O-Swing% and GMs

When you think of the standard cliches about “Moneyball” teams that have hired statistically inclined GMs over the last few years, what’s one of the first one’s that comes to mind? Patient hitters who draw a lot of walks has to be at the top of the list, right?

Well, with the new team pages here on Fangraphs, I decided to look at the teams rankings in our Plate Discipline stats, just to see if the stereotype holds. I figured the easiest way to judge approach was by O-Swing%, or the amount of times a team swings at pitches outside the strike zone, since laying off bad pitches is one of the fundamentals of the “sabermetric hitting approach”. The results were… well, just look for yourself. Sorted by lowest O-Swing%:

1. Tampa, 22.63%
2. Boston, 22.85%
3. Oakland, 23.88%
4. Cleveland, 23.25%
5. Arizona, 23.50%
6. Yankees, 23.62%
7. Toronto, 23.64%
8. Colorado, 23.81%

and the bottom eight:

23. San Diego, 26.83%
24. White Sox, 27.44%
25. Dodgers, 27.66%
26. Kansas City, 27.88%
27. Houston, 27.97%
28. San Francisco, 28.02%
29. Seattle, 28.49%
30. Anaheim, 28.87%

Among the top eight, the only team that you could argue doesn’t employ a sabermetric GM would be the Yankees, but they’ve still shown a clear affinity over the years for patient hitters. In fact, the five teams with the lowest O-Swing% are basically The Big Five stat-friendly organizations in baseball right now. Likewise, the five teams with the lowest O-Swing% are five franchises that have essentially looked at statistical analysis and said “nah, that’s not for us.”

The correlation between a team’s statistical bent and the players rate of chasing pitches out of the strike zone is pretty strong. Now, some of that is due at least in part to the selection processes of the players by the GM (Oakland is way more likely to give a job to Jack Cust than Seattle), but teams like Tampa and Arizona are mostly built upon position players developed from within. It seems clear that the emphasis of plate discipline as an approach can manifest itself in on field results. Perhaps the Royals, Astros, Giants, Mariners, and Angels might want to consider preaching a bit more patience at the plate – it’s not like their offenses are much to write home about anyway.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


6 Responses to “O-Swing% and GMs”

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  1. Oolon says:

    Of course, the patience that Oakland showed resulted in them placing 28th in OBP and 30th in OPS during the 2008 season. And the impetuousness that the White Sox exhibited resulted in them placing 6th in the league in OPS. So it’s not always a direct correlation.

    But overall the top discipline teams do have significantly superior OPS numbers. So it’s probably a very good thing to emphasize. I always shake my head watching the Mariner’s short A team in Everett’s annual bunch of free swingers who often lead the league in team strikeouts…

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  2. dan says:

    DePodesta works for San Diego, who ranks 23rd on the list. Granted, he’s not the GM, and hasn’t been working there for a long period of time.

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  3. Isaac says:

    Oolon, plate patience shouldn’t be measured by looking at a team’s OBP, as OBP is greatly influenced by BA. The reason Oakland was twenty-eighth in OBP is not because they aren’t selective and/or patient, rather it was because the team couldn’t hit, at all. Oakland’s BA was .242, giving them a .076 isolated patience. Boston, the team with the best OBP in the league, had an isolated patience of .078. Basically, the only difference between the two teams in terms of getting on base was in BA.

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  4. Oolon says:

    Isaac,

    Your point is well taken.

    I was looking at Dave’s statement that, “It seems clear that the emphasis of plate discipline as an approach can manifest itself in onfield results.” I didn’t want to look at wins or batting average for “onfield results” and thought that OBP and OPS might be a reasonable places to see the positive results from hitters’ patience. And reviewing the patient team’s OPS vs. the impatient team’s OPS did show a clear difference.

    Thanks for the comments.

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  5. dave says:

    Why make a post like this, giving us the top and bottom 8, but nothing in between? There’s only 14 more teams there, guys.

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