Marco Scutaro Is Still a Game of Pepper

Generally speaking, players not named Carlos Beltran don’t turn into different players come playoff time. That wouldn’t make any sense — it’s still regular baseball, and the things that apply in September still apply in October. Players might become slightly less effective in the playoffs, due to the increased quality of competition, but a strike-thrower will probably stay a strike-thrower and a power hitter will probably stay a power hitter. So maybe it doesn’t need to be written that Marco Scutaro has been doing an incredible job of making contact in this year’s postseason. But, aw, what the heck, we’re all here. What follows is an incomplete list of players who have one strikeout in the 2012 MLB playoffs:

What a carefully-selected list of players who have barely batted, and Marco Scutaro! Indeed, Scutaro’s up to 48 postseason plate appearances, tying him for seventh-most in baseball. He’s got just the one strikeout to his name, against Edward Mujica in Game 1 of the NLCS. As a Giant in the regular season, Scutaro was an extreme contact hitter. As a Giant in the playoffs, Scutaro has been an extreme contact hitter.

We have written about this before, where by “We” I mean “I”. Before, Scutaro already made contact almost all of the time. But he’s made only more contact since joining the Giants, due either to something or to nothing. What makes his postseason performance worth noting is that strikeouts tend to be more frequent in the playoffs. Some quick numbers:

2012 MLB, regular season: 19.8% strikeouts
2012 MLB, postseason:
21.9% strikeouts

Giants, Sep/Oct, regular season: 17.3% strikeouts
Giants, October, postseason:
20.5% strikeouts

Scutaro’s teammates have had a little bit more trouble making contact, which one can only imagine comes from facing better pitchers, but Scutaro’s still been chugging along as his old reliable self. Naturally, this isn’t just about Scutaro’s ability to avoid striking out. It’s more about his ability to avoid swinging and missing. I’ve got Scutaro as having attempted 78 swings so far in this year’s playoffs. Below are .gifs I’ve prepared of all of his swings and misses out of those 78 hacks.

Two. We’ve got Scutaro swinging through an offspeed pitch from Mujica over the plate on October 17, and we’ve got Scutaro swinging through an outside fastball from Adam Wainwright on October 18. All the other 76 swings have resulted in at least some form of contact with the baseball. Of those, 44 have resulted in a ball in play, 42 percent of which have been line drives. Scutaro’s postseason contact rate is just above 97 percent.

That’s fitting — Scutaro’s contact rate after joining the Giants was just above 97 percent. Before that, he’d hovered in the low- to mid-90s. I don’t know if this boost is sustainable, and considering the extremity I’d say probably not, but even if it isn’t sustainable that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. No matter what happens tonight and beyond, the lingering impression of Marco Scutaro as a Giant will be that he never struck out, and when he swung, he hit the ball and he hit the ball hard.

It’s such a treat for a manager to have a player like Scutaro, because players like Scutaro don’t often make managers look stupid when they dabble in strategy. Scutaro is the absolute classic number-two hitter, and I don’t know if a more classic number-two hitter has ever existed. Scutaro’s disciplined, and when he swings, he sprays. He doesn’t chase and he doesn’t get the bat knocked out of his hands. He almost never crushes a pitch, but Scutaro’s role isn’t to make outfielders explore warning tracks. He’s in there to be consistent and annoying.

The Giants, of course, are thrilled to have Scutaro now, as they try to knock off the Cardinals and then win a World Series. They’re thrilled to have acquired Scutaro for such a low cost. And Scutaro’s unquestionably thrilled to be in the playoffs for just the second time in his life. But while Scutaro probably isn’t thinking about what’ll come next, one should note that he’s going to be a free agent, and he’s been doing absolute wonders for his value. After being freed from a terrible team, Scutaro’s batted 316 times for a contender and hit .355 while almost never striking out. People have noticed and people will tell his agent just how much they noticed.

It turned into a good summer for Marco Scutaro. That’s led to a good fall for Marco Scutaro. And now it’s all set up to be a good winter for Marco Scutaro, no matter what happens Monday night. It’s been a good year for Marco Scutaro.

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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.

11 Responses to “Marco Scutaro Is Still a Game of Pepper”

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  1. Stephen says:

    So this might be obvious, but stemming from this article, I’m wondering if we have any metrics to determine how much value a player gives his team just by making contact with a pitch?

    I know we can measure players with thing like contact rate, but it would be great if we had a way to compare that value added with value added in other areas, measured through things like OPS (or OPS+).

    A good way to look at this question: at what point does a team take a guy with an absurdly high contact rate over another guy who adds value through power, defense, baserunning, etc.?

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    • Jimbo says:

      We do, it’s called wOBA. If a guy makes contact a lot and gets on base a lot then he gets credit for this. If he strikes out a lot then this negatively effects his value. The absence of a strikeout for some other result is recorded in the weighted value of that outcome.

      Not really sure where you’re going with this.

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      • Bhaakon says:

        As a general rule, I agree with you that wOBA adequately captures the value of making contact.

        However, baseball is full of fun little corner cases where just making contact might have measurable extra value. Things like a man on third with less than two outs, or RISP with the pitcher on deck, I’m sure other people can think of other/better examples. Not enough to plan a roster around them, but places where one might reasonably prefer Marco Scutaro batting to Adam Dunn.

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      • Zach says:

        I would imagine that Marco Scutaro is an excellent situational hitter. This year he has grounded into double plays at a league average rate. Runners scored from third 66% of the time, the league average was 51%. Runners from second with no outs advanced to third 74% of the time, league average is 56%. I think what Stephen is saying is that he’d like to see a model that approximates how valuable this is.

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      • jcxy says:

        but are those things– for instance, scoring a runner from 3rd by making contact–a skill that the batter has control over or more distribution luck?

        let’s assume that kind of ability skill (which is, at minimum, plausible), there is still a lot of “noise”. for instance, how much does game score matter (is a team more/less willing to try to score from 3rd on a medium sac fly at different points of the game)? how much does team defense factor into whether contact is successful (if OF arm components of UZR are correct, I’d happily run even paul konerko on josh hamilton, but probably wouldn’t take many chances against the cespedes, frenchy, etc?

        could it be the stat he’s looking for is a mix of wOBA and WPA, weighted more towards WPA?

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      • Kazinski says:

        There is actually a slight negative correlation between wOBA and contact rate (-.22), that’s because there is a much stronger negative correlation between ISO and contact % (-.55), and also a small negative correlation between contact % and BB% (-.28).

        High contact is can be a valuable skill set no doubt about it. But Scutaro is a case in point, he has great plate discipline and he doesn’t swing much in or out of the strike zone, but when he does he makes contact so he only walks 6%, and only strikes out 7% despite only having a 40% swing rate. Guys that make contact put the ball in play. And high contact hitters are not the type of hard swingers that hit the ball over the fences. The negative correlation between contact % and HR% is -.62.

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      • CJ says:

        The metric you want here is RE24, I believe.

        This year, Scutaro is at 9.92 runs, whereas “Batting Runs” has him at 2.4 context-neutral runs. If ~7.5 is the difference there, that seems large, but I can’t really conveniently sort by RE24-Batting Runs, so I can’t tell.

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  2. Shane says:

    When I think of a classic #2 hitter, another name I think of is Placido Polanco during his Detroit years. Seems similar to what Scutaro is giving San Francisco: a low strike out, low walk, contact machine.

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  3. schmoe says:

    funny thing is they got Scutaro for what most Giant fans considered a marginal or non-prospect at this point in Charlie Culberson, so the Rockies must not have had too many serious offers for Scutaro at the trading deadline. I would have thought that some other playoff-bound teams might have been interested in that type of veteran player but i guess not.

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  4. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Scutero had a few very good years, 2008, 2009, so his success isn’t totally unexpected. I’m surprised, watching him every day, at how good his defense is at 36.

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  5. Brian Sabean doesn’t get enough credit for what he has done as GM of the Giants. He is continuously trashed for being old school. Yet look how he remade the outfield over the winter and shored up the team during the year. Scutaro’s teammates nickname him “Blockbuster” because he meant more to the success of his team than the Dodger’s huge salary haul did for theirs. Nice jab at the Dodgers and a very apt nickname for Scutaro.

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