want to put a career .273/.338/.389/.727 hitter in the 6th slot instead of a nearly .800 OPS hitter in Belt? The average #2 hitter in the NL hits .269/.327/.396/.722, which is basically where Scutaro is. The average #6 hitter hits .262/.327/.421/.748. Belt is currently hitting .273/.360/.417/.777 and rising as he has finally figured out what he needs to do to hit successfully in the majors. If he continues to hit well, he should end the season above .800 OPS.

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  3. nolan says:

    Scutaro was a great acquisition by the Giants. I think my favorite part about him is that he keeps Manny Burriss from ever taking another major league at-bat this year.

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    • SF 55 for life says:

      I think he had an at bat the other night actually.

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      • Enjoy_the_Game says:

        Burris hit a ball directly at the second baseman, who was preparing to execute the double play. The pitcher’s shin happened to be directly in the path of the ball, causing the ricochet, which prevented the DP. Nolan’s assessment of personnel is sound.

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      • I didn’t say that nolan was wrong, but Burriss did swing again and he did single.

        I have to agree with the comments that say that the Scutaro acquisition might have been the trade with the most impact of the NL West division race, better than Hanley, A-Gon, or Beckett. The team really seemed to change right after that, though also around the same time Pagan was moved back to lead off, and Pence was added (and he’s been driving in a lot of runs too), and Arias, Belt, and Crawford figured out how to hit consistently well. Still, Scutaro seems to have made a big impact on the team and lineup.

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  4. SF 55 for life says:

    I was clamoring for a similar move from the Giants last year. While a player like Scutaro might not be as valuable overall as a Beltran or Pence, you get an extra bonus by supplanting the weakest links of the team. Last season the Giants were trotting out Mike Fontenot, Brandon Crawford, Manny Burriss, and Miguel Tejada in the middle infield on a daily basis.

    While they did acquire Jeff Keppinger (who wasn’t much of an upgrade over Fontenot actually) as well as overpaid for Carlos Beltran they ignored an ENORMOUS weakness at shortstop which ultimately, in my opinion, represented the difference between the Giants making and missing the playoffs. Trading for a player like Clint Barmes would have brought in a similar WAR total as Beltran because of the difference the two players were replacing. This year the Giants recognized their most glaring weakness was second base and while Hunter Pence was a great add mostly due to the Melky Cabrera debacle, Scutaro has been the more valuable player.

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  5. Pence has not hit like Giants fans have hoped for, but he has still be a valuable addition. First off, he had a huge dichotomy early on where he hit great with RISP but almost nothing when empty or man on first. That resulted in a lot of RBIs even though his batting average sucked. After struggling his first 10 games with the Giants, since then he has hit .273/.359/.443/.802 in the 24 games since. He had 18 RBIs in that 24 game stretch, 25 RBI in his total 34 games with SF (both 110+ RBI pace for a 150 games season). So I would say that he worked out fine, just not as good as hoped overall.

    But yeah, he has been striking out like crazy, I hope he settles down soon, we need the good offense continuing if the pitching continues to let down like this.

    And Scutaro has been a great addition too, Theriot was actually pretty good in the #2 spot after he healed up during his DL stint early season, mid .300 OBP, but was starting to slump when we got Scutaro. Marco then took off for us hitting there, and he and Pagan up top has been instrumental to the Giants scoring first throughout much of Scutaro’s Giants stint. Amazingly, despite hitting second, he has driven in 24 runs himself in 38 games (95 RBI pace/150 games).

    Arguable who is the better addition, Scutaro over Theriot, Pence over Blanco/Schierholtz, luckily. Both have been great additions and helped boost the Giants while their starting pitching had another August letdown that has extended into September. They need to return to normal dominance soon.

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  6. Westside guy says:

    I’d like to see a story with all of Miguel Olivo’s swinging strikes.

    Fangraphs might want to buy a larger hard disk for its server first, though.

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  7. Matt says:

    I wish I could rec articles. What a great addition you’ve been to this site.

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  8. JWTP says:

    A lot of people have mentioned throughout the year that the Giants should have tried harder to keep Beltran, especially when they traded for Pence, a more expensive version of a poorer player. The reference to Keppinger here as a high-contact hitter, also primarily a second baseman who is getting some spots at clean up and/or DH for the Rays draws a similar parallel since, for whatever reason, we decided to dump in the offseason in favor of Mike Fontenot, only to trade for a very similar player at the deadline the following year. Can Giants fans complain about this? Not sure.

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    • Jason says:

      I don’t think Giant’s fans can complain about either move. Assuming that Beltran wasnt willing to move to LF, he gave up to much defense at ATT to be priced the way he was.

      As for Keppinger, I wouldnt trust him at SS or 3B the way I would Scutaro, so they are really not all that similar. And even if we were to assume they were similar, it was much cheaper (non prospect) to acquire Scutaro then it would have been to pay Keppinger’s arb award.

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      • Shankbone says:

        I am very happy for Keppingers success this year. I wouldn’t trust him at 2B based on last years performance. Lead shoes, very bad defense. Maybe playing with Orlando Tejada made it more pronounced, who knows, but Brian Sabean calling him a luxury sounded about right in the offseason.

        Happy to have Scutaro finally, I wanted the Gints to pick him up the past 2 years.

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    • LarenR says:

      We’re Giants fans, we can complain about anything. And do. Often.

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    • Good luck to Keppinger, but this was a perfect storm season for him. His BABIP is sky high – if you took that off, his OPS would drop to his career averages. Also, this was his first season with mostly DH or 3B starts. He’s actually been average defensively at 3B, but because his offense is not that great but good for MI, he gets put at 2B and SS mostly in his career. His defense is very poor there.

      We actually dumped him for Theriot, but point taken. However, I would add that Fontenot was actually more useful than Keppinger because he played good MI defense and hit decently as well, just not as good as Kepp. But good enough for a bench player, I think.

      Sabean does not like to be leveraged in negotiations. Boras purposefully delayed seriously pursuing deals for Beltran until late in order to leverage teams into paying more for Beltran (and other clients). Thus why the Giants picked up Cabrera and Pagan, instead of pursuing Beltran.

      Good for him that he’s doing well with the Cards, but if he wanted to stay, the Giants most probably would have been willing to pay market rate for him to stay if he would have been willing to sign early and move to LF. From what I remember, there were more years and more dollars that were floating around early on and he ended up signing for less with the Cards.

      I’m OK with how things turned out. I like Pence and think he’ll be fine eventually – meanwhile, he’s doing his job, which is hitting with RISP. His poor average is because of his very low batting lines for empty bases and a man on first. Nice that Beltran has been healthy but he malingered while he was with the Giants, sitting out with his injury when they needed him. The reports are that they forced him to come off the DL earlier than he wanted, and he came out blazing hot, but by then it was pretty much too late for the team. I also haven’t forgotten that he went ahead and had surgery without consulting or telling the Mets, making himself unavailable to the Mets in the early season. I’m also not as high on Wheeler as other people are. And at best, we get a couple of good years out of Beltran, whereas I think we can sign Pence to an extension and get many good years out of him.

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  9. Mcneildon says:

    Damn you Sullivan!!! My computer is on its last legs and your gif orgy just blew up its world! Curse you!

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  10. Buster Posey says:

    Also of note (maybe?) is that 5 of his 6 swings/misses have come with <2 strikes. That has to help him eventually put the ball in play even more often. The lone swinging K was in the 9th inning of a game they were up by 4 already so maybe he didn't feel the need to shorten his swing.

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  11. Graham says:

    Let’s not forget that Scutaro came over for the entirely forgettable Charlie Culberson. Thanks, Rockies!

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  12. BurleighGrimes says:

    Jeff Sullivan = FanGraphs 2012 MVP

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  13. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    GIF #4 looks like he starts swinging after the ball reaches the plate.

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  14. MDL says:

    Regarding GIF #6, does Matt Lindstrom always employ that little hop at the end of his pitch?

    Also, that is one NASTY pitch!

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  15. Hurtlockertwo says:

    For a 36 y/o Scutero has been excellent for the Giants. I’m surprised his fielding has been so good watching him day to day, he makes the plays.

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  16. Scott says:

    Nice job Jeff. Dave Flemming, the Giants radio announcer, just talked about your article during the game tonight. Scutaro promptly hit a two-run single. He only said Fangraphs though, not Jeff Sullivan. I think that means you need to do more self-promotion in your articles.

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  17. paul lovallo says:

    do you remember nellie fox of the white sox 50′s also one of the most difficult to strike out any records of players with the least amount of strikeouts for one season?

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