The Myth of the Passive Hitter

Apparently, a memo went out to every major media organization that covers Major League Baseball, telling them that they should write about the ever increasing rise of strikeouts in the sport. Back in March, Tyler Kepner wrote this article for the New York Times. Last Thursday, Scott Miller did a piece on the topic for CBS Sports. On Monday, Joe Lemire tackled it at Sports Illustrated. On Tuesday, Anthony Castrovince weighed in at MLB.com. Pretty much all of them hit on the same general points, with a continuing focus being on the change in approach among hitters. Each writer notes that the rise of statistical analysis has taken some of the stigma away from the strikeout, to the point that a hitter who strikes out 150 or 200 times per year is no longer considered to be an offensive black hole.

There’s almost certainly something to that idea, as we even published an article yesterday explaining why the Braves historic strikeout pace hasn’t really hurt their offensive production. It’s hard to argue that the move towards more analytical approaches to team building haven’t decreased the emphasis on strikeouts as a measure of offensive contribution, and it’s likely that the modern front offices care much less about strikeout totals for their hitters than those of the previous generation.

But, there’s another contention in most of these articles that gets tied into that point; that current hitters have adopted a much more passive approach at the plate, and that the rise in strikeouts is due in large part to hitters staring at pitches that hitters 20 years ago would have no problem swinging at. This notion was most obvious in Tom Verducci’s article last month, where he attacked Major League hitters for their passivity.

Welcome to the state of the art in hitting these days, where aggressiveness is disdained and passivity is exalted. The modern hitter is guided by the accepted wisdom in catchphrases such as “driving up pitch counts,” “taking pitches” and “quality at-bats.” There is one serious flaw in this groupthink strategy.

It isn’t working.

Hitters are striking out more than ever before in baseball history while runs, walks, hits and home runs have been on the decline for years. And while teams still preach the religion of driving up pitch counts to “get into the bullpen” of the other team, they may be pushing an outdated agenda.

In that piece, Verducci notes that first pitch swing percentage has declined from 33% in 1988 to 26% in 2013, and that strikeout rate has been climbing steadily the entire time. He even follows the table with the line: “Do the math: hitters are swinging at the first pitch less and less and striking out more and more.”

Well, there’s more “math” to do than simply look at rate of first pitch swings, since strikeouts are a function of all pitches in an at-bat, just not the first pitch. So, since the last few weeks have seen a number of articles talking about just how passive Major League hitters have become, I figured it would be useful to demonstrate the scope of the changes. Thanks to Jeff Zimmerman and Retrosheet, here is the league average swing percentage for 1988 through 2012 (the data for seasons prior to 1988 is incomplete).

Swing

There’s no question that the rate of swings is down since 1988, but look at where the dramatic drop-off really came; the first several years of the sample. Swing% dropped from 46.5% in 1988 to 45.4% by 1991, and has basically hovered around that range ever since. In fact, the 2012 swing% was 45.3%, basically identical to what it was two decades prior. Were the sabermetric devotees pushing Major League hitters to stop swinging so much back in 1990? Because the biggest drop in swing rate happened 10 years before Moneyball was written, not 10 years after.

For a better picture of the changes in how often hitters are swinging, here’s the league average swing rate from 1993 to 2012, so you can see the change just over the last 20 years:

Swing9312

I don’t think you can make a particularly good case that there has been a dramatic change in how often hitters are swinging over the last two decades, and you certainly can’t make a case that it’s a recent trend, as the 45.3% swing rate in 2012 was the highest it has been in MLB since 2005, when hitters swung at 45.5% of the pitches they were thrown.

But, of course, strikeouts are indeed on the rise, so something is going on. If hitters aren’t swinging less often, then there are only two real options left; they’re either taking more called strikes or they’re swinging and missing more often. To show the actual changes on one chart, I made an index of the overall league averages for K%, Called Strike%, Swing%, and Contact% from 1988 to 2012. I then divided the league average numbers for each year by that overall average in order to give us a metric that compares the average in that year to the total average of the last 25 years, where 1.0 is average, and each point above or below 1.0 represents a point above or below the league average over that time frame.

Because league contact rate is 80.5% and league K% is 16.7%, representing them on the same chart masks the differences because the scale has to run from 0 to 100 in order to fit all the data points on the graph. By indexing everything around 1.0, we can easily demonstrate where the changes have been, with each metric compared to its own league average, but placed on the same scale. Anyway, enough words: here’s the chart.

StrikeTrends

Swing rate and contact rate essentially overlap for most of the sample, laying on top of each other right around the average mark. There just hasn’t been a dramatic change in either swing rate or contact rate over the last 25 years. The huge shift has instead come in Called Strike%, and we note that the K% line moves along with the called strike% line in a pretty similar fashion. For those who prefer tables to graphs, here’s Swing+, Called+, Contact+, and K+ for each year since 1988.

Year Swing+ Contact+ Called+ K+
1988 1.03 1.00 0.92 0.88
1989 1.02 1.00 0.92 0.89
1990 1.02 1.00 0.92 0.89
1991 1.00 1.00 0.94 0.91
1992 1.01 1.00 0.95 0.88
1993 1.01 1.01 0.94 0.90
1994 1.00 1.00 0.94 0.95
1995 1.00 1.00 0.95 0.97
1996 1.00 0.99 0.95 0.99
1997 0.99 0.99 0.98 1.02
1998 1.00 0.99 0.98 1.01
1999 0.99 0.99 0.98 0.98
2000 0.98 0.99 0.98 0.99
2001 1.00 0.99 1.02 1.04
2002 1.00 0.99 1.01 1.01
2003 1.00 1.01 1.03 0.98
2004 1.00 1.01 1.03 1.01
2005 1.00 1.01 1.04 0.99
2006 1.00 1.01 1.03 1.01
2007 1.00 1.01 1.04 1.02
2008 1.00 1.01 1.04 1.05
2009 0.98 1.00 1.06 1.08
2010 0.99 1.00 1.08 1.11
2011 1.00 1.00 1.06 1.11
2012 1.00 0.99 1.08 1.19

And this gets me back to the point that I made a month ago. Hitters are swinging at about the same rate as they have for the last 20 years, but they’re taking far more called strikes now than they did then, so the only conclusions one can draw is that pitchers are either throwing a dramatically increased number of strikes overall, or that the called strike zone has simply gotten larger.

Both explanations are possible, and my guess is that the rise in strikeouts is due to a combination of these two factors. We know velocity is trending up, so pitchers may be more willing to pound the strike zone than they used to be. Or we could just have a fantastic crop of talented pitchers who can both throw strikes and get swinging strikes because of the quality of their stuff. However, if the change was primarily due to better pitchers throwing harder, it would seem to have a more dramatic effect on league contact rate, would it not? But that’s not really what the data shows.

And, as I noted in the post linked just above, I think it’s worth noting the years in which the dramatic shift has taken place. While strikeout rate has been going up for a long time, it’s impossible to ignore that it was basically stagnent from 1996 to 2007, but has shot up dramatically since 2008, the first year after the PITCHF/x cameras were installed in Major League ballparks. During the PITCHF/x era, both called strikes and strikeouts have increased at an advancing pace, while swing rate and contact rate have remained unchanged.

It isn’t hard to see how an observer could note the change in the amount of called strikes and link that to passivity from the hitters — after all, if it was called a strike, why didn’t they swing at it? — but the data simply doesn’t support the notion that hitters are taking more pitches than they used to. The data shows that hitters are swinging just as often now as they did 20 years ago, but what the umpire says after they choose not to swing is the thing that has changed the most.

While we might not have historical data on pitches in the strike zone versus out of the strike zone, we do have PITCHF/x data that shows that, at least over the last five years, the rate of pitches in the rulebook strike zone has not increased. In fact, Zone% in 2012 was at its lowest point since the cameras started tracking pitches, and the downward trend has continued through the first six weeks of 2013. And yet, despite the reduced number of pitches in the strike zone, the rate of called strikes has continued to escalate.

Here is essentially what we know: hitters are swinging at and making contact at about the same rates they have for a long time, umpires are calling more strikes, and during the era in which we have the most technology, there do not appear to be an increasing number of pitches actually thrown in the strike zone. That’s what the data shows.

To get from that to “hitters have become passive and are taking too many pitches now” is a leap that the numbers simply don’t support. You could argue that hitters should be swinging more as a response to the rising number of called strikes, because if the strike zone is getting bigger, letting pitchers have free strikes isn’t a great strategy. But, at the same time, the strike zone is the strike zone, and hitters aren’t going to start crushing pitches off the plate regardless of whether it is going to be called a strike or not. If you think watching hitters take a called strike drives down offense, just wait until you see what happens if they start chasing pitches that can only end with a meager ground ball to second base.

If the strike zone has gotten bigger, advocating for a more aggressive approach at the plate isn’t likely to lead to more offense. Offense comes from hitters hitting pitches that they can drive, not making weak contact with pitches on the margins. Telling hitters to swing more often at bad pitches might reduce strikeout rates, but it’s not going to make teams score more runs. So, with all due respect to Mr. Verducci, I think “doing the math” debunks most of his conclusions. It might make sense to explain the rise in strikeouts as a byproduct of the simultaneous rise of baseball analytics, but unless the nerds are forcing the umpires to call more strikes, I don’t think you can blame this on us.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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hscer
Member
3 years 2 months ago

I think I just heard John Hirschbeck try to eject you.

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
3 years 2 months ago

I was the Passive Hitter.

In my youth I joined a baseball league for ages 8-10. I was afraid of the baseball, so I never swung the bat. I struck out looking roughly 55% of the time and, since 8-year-olds make poor pitchers, walked 45% of the time. Finally, near the end of the season, my father told me that I needed to swing the bat sometimes. Prideful and angry, I intentionally swung at three balls in the dirt to spite him, notching my first swinging K.

Shortly thereafter I swung at a pitch and popped it directly up. Sulkily, I slouched off the plate and waited for the catcher to catch it.

He dropped it and threw me out.

This has been the story of my baseball career. .000/.450/.000. I was the Passive Hitter.

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo
3 years 2 months ago

Hence a lifetime of beer swilling. Very sad my friend.

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
3 years 2 months ago

I batted ninth.

The eighth batter was a girl.

Wobatus
Guest
Wobatus
3 years 2 months ago

Sounds like you had a nice relationship with your dad.

There was a kid in my little league with muscular dystrophy. he rarely swung. I beaned him accidentally. Oh man. I was booed the rest of the game and threatened by the kids on the other team, including my best friend, although he was laughing. But I pitched a one hitter. They were scared, I think.

Daven
Guest
3 years 2 months ago

I too was a passive hitter in my one year in little league. Swung at one pitch all season (my mom promised me I could have anything I wanted that didn’t cost money if I would swing) and grounded out weakly to the pitcher.

However, I got on base an amazing amount of time from walks and being hit by pitches (I just stood there regardless of where the ball was going to be). Unfortunately my base-running and defensive skills (outfield) also mostly were the “just stand there” approach. So, needless to say, my OBP and outfield defense didn’t exactly help the team much.

On a side note, one time it was hot and I got tired of standing in the outfield, so I sat down. When that worked out, I spent most of that game just sitting out there playing with bugs and what not.

Another time my coach told me to go pinch run for someone… I took my glove out with me and was confused why he was wanting me to play first base for the other team. He called me back and had someone else go out. Yep…

Daven
Guest
3 years 2 months ago

To be fair, I knew nothing about baseball when forced to play and our coach did nothing to teach us anything about the actual rules and what we were supposed to do in various situations. He seemed to pre-suppose we all knew that stuff, which most did. Mostly we just played catch and swung at pitches soft tossed by him for training for games.

Cass
Guest
Cass
3 years 2 months ago

Reminds me of Owen Meany.

The Statue
Guest
The Statue
3 years 2 months ago

My one year in Little League had similar results. I never swung, my nickname was “The Statue”… turned out after the summer my eyesight was 20/200. Glasses corrected that, but my love of the game remains as a spectator.

Martin
Guest
Martin
3 years 2 months ago

Sounds like you were clogging up the basepaths.

Krog
Member
Krog
3 years 2 months ago

Then you were traded away by the Diamondbacks.

jruby
Member
Member
jruby
3 years 2 months ago

I, on the other hand, managed to strike out on a fastball that hit me square in the forehead. So…

Visitor
Guest
Visitor
3 years 2 months ago

That is almost exactly my experience.
I swung the bat three times in three years, getting one single, one double, and one line out.

However, I was not actually afraid of the ball–I was afraid of swinging and felt, after keeping statistics for a while, that the best approach for me as the most unathletic player in a very unathletic league was in fact to wait and take the plentiful walks. I in fact liked to crowd the plate and got beaned more than the rest of the team combined, and refused to get out of the way when the ball was coming. My father was my coach and still makes fun of me for turning and taking a hit in the rear several times, and I still think I was right to do it.

I’m thinking this story shows just how weird I really am.

Shlum
Guest
Shlum
3 years 2 months ago

I hear ya. I was a lot like Billy Beane. I could run, throw, catch, hit and extraordinarily handsome. But I was a headcase. Now I read FanGraphs.

Molokai Rose
Guest
Molokai Rose
3 years 2 months ago

This is the best comment I have ever read on this (and perhaps any) website. I have a 9-year old son with a similar slash line (.100/.500/.100). My 7-year old daughter swings at everything as hard as she can, and her slash-line is roughly .200/.200/.600. She hits the ball, refuses to stop running, and (since 7-year olds do not play effective defense) she ususally winds up on 3rd. My youngest son is only 3… I need him to fall somewhere between his older siblings.

TimothyS
Guest
TimothyS
3 years 2 months ago

My line in my last year at age 15 was about .200/.350/.300. I feel good about my ability to put the bat on the ball compared to the rest of the math and baseball nerd community.

E
Guest
E
3 years 2 months ago

Nice article!

Tom Verducci
Guest
Tom Verducci
3 years 2 months ago

Nerd!

MSpitz
Member
MSpitz
3 years 2 months ago

My completely wild guess is that as pitch framing is studied and analyzed more, there are more catchers who are becoming better pitch framers, and therefore more pitches on the edges are being called strikes. Might this be something to look into?

TheAlbinoKid
Guest
TheAlbinoKid
3 years 2 months ago

I think hitters just don’t want to win enough at the moment. Give me a bunch of guys who want to win any day.

BalkingHeads
Member
BalkingHeads
3 years 2 months ago

TWTW

halfeatenoreo
Guest
halfeatenoreo
3 years 2 months ago

Could it be a count issue? Is it possible to break down the numbers into swing+ in hitters counts vs swing+ in pitcher’s counts? Could modern hitters be more passive in hitter’s count while at the same time being more aggressive on pitcher’s counts?

What has been to change to BB% during the same period? Is called strike% a % of all strikes that are called or a % of all pitches that end up as called strikes?

CSJ
Member
3 years 2 months ago

James Gentile talked about the rise of the called strike nearly two months ago on beyond the box score

CSJ
Member
3 years 2 months ago

Sorry that I continue to bring up other research in the comments of these articles (and I see that Cameron did link to James’s research in an earlier article on the same subject), but I think as a sabermetric community, we should be focused on bringing light to as much information as possible and working together to build our collective knowledge of the game.

Jaker
Guest
Jaker
3 years 2 months ago

Excellent article and confirms my observations so far. Umps just seem to be calling more and more pitches out of the strike zone for strikes. Look at the strikeout pitch on Dyson last night in the 9th if you want a particularly egregious example. I wonder how long this trend will continue? Is this just a blip in the radar or a new reality? What’s causing this trend?

Jaker
Guest
Jaker
3 years 2 months ago

Sorry, meant Cain not Dyson.

OldDogScout
Guest
OldDogScout
3 years 2 months ago

Agreed, anyone consider increased late ball movement?

That w/higher velo may very well hold some interaction effect with the called strike.

MickO
Member
MickO
3 years 2 months ago

So if first pitch swing rate is way down, and overall swing rate is unchanged, would that suggest that swing rate for pitches 2-x is up?

Did the decrease in first pitch swing rate have an effect on pitches per at bat?

chuckb
Member
chuckb
3 years 2 months ago

Wasn’t the purpose of Quest-Tec to help umpires become more accurate at calling balls and strikes? Theoretically, that should have meant fewer pitches off the edge being called for strikes. Is it possible then that Quest-Tec — and I understand that it wasn’t introduced until 6-7 years ago — has helped lead to more strikes being called vertically but no change or only a smaller decrease in strikes called horizontally?

I’d be curious to see the results of some study about the accuracy of umpires’ strike zones today vs. 10 or 20 years ago. I would hope that, even w/ the left-handed batter’s strike and with the increase in called strikes, umpires are more accurate today than they were pre-Quest-Tec. If not, something more dramatic needs to occur.

rusty
Guest
rusty
3 years 2 months ago

It may be that the consequences (bad pub, reviews from supervisors, etc) of calling extra strikes aren’t as bad as calling extra balls (i.e. on taken pitches in the zone), influencing calls on marginal pitches. In other words, it may be that some Quest-Tec has discouraged some kinds of inaccuracies more than others.

Jamee
Guest
Jamee
3 years 2 months ago

Maybe hitters got taller, so the strike zone literally got bigger.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
3 years 2 months ago

The crusade for Robo-Umps begins now!

Mark
Guest
Mark
3 years 2 months ago

Does it follow from the above that the incidence of called third strikes is higher than it used to be, but the incidence of swinging third strikes is the same (based on swing%)? Or is it possible that more called strikes earlier in the at-bat are causing hitters to chase later in the AB, and strike out swinging?

Ira
Guest
Ira
3 years 2 months ago

This phenomenon can easily be explained in video format: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-S-eeInJVk

Dreamin
Guest
Dreamin
3 years 2 months ago

Didn’t baseball try to crack down on shrinking zones by forcing umpires to start calling the official zone, most notably the “high strikes,” sometime in the recent but not so recent past, maybe turn of the century ish?

leapfrog
Guest
leapfrog
3 years 2 months ago

This is exactly what I was thinking. MLB wanted umps to call the rulebook strike zone, and once there were cameras to actually measure each umpire’s strike zone the umps actually started calling the high strike, thus the jump in K% when the cameras showed up, despite there being no change in where the pitchers were throwing the ball.

giantsrainman
Guest
giantsrainman
3 years 2 months ago

Bingo!

PackBob
Guest
PackBob
3 years 2 months ago

If velocity is trending up, it maybe worthwhile to make bins of pitcher velocity from slow to fast, and see if the increase in called strikes is due to the pitchers bins with higher velocity. The speed of the pitch might affect the umpire’s capability to discern strike/ball as well.

Marcus
Guest
Marcus
3 years 2 months ago

Great article. I also wonder how foul ball data might influence any sort of conclusion on this. I’m fairly young so I don’t really remember baseball before 1998, but there seems to be a real emphasis on fouling off pitches in order to stay alive and see more pitches. Also, parks have so little foul ball territory that contacted balls that may have once been pop outs in foul territory are now foul balls. This could increase the swing and contact data allowing it to catch up but still result in a strikeout, as not every contacted ball is put in play. Or at least, this could be one factor.

Curtis
Guest
Curtis
3 years 2 months ago

Growing up in the TBS Braves era, it is pretty obvious that strike zones were larger (and expanded as the game progressed) in the mid 90s to early 00s. Just look at the 97 playoffs. The Livan Hernandez 13 strikeout game. Those pitches would never be called strikes today. Or the Glavine / Maddux (or Jamie Moyer) pitches that “caught a piece” of the strike zone. Today’s strike zone is much more fair, but I think the hitters are disciplined enough to know that a pitch 8 inches off the plate will not be called a strike, and therefore swing at less balls just outside the strike zone. Because of this discipline, they are more prone to letting closer borderline pitches go. Before, hitters just swung and weakly hit somewhat close pitches because they had a better chance of being called strikes, whereas today, they have a better chance of being called balls. When they aren’t called balls (which the article seems to state is the case), there’s going to be more strikeouts. Unless the strike zone drastically expands and hitters know there will be more wide strikes, or the umpires call the close pitches perfectly, the strikeout rate is going to remain high.

Zen Madman
Guest
3 years 2 months ago

The Braves definitely had a larger strike zone in the 90s to early 00s. This was due to Bobby Cox berating the umps every time they didn’t call a close pitch a strike.

Dan Greer
Member
Dan Greer
3 years 2 months ago

Glavine was my favorite player – and I loved those Braves teams – but even I will admit the strike zone he and Maddux enjoyed was bullshit.

mike wants wins
Guest
mike wants wins
3 years 2 months ago

Those teams actually turned me off of baseball for years. Almost as bad as the NBA….

Mike Emeigh
Guest
3 years 2 months ago

Aggregating performance across all counts doesn’t cut it, either. Batters are extremely likely to swing on two strike counts, and that in turn will skew the aggregate data in favor of minimal net change.

If you look at called-strike percentages on zero-strike and one-strike count you might get a cleaner picture.

Eminor3rd
Member
Eminor3rd
3 years 2 months ago

Dave, what about O-Swing%? Could hitters just be getting worse at recognizing the strike zone? Could they be swinging the same amount but choosing their pitches worse?

Nick
Guest
Nick
3 years 2 months ago

Looking at O-swing and Z-swing over this time would be very interesting.

bgburek
Member
bgburek
3 years 2 months ago

But we have limited O-swing data

Incitatus
Guest
Incitatus
3 years 2 months ago

K+ seems like it was pretty consistent from 1988 to 1993, too. Then it jumped quite a bit from 1994 to 1997. That’s not Questec. Anyone have an explanation for that?

Angel Hernandez
Guest
Angel Hernandez
3 years 2 months ago

After review, those pitches were definitely strikes.

Bookbook
Guest
Bookbook
3 years 2 months ago

Conspiracy theory time. MLB wanted to prove they’d “done something” about PEDs by reducing offense, but reporters kept measuring the density of the balls. The only thing Bud could come up with was getting the umps to call a bigger strike zone.

And it would have worked too, if not for you meddling kids and your slide rules.

Brazen Reader
Guest
3 years 2 months ago

but the data simply doesn’t support the notion that hitters are taking more pitches than they used to

But the data shows batters are swinging at fewer strikes. Batters who swung at a certain % of strikes should be swinging more. But they’re not, so they’re more passive, right? What’s the myth?

If the government spent the same amount of dollars today as it did in 1988, would that be the “Myth of Government Cut in Spending”? No one would agree to that, because people sensibly compare spending to GDP (i.e., available funds, like available strikes).

Doesn’t really change the excellent analysis, just the headline entirely incorrect, its a fact that batters are more passive then in 1988 when it comes to strikes.

what...?
Guest
what...?
3 years 2 months ago

In what way does your analysis make any sense whatsoever?

Passive hitter does not mean “swings at less strikes”. Passive hitter means “swings at fewer pitches”.

Any way you look at it, that title and that quote are literally accurate.

Huisj
Guest
Huisj
3 years 2 months ago

As a Sox fan, I’m going to have to blame Adam Dunn.

Cidron
Member
Cidron
3 years 2 months ago

You state “We know velocity is trending up, so pitchers may be more willing to pound the strike zone than they used to be. Or we could just have a fantastic crop of talented pitchers who can both throw strikes and get swinging strikes because of the quality of their stuff.”

Combine this with the fact that pitchers dont pitch exhausted anymore. Starters go between five to seven innings generally, allowing for a bit more “all out”, pacing the energy for fewer innings. Also, bullpens have been increasingly more specialized and good, not the home of the iffy to poor pitching it used to be. The bullpens also throw all out, generally for 1-3 batters.

All this can add up to an artificial “increased velocity” among pitchers. At least during the course of their use. Yes, we got good quality pitchers, but the game has always had them. It has always had a good second and third tier, at least relative to the generation in particular. I dont think its that “we got a great crop of pitchers right now”. Just the usage has changed. We got 13 pitcher pitching staffs, where it used to be what, 10? More arms=less tired arms=more gas

Hank
Guest
Hank
3 years 2 months ago

Dave two things:
– Folks who think they are SABR inclined need to stop using the word “myth” when they think they have disproved something.
– You need to look at pitches in zone vs swing rate… maybe the swing rate is relatively stable because with 2 strikes hitters are swinging more?

In short if you want to measure “passivity” you need to look at swing rate on pitches in the zone (and in neutral or hitter friendly counts), not simply aggregate swing rates. One thing that might be worth looking at is swing rates (for pitches in the zone), with no strikes (0-0, 1-0, 2-0, I’d leave out 3-0) vs 1 strike vs 2 strikes. Even this though would not give a complete picture.

The key here though is not just the first pitch or two which people call “passivity”; it’s the 2-0 fastball or 3-1 fastball right down the middle that makes me shake my head sometimes (unless the hitter was sitting on an offspeed pitch ahead in the count?).

Eminor3rd
Member
Eminor3rd
3 years 2 months ago

If it’s a widely held belief that he feels like he has disproven, I think “myth” is the appropriate word.

a
Guest
a
3 years 2 months ago

If the batter is looking offspeed on those counts, why would he swing at a fastball? There is no reason to swing at anything 2-0 other than the exact pitch you were looking for in the exact location you wanted it to be.

Hank
Guest
Hank
3 years 2 months ago

That was my point.

When I see a hitter taking a 2-0, 3-1 fastbal right down the middle they are either being extremely passive or were guessing offspeed.

KDL
Guest
KDL
3 years 2 months ago

The “current players swing more at 2 strike pitches” doesn’t even pass the smell test. On what grounds can we make this assumption?

Maybe the data backs up this claim…but it is certainly the kind of claim you need to back up, because the ‘common sense’ reasons don’t back it up. Striking out is less frowned upon now, so there is LESS incentive to swing wildly in 2-strike counts simply to avoid a K. And if the entire hypothesis is based on batter passivity…why would we assume hyper-aggression later? (Are hitters more passive or just using a different approach?)

samuelraphael
Member
3 years 2 months ago

I think its due to hitters being afraid of Joe West.

Brian Henry
Member
3 years 2 months ago

More teams through expansion = more umpires = lower average quality?

bgburek
Member
bgburek
3 years 2 months ago

If umpire quality is that poor, there is probably both bad large zone umpires and bad small zone umpires. That wouldn’t explain a strong increase in strikeouts.

KDL
Guest
KDL
3 years 2 months ago

Also, none of the larger changes in rates seem to correspond with expansion years.

Neil
Guest
Neil
3 years 2 months ago

Baseball is more profitable than ever. Players are making more money than ever. People who are complaining about strikeouts haven’t convinced me the increase is a problem for the participants or the fans. I’m not enjoying watching baseball less. Maybe if 50% of at bats ended in strikeouts it would be a problem, but you can’t look a 10 year period and expect the exact same trend to continue for the next ten years – that isn’t how the world works.

This is just another case of people in the media drumming up narratives because they get page views from controversy. But I guess that’s why I’m at Fangraphs and not Fox.

jim fetterolf
Guest
jim fetterolf
3 years 2 months ago

I’m thinking bats also shrank a couple of years ago, which turned foul-tips into swing and miss.

Tim
Guest
Tim
3 years 2 months ago

I question the assumption that hitters’ approaches are normally distributed. Averages probably aren’t appropriate here at all.

Joe
Guest
Joe
3 years 2 months ago

I, being the only one-legged, one-armed, two-headed kid in Little League had a very difficult time figuring out my approach. I had two sets of eyes, so I had amazing command of the strike zone, but everytime I swung I would spin around. And it was very hard for me to keep my weight back, because I only had one leg and stood straight up like a pencil. Anyway, after 5 years of playing I gave up because the league was sick of having to buy a second helmet on every team I played for.

Scraps
Guest
Scraps
3 years 2 months ago

Nobody wanted to be the person who told you, but frankly, everybody was weirded out by the way you argued with yourself on balls and strikes, sometimes heatedly. The umps had a terrible time figuring when to kick you out.

Kinanik
Member
Member
Kinanik
3 years 2 months ago

From a game theoretic point of view, isn’t it rational to respond to changes in called strikes by swinging more often? If the cost of taking a pitch rises, people should take fewer pitches. Hitters should be swinging more, and their failure to do so represents a *relative* increase in passivity.

Now, given that there’s an increase incentive to swing, the failure to respond means:

1) Hitters are oblivious and don’t respond to opportunities to do better.
2) The benefit of swinging has dropped as strike calls have increased. This could be larger ballparks or increased defense (though these things could have *caused* the increase in called strikes, it’s not uni-causal).
3) The cost of swinging has increased. This very well could be off-field pressure to ‘be more patient.’ Again, it could be that ‘Moneyball’ increased the cost of swinging, and pitchers responded by throwing more strikes.
4) There’s been a change in the composition of hitters of pitchers, or in the definition of the strikezone.

I don’t buy (1), and (4) is always going to be true to the point where it can support or debunk any hypothesis, and are going to be endogenous anyways (I could buy that the strikezone is larger, though). If (3) is true, then the writers writing about increased patience are, actually, correct and are doing a good job of controlling for countervailing forces than the graph in this article does. (2) may also be true, and I would put money on defense getting better and parks being less hitter friendly than they were in the 1990s.

Tim
Guest
Tim
3 years 2 months ago

“From a game theoretic point of view, isn’t it rational to respond to changes in called strikes by swinging more often?”

Only if balls and strikes are called randomly regardless of any characteristic of the pitch, such as location.

So judging by this year’s umpiring, yes, MLB hitters should be swinging more.

Kinanik
Member
Member
Kinanik
3 years 2 months ago

Or if hitters prefer swinging at strikes than at balls?

shoewizard
Guest
shoewizard
3 years 2 months ago

The increase is most likely a combination of not swinging at the first pitch as often AND I bet if you check the called strike percentage increase by 1st strike, 2nd strike and third strike you’d find a significant difference between 1st , 2nd, and 3rd. (IOW, more called 1st strikes than any other called strikes). This is obvious simply because there are fewer swings at the first pitch, but the swing percentage overall is about the same, so guys must be swinging more later in the counts. And if they are swinging the same overall, but less at the first pitch, and called strikes are up overall, then of course the called strike percentage must be higher on the first strike compared to 2nd or 3rd strike.

Some baseball cliches are true, and the one about the best pitch in baseball being strike 1 is definitely true.

More guys behind 0-1 leads to more K’s. There are more guys starting off AB’s 0-1 because more guys are taking the first pitch AND because the umps are widening the strike zone and rewarding pitchers for being around the zone and punishing hitters for not being more aggressive.

It’s a combination of effect. Both Dave and Verducci are 1/2 correct.

Cidron
Member
Cidron
3 years 2 months ago

or, as the Atlanta Braves commercial of a few years ago, as stated by the pitchers “Chicks dig the long ball”

lexomatic
Guest
lexomatic
3 years 2 months ago

The headline reminded me of one of the big complaints early on about John Olerud – and how he was too passive walking and not hitting for power. I thought this might be some kind of historical piece looking at those kinds of player… though I guess there’s 30 years of sabermetrics that refuted that at the time.

ALEastbound
Guest
3 years 2 months ago

I would think that bullpen usage and better overall relief pitching hasn’t helped the hitters. Simplistic but probably true.

Morland
Guest
Morland
3 years 2 months ago

The comments about early little league experience are much more entertaining than everything else. You should do a column on everyone’s goofy experiences the first year or two they played baseball.

bobababaloo
Guest
bobababaloo
3 years 2 months ago

So….Steroids or strike zone?

Paul Ketchum
Guest
Paul Ketchum
3 years 2 months ago

Jesus! Learn to use semi-colons!

Pat
Guest
Pat
3 years 2 months ago

Clicked on the post expecting it to be about Rickie Weeks. Somewhat disappointed.

Kyle
Guest
Kyle
3 years 2 months ago

I believe this was mentioned in a previous comment, but could the numbers be caused by hitters not understanding the strike zone as well? Hitters could be swinging at the same number of pitches, but at less in the zone and more outside the zone. Taking more strikes would be seen as being passive, and swinging at more pitches out of the zone would lead to a higher K%.

Rococo
Member
Rococo
3 years 2 months ago

I suggest that you look for a correlation between velocity and Called Strike%. My guess is that the hitters do a worse job of controlling the strike zone against great velocity.

dominik
Guest
dominik
3 years 2 months ago

That makes sense.

I think the Pitch fx evaluation forced umpires to call the real strikezone more while in the steroid era anything above the belt was a ball. now hitters have to adjust to swing at the high strike again.

beejeez
Guest
beejeez
3 years 2 months ago

I think another factor in the K rate is a higher valuation of power hitting. Hardly anybody in MLB is a punch-it-through hitter any more. In most situations, players are encouraged to take a mighty rip, at least until they get two strikes on them. And some of them are swinging hard on strike 3, too. This might even be logical. I like manufacturing runs as much as anyone, but it could be the calculus of X extra-base hits make up for Y additional strikeouts.

ecocd
Guest
ecocd
3 years 2 months ago

A little off-topic, Dave, but the line charts you include could be a little friendlier to your color-blind readers. In the future, could you make some of the lines patterned as well? 4 separate patterns for 4 different lines would be overkill, but even splitting 4 lines on a chart into a light/dark pair that’s dashed and a light/dark pair that’s solid would help.

It’s not really a big deal, but just like having left-handed desks in a classroom helps those of us that are left-handed, it would only take 10 extra seconds per chart to make some readers’ lives a little easier. Not a big deal, but it would be a nice touch.

Great article!

Randy
Guest
Randy
3 years 2 months ago

I have always thought there was a link between a player being aggressive and having a high strikeout total, but that was based upon anecdotal evidence and intuition. It seemed kind of odd that writers were suddenly claiming they were passive. If anything, I’ve been upset about teams that aren’t willing to take a few more pitches. Great article.

CabreraDeath
Member
CabreraDeath
3 years 2 months ago

As an attorney (or just a dude that likes a fact-specific winning argument), this takedown of Verducci’s (atypical) lazy statement is just awesome.

Well done, Dave. Well done….

CD

mtortolero
Guest
3 years 2 months ago

Great article, PitchFX has change baseball

GotHeem
Guest
GotHeem
3 years 2 months ago

Dave, if you could rewrite this article in the style of Ken Tremendous I would appreciate it

dominik
Guest
dominik
3 years 2 months ago

Any Chance to get the foul strike rates?

Bat44
Guest
Bat44
3 years 2 months ago

IMO more foreign players in the game have meant a more agressive approach at the plate overall. Like they say you don’t walk off the island you swing your way off. Anyway I think Josh Hamiltion alone has raised the first swing average a percent or two

Tim
Guest
Tim
3 years 2 months ago

Amazing! Great job Dave.

MoreLowStrikes
Guest
MoreLowStrikes
2 years 5 months ago

This might be the answer:
Jon Roegele, “The Strike Zone in the PITCHf/x Era,” The Hardball Times Annual 2014

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