Taking a Look at David Price’s Turnaround

After signing a massive seven-year, 217-million-dollar contract with the Red Sox this past offseason, David Price got off to a slow start. After his May 7th start against the Yankees in which he gave up six earned runs in just 4.2 innings, Price’s ERA stood at a whopping 6.75 yet his peripherals remained strong. He had a 2.98 FIP and 11.5 K/9. However, he was giving up hard contact over 41 percent of the time. The immediate fix was a mechanical issue noticed by Dustin Pedroia that was limiting Price’s leg lift and diminishing his velocity. Frustrated with his failures, Price vowed to be better.

And better he has been. After throwing a gem in Sunday’s win over the Mariners where he went eight innings allowing his only run on a solo shot by Franklin Gutierrez, Price lowered his season ERA to a still high 4.24 and had his eighth straight quality start. Over those eight starts, Price has been much better, allowing 16 runs over 58.1 innings for an ERA of 2.47. During this stretch, he has a 3.88 FIP and 8.6 K/9 and has only allowed hard contact around 27 percent of the time. Although his strikeouts have gone down and his FIP went up due to his decrease in strikeouts to go with an increase in home runs allowed, Price has limited the amount of hard contact he has given up. This can be seen in the BABIP over the two stretches. In his first seven starts, his BABIP against was around .370, while in this current eight-start stretch it is hovering around .230.

This in turn, has allowed him to be very successful while pitching to contact. His biggest issue remains his ability to keep the ball in the park. Over his last eight starts, Price has allowed at least one home run in seven of them. So while he has limited hard contact against him, the few mistakes that he makes each game are punished. Despite this increase in home runs allowed, he continues to pitch well and go deep into games, allowing the Red Sox bullpen a chance to recover after the consistently shaky starts from their 4th and 5th starters.

There are a few main reasons to this improvement. The first was his ability to regain his velocity. Looking at his velocity each month thanks to data from Brooks Baseball, there is a small but steady increase in his average four-seam and sinker velocity. Before May 8th, his velocity was low by his standards. Typically a pitcher averaging 94 to 95 MPH with his fastball, he had been sitting 93 MPH.

Year Fourseam Sinker Change Curve Cutter
2016, Before May 8th 93.2 93.0 84.3 78.8 88.8

Although just a small dip in velocity, it made him much more hittable.

Since May 8th, his velocity has been back on the rise.

Year Fourseam Sinker Change Curve Cutter
2016, Since May 8th 94.2 93.4 85.0 78.3 89.0

After the mechanical change, his four-seam has been averaging around 94 MPH and his sinker has been averaging around 93 MPH, but still slightly up from what it was before. Although it is a small increase, this added velocity has helped Price dominate hitters, gain confidence, and re-establish himself as an ace.

Another key factor in this improvement has been his pitch usage. Using pitch data from Brooks Baseball, I was able to look at Price’s pitch usage. In his first seven starts, Price relied on mixing different types of fastballs with his main offspeed pitch being a change-up while also displaying the occasional curve.

Year Fourseam Sinker Cutter Curve Change
2016, Before May 8th 27.6 22.6 19.8 6.6 23.4

His four-seam was used around 28 percent of the time yet it lacked the movement displayed by his cutter and sinker. The high four-seam usage to go with decreased velocity spelled trouble for Price.

However, since May 8th, Price has made an adjustment displayed by the fact that he is now using his sinker as his primary pitch while also using his four-seam far less frequently.

Year Fourseam Sinker Cutter Curve Change
2016, Since May 8th 9.0 36.1 22.4 8.3 24.3

His sinker is now used around 36 percent of the time compared to his four-seam being used around nine percent of the time. With this added movement and velocity, Price has been able to be more effective while keeping the use of his curve, cutter, and changeup around the same. This simple switch from a four-seam to a sinker has allowed him to go on a tear.

Looking forward, the Red Sox need Price to continue to be the pitcher that he has been over his last eight starts. They are paying him ace money and he is expected to pitch like one down the stretch as Boston hopes to continue their great turnaround year. If Price continues to have outings like these, the Sox should like their chances come October with him taking the mound with their season on the line.


Who Has Performed Better In the Draft?

The MLB draft has passed but its impact will last. Some selections will go down as busts (e.g. Matt Anderson by the Tigers in 1997). Others will be real bargains such as Carlos Beltran with the 49th pick in 1995. I decided to look at the numbers in an attempt to answer the following questions I read over the last few weeks:

  1. How many Round 1 picks do end up in the big leagues? What’s the average impact of a Round 1 pick? How does that compare to Round 2? Are there differences between pitcher and batters?
  2. What has been the best draft class for the 1993-2008 period? (per three first rounds)
  3. What teams have done a better job?
  4. What is the best round (top 10 overall picks)?

As I usually do, let’s define the data sources and assumptions. First, my data source is Baseball-Reference. There are many assumptions and disclaimers in this process, but the most important ones are:

  1. I am using data from 1993 to 2008 to give ample time for players to reach MLB. As I am using career WAR, I don’t want to over-penalize players that have been selected in the recent years and therefore have not accumulated MLB service time.
  2. Organizations change and so do their ways of conducting business, which evidently includes draft strategy. We are looking at teams rather than specific front offices or general managers.
  3. WAR refers to Baseball-Reference WAR (i.e. bWAR).
  4. Teams may have more than one pick per round due to compensation and supplemental picks.
  5. This methodology does not take into account the overall quality of the draft pool i.e. total WAR per draft year is not constant.
  6. All WAR is allocated to the team that drafts the player. Understandably, that is not true but let’s toy with the idea through this post.

Let’s get to it.

Question 1 – How many Round 1 picks do end up in the big league? What’s the average impact of a Round 1 compare to a Round 2 pick? Are there differences between pitcher and batters?

The table below outlines how many players have been/were called up to the majors and how many actually have had a positive career WAR i.e. over 0.0. I have also added the average career WAR per player and I have broken down the data by round and by position (pitcher and batter) to grasp the differences easily. Just take a moment with this table:

 

Round Pos Total players Players that reached MLB % of Total players Positive WAR % of players who reached MLB Average WAR per player
Round 1
Pitchers 372 242 65% 161 67% 9.7
Batters 320 225 70% 157 70% 14.4
Sub-Total 692 467 67% 318 68% 12.1
Round 2
Pitchers 247 121 49% 60 50% 8.1
Batters 244 127 52% 70 55% 13.1
Sub-Total 491 248 51% 130 52% 10.8
Round 3
Pitchers 244 99 41% 59 60% 5.5
Batters 235 88 37% 50 57% 7.3
Sub-Total 479 187 39% 109 58% 6.3
Total 1662 902 54% 557 62% 10.6

 

Three things come to my mind:

First, this provides some empirical validation of what we intuitively thought: First-round picks produce greater WAR values than the others. While I only have data for the first three rounds, it’s worth noting that the gap between Round 1 to Round 2 (10%) is smaller than from Round 2 to Round 3 (41%).

Second, I actually found surprising that 67% of first-rounders reached MLB at some point. That is two players out of three and it’s a testament to how important raw skills are when it comes to moving up through the minors.

Lastly, the answer to the question of whether t draft pitchers or batters looks like an easy one. Batters not only reached MLB at a higher pace but delivered better results as a group and as individuals. While these results are not statistically significant, they provide a pragmatic answer to the question and suggest a sound strategy might be to draft batters and trade for pitchers later down the road.

Question 2 – What has been the best draft class for the 1993-2008 period?

This table should provide guidance on how to answer this question but does not fully explain it. If we think of it as the number of players that got to MLB, then 2008 is the best year. That year highlights Eric Hosmer, Buster Posey, Brett Lawrie, Craig Kimbrel and Gerrit Cole as the most prominent stars, but offers a very low career total WAR as most of its players are still playing – they’re the youngest generation of my sample. In this class, 27 out of the top 30 picks have reached MLB, though a few for a very short stint e.g. Kyle Skipworth or Ethan Martin.

Year Total war Total players that reached MLB Average WAR per player
1993 476.3 54 8.82
1994 243.4 54 4.51
1995 484.9 41 11.83
1996 280.0 45 6.22
1997 409.5 59 6.94
1998 397.6 53 7.50
1999 402.1 52 7.73
2000 236.8 47 5.04
2001 350.9 55 6.38
2002 508.1 54 9.41
2003 297.1 60 4.95
2004 393.2 63 6.24
2005 458.1 63 7.27
2006 282.7 62 4.56
2007 325.4 69 4.72
2008 213.2 71 3.00

 

If we think of the highest total career WAR, then the winner is 2002. This class is led by two of the best picks on the sample (Zack Greinke and Joey Votto) but also features Prince Fielder, Jon Lester and Curtis Granderson. If we think of highest concentration of skills, then the 1995 class has to be the first one with an average of 11.8 WAR per MLB player. On the other hand, only 41 players got the MLB call, the lowest among the sample. While Carlos Beltran and Roy Halladay are the most notable names in that draft, player such as Darin Erstad, Kerry Wood, Randy Winn and Bronson Arroyo enjoyed nice peaks.

 

Question 3 – What teams have done a better job?

Evidently, not every team has selected in the same combination of draft slots e.g. some teams have had the opportunity to choose top picks (Rays, for example), while other have frequently picked from mid-bottom draft slots (Yankees).  It would not be fair to compare total career WAR for players the Yankees has selected against those that the Rays has because the latter had more options and access to a different pool of players than that the Yankees had. How to fix that? I am comparing what each team did on the overall pick they were slotted. If we use 2016 as an example, I would be comparing how good Philadelphia was in choosing Mickey Moniak as pick 1 against the average of all other first picks in the timeframe (1993-2008). Once I know the WAR gap between a particular team and the average WAR per pick, I need to standardize that number by the standard deviation i.e. calculating Z scores. In simple terms, this is understanding how good or bad a pick was in relation to the entire distribution of a particular draft slot. The Z-score number allows us to compare how good a 14th pick was in relation to a third pick, for example. Finally, to identify which teams have fared better, I am calculating the average of Z-scores for all picks.

Again, there are many caveats here, but this should give us a ballpark estimate on how well teams have drafted from 1993-2008. Keep in mind, this methodology does not produce a linear WAR per draft slot. That would mean, for example, that overall pick 4 will produce greater WAR than pick 5. On average, the 4th pick has produced 6.2 WAR on average, while the 5th one has produced 14.3. While this might be counter-intuitive (it is at least for me), the empirical evidence of this sample size shows that.

 

Batter Pitcher    
Teams # of batters drafted Average of OvPck – Zscore # Pitchers drafted Average of OvPck – Zscore Total Count of Name Total Average of OvPck – Zscore
Phillies 26 -0.81 24 -0.46 50 -0.64
Nationals 9 -0.70 6 -1.14 15 -0.88
Athletics 40 -0.99 30 -0.75 70 -0.89
Twins 34 -0.57 32 -1.31 66 -0.93
Diamondbacks 18 -0.84 26 -1.06 44 -0.97
Angels 18 -1.10 27 -0.88 45 -0.97
Rays 14 -0.50 20 -1.31 34 -0.97
Rangers 26 -1.06 28 -1.05 54 -1.06
Cardinals 28 -1.03 34 -1.25 62 -1.15
Giants 34 -1.23 28 -1.10 62 -1.17
Braves 32 -1.24 35 -1.12 67 -1.18
Royals 25 -1.40 32 -1.04 57 -1.20
White Sox 24 -0.65 40 -1.54 64 -1.20
Reds 28 -0.73 27 -1.70 55 -1.21
Blue Jays 32 -1.46 27 -0.91 59 -1.21
Red Sox 29 -1.33 35 -1.14 64 -1.23
Brewers 26 -0.87 27 -1.72 53 -1.30
Dodgers 21 -1.13 32 -1.44 53 -1.32
Rockies 18 -0.85 33 -1.60 51 -1.33
Pirates 27 -1.72 23 -0.88 50 -1.33
Mariners 25 -1.33 20 -1.45 45 -1.38
Mets 17 -1.14 35 -1.61 52 -1.45
Tigers 20 -0.81 32 -1.88 52 -1.46
Orioles 28 -1.05 28 -1.88 56 -1.46
Padres 40 -1.47 24 -1.54 64 -1.49
Marlins 30 -1.59 23 -1.41 53 -1.51
Astros 23 -1.45 26 -1.61 49 -1.53
Expos 26 -1.30 22 -1.85 48 -1.56
Yankees 24 -1.94 29 -1.37 53 -1.63
Cubs 24 -1.46 29 -1.95 53 -1.73
Indians 33 -2.13 29 -1.49 62 -1.83
Total 799 -1.19 863 -1.35 1662 -1.27

 

Perhaps surprisingly, the Phillies come at the top of the list. The Phillies advantage came in three picks: First, Chase Utley was drafted in 2000 with the high 15th pick and has had a great career that is up to 63.4 WAR. Second, in 1993, the Phillies chose Scott Rolen (70 career WAR) with the 46th overall pick – which seems like a bargain now. Finally, Randy Wolf in 1997 was selected in the 54th position and went on to have a 23.1 career WAR. The Nationals have had very much success on their first few years as a franchise with both Jordan Zimmermann and Ryan Zimmerman. The sample size does not include Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg, which may push the Nats to the top of the list in the near future.

Astros, Expos, Yankees, Cubs and Indians are the bottom five teams. Coincidentally or not, these teams have long droughts (Yankees exempted). Interesting to see if there is a relationship between draft performance and wins but I guess that’s is another post.

We could go and dig deeper for each team into what they’ve done well and not so much but that would not make sense. Teams make mistakes and it looks like the draft selection is pretty damn hard with an extremely high WAR standard deviation (11.6 WAR through the first 30 picks).

 

Question 4 – What is the best round (top 10 overall picks)?

This question is about finding the best selection on each of the first 10 picks. I’ve used the Z-score which pick was really ahead of the curve.

OvPck Year Tm Player Pos WAR Average WAR of pick OvPck – Zscore
1 1993 Mariners Alex Rodriguez SS 118.8  22.73 3.16
2 1997 Phillies J.D. Drew OF 44.9  16.23 1.88
3 2006 Rays Evan Longoria 3B 43.3  9.00 2.46
4 2005 Nationals Ryan Zimmerman 3B 34.8  6.21 2.67
5 2001 Rangers Mark Teixeira 3B 52.2  14.26 2.02
6 2002 Royals Zack Greinke SP 52.3  4.76 3.63
7 2006 Dodgers Clayton Kershaw SP 52.1  11.86 2.42
8 1995 Rockies Todd Helton 1B 61.2  6.41 3.56
9 1999 Athletics Barry Zito SP 32.6  8.70 2.24
10 1996 Athletics Eric Chavez 3B 37.4  11.31 2.04

 

Well, this is quite a nice group of players. A-Rod is the WAR leader of our sample. Even as a first pick, which on average has yielded the highest WAR, he manages to be three standards deviations above the mean. Five other players are active and two of them (Greinke and Kershaw) still are among the best starting pitchers in the game. They will continue to cement their position as great draft picks for the Royals and Dodgers. Interestingly enough, Barry Zito and Eric Chavez were part of the A’s Moneyball team that frequently over-performed a few years ago — a reminder of how important it is to build a strong core of players.

As a bonus question – these are the top 10 picks, according to this methodology:

Year OvPck Tm Player Pos WAR Drafted Out of OvPck – Zscore
2002 44 Reds Joey Votto C 42.7 Richview Collegiate Institute (Toronto ON) 3.74
2007 34 Reds Todd Frazier 3B 16.8 Rutgers the State University of New Jersey (New Brunswick NJ) 3.71
1997 70 Rockies Aaron Cook RHP 15.9 Hamilton HS (Hamilton OH) 3.71
1995 69 Pirates Bronson Arroyo RHP 26.5 Hernando HS (Brooksville FL) 3.67
1995 53 Indians Sean Casey 1B 16.3 University of Richmond (Richmond VA) 3.67
2007 27 Tigers Rick Porcello RHP 12.2 Seton Hall Preparatory School (West Orange NJ) 3.63
2002 6 Royals Zack Greinke RHP 52.3 Apopka HS (Apopka FL) 3.63
1996 18 Rangers R.A. Dickey RHP 21.1 University of Tennessee (Knoxville TN) 3.61
1997 91 Royals Jeremy Affeldt LHP 10.5 Northwest Christian HS (Spokane WA) 3.61
1995 31 Angels Jarrod Washburn LHP 28.5 University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh (Oshkosh WI) 3.60
1998 33 Expos Brad Wilkerson OF 11 University of Florida (Gainesville FL) 3.60
1995 49 Royals Carlos Beltran OF 68.8 Fernando Callejo HS (Manati PR) 3.59

 

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Note: This analysis is also featured in our emerging blog www.theimperfectgame.com


Zack Cozart Probably Won’t Keep Scorching the Ball

Last week, August Fagerstrom handed Cincinnati fans an ice-cold Gatorade after we’d spent the better part of three months wandering through the Sahara that is the 2016 Reds baseball season.

After quickly touching on the wide range of sadness, of which there is no shortage—the historically bad bullpen, the woeful luck of one Joseph Votto, and oh, the losses—he rationally pointed to a reason for optimism: “[The Reds’] two most encouraging comeback stories, Zack Cozart and Jay Bruce, just so happen to be their two most sensible trade chips.”

Of Cozart, he wrote:

He leads the Reds in WAR. He enters his final year of arbitration next season. He’s always been a gifted defensive shortstop, something every team loves to have, but this year, he’s hitting at career-best levels…He’s become more aggressive at the plate, he’s hitting way more balls in the air than he did early in his career, and he’s hitting them with authority (emphasis mine).

This last piece is what’s so interesting. Watch any Reds game this year—or just stay through the leadoff hitter! I swear, that’s all I’m asking!—and you’ll hear announcers remark that Cozart is just hitting the ball differently this year.

As shocking as it may seem given recent broadcaster rankings, they’re right.

Cozart’s 2016 hard-hit rate of 33% is very good, if not earth-shattering. It ranks seventh amongst shortstops, and league-wide places him in the company of (slightly) more celebrated offensive names like Bogaerts, Kinsler, and Beltre.

But there’s a caveat to Cozart’s great contact. The number isn’t just a career high; it’s a massive outlier, sitting 8.5% above his career average. How many other hitters this year are enjoying similar spikes? I pulled all “jumps” above six points for 2016 qualified hitters, with a minimum of four seasons to ensure a stable career average:

Name Team Age 2016 Hard Hit % Career Hard Hit % “Jump”
Jose Altuve Astros 26 34.2% 24.5% 9.7%
Daniel Murphy Nationals 31 38.2% 28.7% 9.5%
Victor Martinez Tigers 37 41.5% 32.3% 9.2%
Matt Carpenter Cardinals 30 43.6% 34.7% 8.9%
Zack Cozart Reds 30 33.0% 24.5% 8.5%
Buster Posey Giants 29 40.8% 33.1% 7.7%
Joey Votto Reds 32 44.4% 37.0% 7.4%
Curtis Granderson Mets 35 40.2% 33.1% 7.1%
Salvador Perez Royals 26 35.6% 28.5% 7.1%
Chase Utley Dodgers 37 41.9% 35.3% 6.6%
Ben Zobrist Cubs 35 36.0% 29.4% 6.6%
David Ortiz Red Sox 40 46.9% 40.3% 6.6%
Josh Donaldson Blue Jays 30 40.5% 34.0% 6.5%
Yoenis Cespedes Mets 30 39.5% 33.2% 6.3%
Evan Longoria Rays 30 40.7% 34.6% 6.1%

This list shouldn’t be too surprising. While not a perfect indicator, we know that hitting balls hard is generally better than the alternative—and these guys, with one giant, Vottoian exception, are all in the midst of stellar years by more traditional metrics. Altuve owns baseball’s third-best WAR; Murphy remains one of baseball’s best bargains; Martinez and Ortiz continue to defy Father Time to the tunes of wRC+ of 142 and 194(!), respectively. Even Votto, recovering from a BABIP 60 points below his career average, is rapidly coming around.

The group presents club evaluators, though, with a very tough question: How “real” are these spikes in hard-hit rate, and by extension the jumps in offensive performance? For Cozart, the question for the Reds front office basically translates to: How likely is he to keep the hard contact up, and how quickly should we trade him?

Let’s start with what we know about hard-hit rate. It’s generally a repeatable skill, as a FanGraphs study from last year puts hitters’ YoY correlation at 0.69. We can also say that there’s no real drop in age to adjust for; I found the r-squared correlation between age and hard-hit rate to be 0.02.

It’s not crazy, then, to think that a career-high spike in hard-hit rate could be the start of long-lasting improvement. And if it is, we should see it in the years around the spike: an increase the year before that hinted at a breakout, or retaining/coming close to the same rate in the next few seasons.

But is that the case?

I pulled all hitters with a hard-hit-rate YoY “jump” above 9% since we began tracking the stat in 2002 to see how they fared in the years immediately before and after. In this chart, “Year Before” is the hard-hit rate versus career average for the season prior to the jump, with Y+1/Y+2 representing the two years following it:

Year Name Team Age Year Before “Jump” Year Y+1 Y+2
2007 Edgar Renteria ATL 30 2.2% 12.8% -3.7% -2.4%
2007 Derek Jeter NYY 33 5.1% 12.5% 0.7% -0.6%
2007 Ryan Howard PHI 27 2.0% 12.4% 3.5% 2.8%
2007 Jimmy Rollins PHI 28 3.5% 11.5% 3.7% -1.1%
2007 Carl Crawford TB 25 -1.8% 11.4% -3.6% 3.0%
2007 Coco Crisp BOS 27 2.5% 11.4% -0.4% -1.5%
2013 Marlon Byrd NYM/PIT 35 3.6% 11.1% 6.9% 1.3%
2007 Chone Figgins LAA 29 2.1% 10.9% -1.9% -0.5%
2007 Mark Teixiera TEX/ATL 27 -1.8% 10.7% 3.5% 1.0%
2009 Carlos Pena TB 31 -0.3% 10.3% 1.6% 6.4%
2007 Aaron Rowand PHI 29 -2.0% 9.7% -0.7% -2.5%
2010 Nick Swisher NYY 29 -0.8% 9.6% -3.4% 1.4%
2007 Michael Young TEX 30 0.4% 9.5% 0.2% 4.0%
2009 Raul Ibanez PHI 37 2.1% 9.5% 4.4% -4.0%
2007 Grady Sizemore CLE 24 0.5% 9.3% 1.4% -1.5%
2007 Ichiro Suzuki SEA 33 2.4% 9.2% 0.5% -1.4%

If you’re looking for a pattern, don’t bother: none really exist, aside from the observation that 2007 was, apparently, The Year of Hitting Baseballs Hard (a poorly anticipated sequel to The Year of Living Dangerously).

The “Jump” years make up a few of the better hitting seasons in modern history: Jimmy Rollins’ MVP campaign of 2007, Teixiera’s famous Rangers/Braves split season in which he posted a wRC+ of 146, even a Raul Ibanez “I’m Not Dead Yet” season with Philadelphia at age 37.

More importantly, though, surrounding these seasons on either side is case after case of regression—and not even particularly close regression at that. There doesn’t seem to be any ability to carry over a hard-hit-rate jump into the next year or beyond.

These seasons aren’t necessarily the same as those supported by BABIP-fueled mirages…but they are propped up by a contact rate that just doesn’t seem to hold up in any type of long run. It’s something that makes sense on an intuitive level: no one, even someone as skilled as a big-league hitter, wakes up and says, “Oh, yeah—that’s how I can hit the ball hard from now on,” then keeps it up for the rest of their career.

A 162-game baseball season may seem long, but it’s subject to many forms of chance, including the odds that some years you’ll strike the ball harder than others. For the purposes of evaluating our 2016 list, it’s info that is more “useful” than immediately actionable: every player on the list except Cozart is signed through at least 2018, while Ortiz, in a Breaking Bad-level identity switch, will hang up his spikes to try his skills as a masseur in Minneapolis.

But it’s a worthy piece of evidence that our protagonist will spend next year likely reverting to average or even worse at the plate—and that the Reds, by extension, should pursue every possible trading avenue for Cozart this summer while the hitting is hard.

 


Chris Sale’s Rarest of Mistakes

Chris Sale is unusually skilled at throwing a baseball left-handed. This process is not generally viewed as aesthetically pleasing, but it is generally effective. It is particularly so against left-handed hitters. This effectiveness is why anything else is noteworthy, and thus why you are reading an article about Sale giving up his first home run to a left-handed hitter since 2012, and then his second such home run three innings later. Oh, right: Eric Hosmer hit two home runs off of Chris Sale Friday night, which is two more homers from the left side than Sale has given up over more than three seasons.

Chris Sale has been phenomenal against left-handed batters well beyond the fun fact of “no home runs allowed since 2012.” In his career he had allowed three total homers by lefties prior to Friday, with a triple slash of .202/.261/.263, all while playing half his games in the bandbox that is US Cellular. This dominance has not gone unnoticed by the rest of the league, and he has become justifiably feared by left-handed hitters and all-handed managers. During his 104 start, 712 inning homer-less streak, he has only faced left-handed hitters 18% of the time, despite batters hitting from the left batter’s box account over 40% of all plate appearances. Only the best face Sale. For perspective, Clayton Kershaw has had 609 plate appearances against left-handed batters since 2013 and has allowed eight home runs. For more perspective, it only took Bartolo Colon 246 plate appearances to hit his first home run.

For his part, Eric Hosmer was not a particularly likely player to end Sale’s streak, let alone to do so in this fashion. He has not yet had a 20-home-run season, and he has now matched his career-high season home-run total against left-handed pitching with five. He went into Friday with three career multi-home run games. If you care about this sort of thing, Hosmer’s numbers against Sale before then were relatively impressive in a small sample: .333/.351/.361 over 37 plate appearances. He is now tied with teammate Alex Gordon for most hits against Sale by a left-handed batter.

Now that we have established why Hosmer’s two home runs off Sale were unlikely to happen, we should look into the homers themselves. But before we get into the actual at bats, here is a plot of Sale’s pitches vs. Hosmer. I do not believe it hard to guess which cluster contains the two big mistakes.

Sale v Hosmer 6/10/16

The first at-bat came in the first inning, with two out and nobody on. Sale started with a fastball off the plate away, then a slider more off the plate away. Down 2-0, this happened:

With a low and away target, Sale left a fastball high and over the heart of the plate. Hosmer crushed it the other way.

Hosmer’s second at-bat led off the fourth inning. Sale started Hosmer with another fastball, equally over the middle of the plate and about four inches higher than the one that went out to left three innings earlier. The target was again low and away. The second pitch was a slider off the plate away, taken for a ball. Third, a slider inside and at the knees that went foul. Fourth, a fastball off the plate inside that Hosmer deflected just enough to hit into his own leg. With the count 1-2, this:

With a low and away target, Sale left a slider high and over the heart of the plate. Hosmer crushed it the other way. Sound familiar?

Hosmer did have a third at-bat against Sale in the fifth inning, and it progressed much as Sale’s interactions with lefties usually do. Called strike one on a low-ish slider, swing through a low slider, then weak contact on a changeup low and in off the plate. Three pitches, all strikes, and a routine groundout.

Contrary to the past three years of evidence, Chris Sale is not immune to left-handed slugging. Specifically, he cannot groove a fastball in a hitter’s count nor hang a slider in any count without expecting that bad results might occur. Eric Hosmer is good enough to punish those sorts of mistakes, and he proved it. He should get credit for that. But the last place a pitcher wants to miss is high and over the plate, and Chris Sale did that twice to the same hitter in the same game. These are certainly not the only such mistakes Sale has made against a left-handed hitter since 2012, but they are certainly the first two to be punished fully. It could be a while before we see the next two.


Tyler Naquin’s Blossoming Power

Recently the Cleveland Indians were able to salvage their four-game series against the Seattle Mariners with a 5-3 victory, thanks to Tyler Naquin. In the top of the 8th inning with teammate Rajai Davis on first base, Naquin again found himself in an 0-2 count. Once again, it seemed that the rookie would strike out…especially because he was facing an excellent reliever in Joaquin Benoit. Going into the game, Benoit found himself with a respectable 3.27 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and a BAA of just .154. But when Naquin came to the plate all of that was about to change. On an 0-2 pitch, Benoit threw Naquin a changeup down and in that he promptly golfed into the stands of Safeco Field giving the Tribe a 4-2 lead in the late innings. This advantage would end up sticking for the Tribe as they went on to split the four-game series and remain in first place in the AL Central.

Naquin is no stranger to hitting homers in the big leagues. In fact, at the time that was his fourth homer in his last six games. Before his most recent recall on June 1st, Naquin hadn’t yet hit one out of the park in the bigs. But now it appears that he has found his power stroke, and his team couldn’t be happier. Naquin always had a great swing; even looking back on his days at Texas A&M, that was more than apparent (he won two Big-12 batting titles). It appears now that he’s beginning to develop power. In the minors, Naquin managed just 22 homers in his 1542 plate appearances, a modest 70.1 PA/HR. In his short time in the majors this number has dropped significantly down to 22.3 PA/HR. In other words, around 27 HR in a 600 plate appearances. The power that he’s shown thus far has been quite impressive, and there’s a chance that it’s sustainable.

Naquin has shown the ability, throughout his minor and now major-league career, to possess a great swing with the ability to make good, solid contact which has translated well to this point. Naquin has a 41% hard-hit rate. Qualified players who have a hard-hit rate above 39% this season include the following list:

 # Player Team  PA  Hard%  HR  OPS  wRC+ wOBA
1 David Ortiz Red Sox 226 47.2 % 16 1.153 200 .470
2 Joey Votto Reds 248 43.5 % 11 .793 108 .338
3 Matt Carpenter Cardinals 255 43.2 % 9 .936 150 .394
4 Chris Carter Brewers 241 43.0 % 16 .803 105 .334
5 Trevor Story Rockies 258 43.0 % 16 .866 111 .362
6 Mike Napoli Indians 232 42.9 % 14 .799 115 .340
7 Chase Utley Dodgers 222 42.8 % 4 .748 110 .330
8 Michael Conforto Mets 211 42.8 % 9 .778 111 .330
9 Miguel Sano Twins 211 42.7 % 11 .799 116 .344
10 Yasmany Tomas Diamondbacks 208 41.1 % 7 .755 97 .324
11 Josh Donaldson Blue Jays 265 40.9 % 14 .890 139 .378
12 Victor Martinez Tigers 224 40.9 % 9 .925 149 .391
13 Khris Davis Athletics 215 40.8 % 14 .753 100 .316
14 Evan Longoria Rays 250 40.8 % 14 .865 134 .363
15 Curtis Granderson Mets 248 40.8 % 11 .742 102 .317
16 Buster Posey Giants 212 40.5 % 8 .766 108 .323
17 Giancarlo Stanton Marlins 214 40.4 % 12 .731 95 .315
18 Adam Duvall Reds 205 40.3 % 17 .902 135 .377
19 Jake Lamb Diamondbacks 225 40.3 % 11 .867 127 .368
20 Mike Trout Angels 263 39.8 % 13 .963 164 .405
21 Kris Bryant Cubs 257 39.8 % 14 .886 139 .380
22 Chris Davis Orioles 250 39.7 % 13 .795 114 .343
23 Corey Seager Dodgers 258 39.6 % 14 .869 135 .368
24 Mark Trumbo Orioles 251 39.0 % 20 .956 155 .403
25 Byung-ho Park Twins 201 39.0 % 11 .777 109 .334
26 Manny Machado Orioles 264 39.0 % 15 .968 155 .402

From the chart, 20 of the 26 players listed are in double digits in homers. If you take their ratio of HR/PA and multiply by 600 you find that they range anywhere from 27 HR to 48 HR potential. There’s no guarantee that any of these power hitters will keep their current pace, but one thing’s for sure, players who have a relatively high hard-hit rate are more likely to hit home runs and extra-base hits, and ultimately are more likely be more productive for their team. If we go back even further now, say the last three seasons (2013-2015), we get the following group:

 

# Name Team PA Hard% HR OPS wRC+ wOBA
1 Miguel Cabrera Tigers 1848 43.7 % 87 .981 168 .417
2 David Ortiz Red Sox 1816 43.7 % 102 .915 141 .382
3 Paul Goldschmidt Diamondbacks 1884 42.2 % 88 .968 159 .408
4 Giancarlo Stanton Marlins 1460 41.9 % 88 .915 150 .389
5 J.D. Martinez – – – 1447 40.9 % 68 .840 129 .359
6 Lucas Duda Mets 1534 40.6 % 72 .817 131 .355
7 Matt Kemp – – – 1537 40.0 % 54 .786 120 .341
8 Andrew McCutchen Pirates 2007 39.9 % 69 .917 157 .395
9 Chris Davis Orioles 1868 39.9 % 126 .891 140 .378
10 Jarrod Saltalamacchia – – – 1132 39.5 % 34 .746 104 .327
11 Pedro Alvarez Pirates 1550 39.1 % 81 .760 110 .327
12 Mike Trout Angels 2103 39.0 % 104 .973 172 .413

The chart says it all: the average HR% (HR/PA) of this group is 4.8%, or in other words about 29 HR per 600 PA. The average OPS of this group is an impressive .876, and even more impressive the average wOBA is .374. If Naquin can continue to make solid contact in his plate appearances, as he has proven throughout his career, he could be a very special player.

In the case of Tyler Naquin, he has: 99 PA, 41 Hard%, 4 HR, .870 OPS, 136 wRC+, and a .371 wOBA. His numbers correlate quite well to the rest of the group; in fact, his OPS, wRC+, and wOBA are all above or around the average in comparison. Obviously this is kind of a small sample size for Naquin. It’s nearly impossible to tell what kind of player Naquin will become with less than 100 major-league plate appearances, but there is definitely hope.


Success Rate of MLB First-Round Draft Picks by Slot

The MLB Rule 4 amateur draft was last week and fans will clamor for any sort of information regarding their team’s new, shiny, sometimes 18-year old future stars.  The draft gives fans a chance to dream on what will be in seasons to come, each team’s fans are hoping for their very own Mike Trout.  But for every Mike Trout, there are plenty of players like Hank Congers or Zack Cox who were also selected at pick number 25 and who aren’t exactly rewriting the record books.

In doing research for my latest post on the awful Jim Bowden, I found a concerning lack of recent research on draft success. We have plenty of anecdotes, and plenty of information on top prospects busting, but very little in the way of what to expect from a team’s first-round draft pick.  I found a good piece from 2012 from The View from the Bleachers on Success Rate of MLB Draft Picks by Slot and referenced that, but there’s definitely more here.

There have been nine drafts since the last draft referenced in that post.  Scouting, sabermetrics, and our general collective baseball knowledge feels like it has been increasing exponentially in that time.  Does draft success bear that out? Well, not exactly.

The first thing to set up here is to establish a “successful” player. I pondered it for a minute and settled on basically the same approach that Michael used way back in 2012. If the player hasn’t made the majors, or if they had a WAR of less than 1.5 per year when they got there, that first-rounder is a bust automatically. These players might be useful, but hardly the type that an organization should target in the first round. With that in mind, I established a simple calculation to assign a players success.

bWAR Per Season

(500 AB / 25 G for pitchers)

Under 1.5 Bust
1.5-2.5 Successful
Over 2.5 Superior

 

I likely should have built in a separate “World’s Best” category for those players who are averaging 8+ WAR.  Oh, that’s just Trout, OK.

The calculation feels like it makes sense on an anecdotal level, too.  Eric Hosmer, Yonder Alonso, and Wade Miley are labeled successful, but not superior.  That feels right.  These guys aren’t changing an organization.  They’re good major league players, but not great.

The trick comes in assigning busts, especially when considering players from more modern drafts.  Jameson Taillon has yet to achieve the mandatory 1.5 WAR, but he’s hardly a bust just yet. And what do we do with guys like Billy Butler? He’s officially a bust by my calculation, but that doesn’t feel quite right. Huston Street, James Loney, and Garrett Richards are all also busts.  Ike Davis, and Pedro Alvarez, too. But the formulas are sound.  A successful major leaguer should be able to produce 1.5 WAR per season. In 2015, Chase Headley, Nick Markakis, and Alcides Escobar all hit that threshold.  It shouldn’t be too much to expect a first-rounder to perform at that level.

Besides, this is baseball and statistics.  There’s no crying in baseball or statistics.

To the results!

First, how many of 1st rounders actually make the majors? That feels like some basic threshold of success. Is your organization capable of selecting a player in the first round that actually makes his way to the majors?

Draft Year 2000-2010
Overall Pick Average bWAR Number to Reach Majors Number Still in Minors
1-5 12.8 48 7
6-10 9.5 41 14
11-15 8.7 45 10
16-20 4.9 43 12
21-25 6.5 36 19
26-30 4.5 32 23

 

A few things jump out from the chart above. Of the 55 players selected in the top five between 2000 and 2010, 48 reached the major leagues. That seems like a really good rate. Teams were able to more or less successfully identify the best five players available in a given draft. Of course, there’s probably some bias here as teams are more likely to promote players they took at the very top of the draft to save face, even if they might not be perfectly qualified.

The pattern pretty much holds for the rest of the first round too. There’s more uncertainty as you get later and later in the draft but scouts seem to hit more than they miss. That’s a pretty low bar though. You would hope that scouts would be a bit better than 32/55 (58%) on picks 26-30, considering that there are hundreds and hundreds of players chosen.

Next, let’s look at the chance to find a successful player, as we defined it earlier, in the first round of the draft.

Chance to Find a Successful Player in the Draft
 Year pick 1-5 pick 6-10 pick 11-15 pick 16-20 pick 21-25 pick 26-30
00-05 2 5 5 3 4 1
06-10 4 3 1 0 2 2
All 6 8 6 3 6 3
Percentage 11% 15% 11% 5% 11% 5%

 

That’s pretty low. Our definition of a successful player was pretty narrow, to be sure, but it seems like 1.5 -2.5 WAR guys should be pretty prevalent. Guess not. Let’s see how front offices do on picking up superior players.

Chance to Find a Superior Player in the Draft
pick 1-5 pick 6-10 pick 11-15 pick 16-20 pick 21-25 pick 26-30
00-05 9 5 5 2 4 5
06-10 7 6 5 3 3 1
All 16 11 10 5 7 6
Percentage 29% 20% 18% 9% 13% 11%

 

Pretty well actually! Superior players should be pretty rare, at least if we set the criteria correctly, but more than a quarter of top five picks are in that category. That seems pretty good.

I’m starting to wrap my head around a theory, let’s see if this next chart bears it out…

Chance to Find a Bust in the Draft
pick 1-5 pick 6-10 pick 11-15 pick 16-20 pick 21-25 pick 26-30
00-05 19 20 20 25 22 24
06-10 14 16 19 22 20 22
All 33 36 39 47 42 46
Percentage 60% 65% 71% 85% 76% 84%

 

OK, here’s what I’ve got. It’s more likely than not that a first-round selection will be a bust. If he’s not a bust, though, it’s more likely than not that he’ll be a superior player. It seems like the chances of a first-rounder being merely successful — just a decent big-league player — are actually pretty small.

A reasonable conclusion then, is that scouts go for the proverbial home run in first-round selections. They take a bit more risk in order to try and unearth a truly unique talent. They then aim to fill out their system with more average players in the later rounds.

My research gives fans and scouts all the more reason to dream on their first-round picks from last week.

A last little bit of fun.  For the recent draft, I wanted to point out which organizations were selecting in a spot that may not yield quite the results that they are hoping for. Yankees fans, shield your eyes.

Overall Pick Who has it this year? Busts Successful Players Superior Players
1 Phillies 5 0 6
2 Reds 5 3 3
3 Braves 8 1 2
4 Rockies 9 1 1
5 Brewers 6 1 4
6 Athletics 8 0 3
7 Marlins 4 4 3
8 Padres 8 3 0
9 Tigers 9 0 2
10 White Sox 7 1 3
11 Mariners 7 0 4
12 Red Sox 8 1 2
13 Rays 8 2 1
14 Indians 10 0 1
15 Twins 6 3 2
16 Angels 9 1 1
17 Astros 9 0 2
18 Yankees 11 0 0
19 Mets 9 1 1
20 Dodgers 9 1 1
21 Blue Jays 9 2 0
22 Pirates 9 2 0
23 Cardinals 8 1 2
24 Padres 8 0 3
25 Padres 8 1 2
26 White Sox 11 0 0
27 Orioles 9 1 1
28 Nationals 8 0 3
29 Nationals 8 2 1
30 Rangers 10 0 1

 

So before you go getting all excited about the draft picks in the books, keep in mind that a majority of them are simply going to be busts. The ones that aren’t, though — they’ll probably be stars.


Hardball Retrospective – What Might Have Been – The “Original” 1975 Astros

In “Hardball Retrospective: Evaluating Scouting and Development Outcomes for the Modern-Era Franchises”, I placed every ballplayer in the modern era (from 1901-present) on their original team. I calculated revised standings for every season based entirely on the performance of each team’s “original” players. I discuss every team’s “original” players and seasons at length along with organizational performance with respect to the Amateur Draft (or First-Year Player Draft), amateur free agent signings and other methods of player acquisition.  Season standings, WAR and Win Shares totals for the “original” teams are compared against the “actual” team results to assess each franchise’s scouting, development and general management skills.

Expanding on my research for the book, the following series of articles will reveal the teams with the biggest single-season difference in the WAR and Win Shares for the “Original” vs. “Actual” rosters for every Major League organization. “Hardball Retrospective” is available in digital format on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, GooglePlay, iTunes and KoboBooks. The paperback edition is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and CreateSpace. Supplemental Statistics, Charts and Graphs along with a discussion forum are offered at TuataraSoftware.com.

Don Daglow (Intellivision World Series Major League Baseball, Earl Weaver Baseball, Tony LaRussa Baseball) contributed the foreword for Hardball Retrospective. The foreword and preview of my book are accessible here.

Terminology

OWAR – Wins Above Replacement for players on “original” teams

OWS – Win Shares for players on “original” teams

OPW% – Pythagorean Won-Loss record for the “original” teams

AWAR – Wins Above Replacement for players on “actual” teams

AWS – Win Shares for players on “actual” teams

APW% – Pythagorean Won-Loss record for the “actual” teams

 

Assessment

The 1975 Houston Astros 

OWAR: 50.0     OWS: 291     OPW%: .535     (87-75)

AWAR: 28.7      AWS: 192     APW%: .398     (64-97)

WARdiff: 21.3                        WSdiff: 99  

The “Original” 1975 Astros fell six games short of the National League Western Division title as the Big Red Machine tallied 93 victories. Joe L. Morgan produced a .327 BA with 17 dingers, 94 ribbies and 107 runs scored to secure the NL MVP Award. “Little Joe” succeeded on 67 of 77 stolen base attempts and coaxed a League-leading 132 bases on balls. First-sacker John Mayberry racked up personal-bests in doubles (38), home runs (34), RBI (106), runs (95) and bases on balls (119). Rusty Staub swatted 19 big-flies and knocked in 105 baserunners. Cesar Cedeno swiped 50 bags and batted .288 while Bob “Bull” Watson delivered a career-high BA (.324) for the “Original” and “Actual” ‘Stros.

Joe L. Morgan is ranked as the top second baseman according to Bill James in “The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract.” “Original” Astros teammates listed in the “NBJHBA” top 100 rankings include Cesar Cedeno (21st-CF), Rusty Staub (24th-RF), Bob Watson (33rd-1st), John Mayberry (49th-1B), Doug Rader (64th-3B) and Jerry Grote (66th-C). “Actual” Astros outfielder Jose Cruz places 29th among left fielders.

 

  Original 1975 Astros                                    Actual 1975 Astros

LINEUP POS OWAR OWS LINEUP POS AWAR AWS
Greg Gross LF 1.91 14.4 Greg Gross LF 1.91 14.4
Cesar Cedeno CF 4.25 19.87 Cesar Cedeno CF 4.25 19.87
Rusty Staub RF 2.34 24.89 Jose Cruz RF 2.69 10.54
John Mayberry 1B 6.1 32.3 Bob Watson 1B 2.63 20.01
Joe L. Morgan 2B 9.44 43.74 Rob Andrews 2B 1.15 5.3
Enzo Hernandez SS -0.33 7.01 Roger Metzger SS 0.49 8.2
Doug Rader 3B 0.93 9.34 Doug Rader 3B 0.93 9.34
Jerry Grote C 2.15 17.24 Milt May C 0.6 7.5
BENCH POS OWAR OWS BENCH POS AWAR AWS
Bob Watson 1B 2.63 20.01 Cliff Johnson 1B 2.72 15.09
Derrel Thomas 2B 1.55 16.73 Wilbur Howard LF 1.52 9.93
Cliff Johnson 1B 2.72 15.09 Enos Cabell LF 0.34 7.12
Walt Williams DH 0.34 4.12 Jerry DaVanon SS 0.87 4.19
Fred Stanley SS -0.98 3.78 Ken Boswell 2B -0.11 3.51
Glenn Adams LF 0.61 3.63 Larry Milbourne 2B -0.25 1.31
Jack Lind SS -0.2 0.26 Tommy Helms 2B -0.32 1
Jesus de la Rosa 0.04 0.16 Skip Jutze C -0.5 0.88
Art Gardner RF -0.28 0.08 Jesus de la Rosa 0.04 0.16
Danny Walton 1B -0.55 0.07 Art Gardner RF -0.28 0.08
Ed Armbrister LF -0.46 0.03 Rafael Batista -0.01 0.07
Mike Easler -0.06 0 Mike Easler -0.06 0

Houston hurlers failed to generate much excitement during the ’75 campaign. Larry Dierker completed 14 of 34 starts and fashioned a record of 14-16 with a 4.00 ERA. Pat Darcy posted an 11-5 mark with a 3.58 ERA in his inaugural season. Dave Giusti furnished a 2.95 ERA and saved 17 contests despite accruing more walks than strikeouts.

 

  Original 1975 Astros                                    Actual 1975 Astros

ROTATION POS OWAR OWS ROTATION POS AWAR AWS
Larry Dierker SP 0.33 8.85 Larry Dierker SP 0.33 8.85
Pat Darcy SP 1.38 7.76 Ken Forsch SP 1.02 5.89
Ken Forsch SP 1.02 5.89 J. R. Richard SP -0.38 5.77
J. R. Richard SP -0.38 5.77 Dave Roberts SP -0.08 5.74
Roric Harrison SP -0.51 5.5 Doug Konieczny SP -0.92 3.17
BULLPEN POS OWAR OWS BULLPEN POS AWAR AWS
Dave Giusti RP 0.55 9.94 Joe Niekro RP 1.03 6.53
Tom Burgmeier RP 0.77 7.4 Mike Cosgrove RP 0.96 5.05
Mike Cosgrove RP 0.96 5.05 Jim Crawford RP 0.09 4.27
Jim Crawford RP 0.09 4.27 Wayne Granger RP -0.71 2.96
Bill Greif RP -1.04 3.26 Jose Sosa RP 0.26 2.12
Doug Konieczny SP -0.92 3.17 Jim York SW -0.04 2.07
Wayne Twitchell SP -1.37 3.05 Paul Siebert SP 0.17 1.09
Jose Sosa RP 0.26 2.12 Mike T. Stanton SP -0.55 0
Paul Siebert SP 0.17 1.09 Tom Griffin SP -1.38 0
Mike T. Stanton SP -0.55 0 Fred Scherman RP -0.41 0
Tom Griffin SP -1.38 0

 

Notable Transactions

Joe L. Morgan

November 29, 1971: Traded by the Houston Astros with Ed Armbrister, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo and Denis Menke to the Cincinnati Reds for Tommy Helms, Lee May and Jimmy Stewart.

John Mayberry

December 2, 1971: Traded by the Houston Astros with David Grangaard (minors) to the Kansas City Royals for Lance Clemons and Jim York.

Rusty Staub

January 22, 1969: Traded by the Houston Astros to the Montreal Expos for Jesus Alou and Donn Clendenon. Donn Clendenon refused to report to his new team on April 8, 1969. The Montreal Expos sent Jack Billingham (April 8, 1969), Skip Guinn (April 8, 1969) and $100,000 (April 8, 1969) to the Houston Astros to complete the trade.

April 5, 1972: Traded by the Montreal Expos to the New York Mets for Tim Foli, Mike Jorgensen and Ken Singleton.

Honorable Mention

The 2013 Houston Astros 

OWAR: 26.6     OWS: 218     OPW%: .427     (69-93)

AWAR: 8.3       AWS: 151      APW%: .315    (51-111)

WARdiff: 18.3                        WSdiff: 67

Following a transfer to the American League West prior to the start of the 2013 campaign, the “Original” Astros finished dead last in the division. Nonetheless it represents a WSdiff of 67 and 18 additional wins compared to the “Actual” Astros from the same season. Hunter Pence established career-highs with 27 round-trippers and 22 stolen bases. Ben Zobrist laced 36 doubles and earned his second All-Star nod. Chris Johnson produced personal-bests in batting average (.321) and two-base hits (34). Jason Castro drilled 35 two-baggers and posted a .276 BA. Jose Altuve batted .283 and pilfered 35 bags.

On Deck

What Might Have Been – The “Original” 1984 Giants

References and Resources

Baseball America – Executive Database

Baseball-Reference

James, Bill. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. New York, NY.: The Free Press, 2001. Print.

James, Bill, with Jim Henzler. Win Shares. Morton Grove, Ill.: STATS, 2002. Print.

Retrosheet – Transactions Database

The information used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by Retrosheet. Interested parties may contact Retrosheet at “www.retrosheet.org”.

Seamheads – Baseball Gauge

Sean Lahman Baseball Archive


Elvis Andrus Is Trying to Become a Power Hitter

In his seven-plus seasons as a major-leaguer, Elvis Andrus has never been considered an offensive dynamo. And for good reason! Over nearly 5,000 plate appearances, Andrus owns an 83 wRC+ and measly .079 ISO. However, even a defensive-minded shortstop can change the game with one swing of the bat. While not an overly impressive blast, it exposes something different in his approach at the plate. Early in his career, Rangers fans and followers held out hope that Andrus could develop into a 15-20 homer a year guy. While that may feel like a lost cause, Andrus has recently displayed some newfound power. Last season, Andrus smacked a career-high seven home runs and tied his career-high with 43 extra-base hits. So far this season, he is on track for a career-high ISO and running a near league-average offensive line. Andrus’ Speed Score sits right at his career average, hence it does not appear he has bulked up significantly and traded in speed for power. Rather, he has altered his approach at the plate.

This current approach began last season, and to this point has continued over into his 2016 campaign. From his rookie season in 2009 to 2014, Andrus ran a 57.4 GB% and a 21.3 FB%. This past season and a third, those metrics have shifted to 46.5% and 31.1%, respectively. In context, Andrus has gone from the 2nd percentile in FB% to the 30th percentile. While no one will ever confuse him for Chris Carter, Andrus’ new batted-ball profile closely resembles that of in-state slugger George Springer. Perhaps even more indicative, Andrus has raised his Pull% from 33.9% over 2009-2014 to 43.6% since 2015; this represents a shift from the 12th percentile to the 81st percentile, placing him just ahead of renowned slugger Anthony Rizzo. Seeing as 27 of his 29 career home runs have landed to the left of center field, this seems a logical shift for a man in search of dingers.

Plate-discipline measures further reveal Andrus’ altered approach. Andrus has raised his O-Swing% from 21.8 to 25.8 in addition to raising his Z-Swing% from 53.3 to 61.2 over our familiar timeframes. In avoiding Simpson’s Paradox, these changes have increased his overall Swing% from 38.5 to 42.8. While still not a free swinger by any regards, Andrus’ new approach remarkably resembles fellow A.L. West shortstop Marcus Semien, albeit with superior contact rates. Known for providing impressive power from the six spot on the diamond, one could well view Semien as the ceiling of Andrus’ power dreams. Meanwhile, Andrus has held his contact rates largely steady, dispelling the notion that he has traded contact for power. Interestingly, his Zone% has steadily dropped since his rookie season but has held near 51% each of the past three full seasons. So far in 2016, that number has dropped further to 49%, so perhaps opposing pitchers have finally altered their approach in response. However, too little time has passed to determine whether this is by choice or simply small-sample variation. Indeed, Andrus will need to prove that these adjustments make him a “power” hitter before pitchers treat him differently.

That ultimately remains the question. Andrus has ostensibly made adjustments to improve his power, but do they truly make him a better overall hitter? To this point in the season, Andrus ranks 158th in average exit velocity on fly balls and 147th in average fly-ball distance among the 167 batters with 25 or more fly balls hit. Andrus pulling more fly-ball outs to left field doesn’t enhance his offensive output. However, if more of these balls turn into gap shots and home runs, Andrus could uncover another level to his game. With Jurickson Profar returning from the baseball grave in remarkable fashion and Rougned Odor forever cementing his place in Rangers lore, Andrus may be feeling the pressure to live up to his now ill-regarded contract extension. After three below-80-wRC+ seasons, something needed to change for Andrus at the plate. Whether this new approach works for the better remains to be seen, but right now Andrus remains a key cog on a surprising postseason contender.


The Curious Case of Carl Crawford

On December 8, 2010, the Boston Red Sox agreed to terms with Carl Crawford, inking the outfielder to a seven-year, 142-million-dollar deal, the largest ever signed by a position player that had never hit more than 20 home runs in a single season.  Although the majority of the population felt that the Red Sox had overpaid for his services, most considered it only a slight reach, and when factoring in Boston’s position on the win curve, their decision to splurge on a premium player could be justified.  Crawford was an established elite defensive outfielder coming off the best season of his career at the plate; an increase in power prior to the 2009 season had boosted Crawford to new heights just in time for his pay day, and in the final two years of his extension with the Rays, he posted WARs of 5.9 and 7.7, respectively.  In the immediate aftermath of his signing with Boston, FanGraphs’ own Dave Cameron declared him to be a true-talent 5-win player, and at the time, it was not difficult to imagine a scenario in which the 29 year-old Crawford continued to perform at peak levels before gradually declining in the final years of the contract.  If we assume that Crawford was in fact a 5-win player, then using the $/WAR figure accepted in the winter of 2010 (5 million dollars/win), 5% inflation, and a standard aging curve, the projection for Crawford’s contract would have looked something like this, with his 6-million-dollar signing bonus excluded from the analysis:

View post on imgur.com

Two things are striking when looking at this table.  First, on an unrelated note, league-wide inflation as a result of TV deals and increased revenue streams has far exceeded the expectations of 2010, actually surpassing 10% in order to reach the accepted value of 8-9 million dollars per win today in 2016.  Although the methodology did prove to be incorrect, I do still believe the results obtained here to be worthy of inspection, as they offer insight into teams’ valuations of Crawford as a player available in the free-agent market.  Second, the divergence between industry consensus and the arithmetic presented here is worth noting; most insiders felt that Boston had spent too much, while the data presented here suggests that the contract actually provided a bit of upside.  This disparity could perhaps be explained by a skepticism of defensive metrics in 2010, along with doubts about Crawford’s ability to age well, as a large portion of his value on the bases and in the outfield was tied up in his legs.  In order to account for this discrepancy, perhaps it is better to use a “worst-case scenario,” to subject Crawford’s performance to a more punitive aging curve over the life of the contract.  Instead of docking Crawford 0.5 WAR for his age-31 through -35 seasons, instead, he will lose 0.75 wins each year.  This steeper decline is forecast below:

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It appears that this table is a more accurate representation of front offices’ opinions about Carl Crawford, as shown by the deficit in the bottom right corner.  Using the more aggressive aging curve, the contract offered by the Red Sox does appear to be a slight overpay, and if they conformed to the opinion that the outfielder would decline more swiftly than other players of similar age, then they agreed to a contract in which there was no upside.  However, if Crawford’s performance fell anywhere between the standard aging projection and the “worst-case scenario,” as it was likely to, it seemed that both sides would be satisfied with the outcome.

As we all know now, this “worst-case scenario” projected in 2010 was a far cry from reality.  After suffering through a tumultuous year and a half in Boston and undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair a partially torn UCL, Crawford was unceremoniously dumped by the Red Sox and shipped to the Dodgers on August 25, 2012 as part of the infamous Nick Punto trade.  It appears that Crawford has finally hit rock bottom, with Los Angeles designating him for assignment on Sunday.  Crawford will almost certainly clear waivers, and assuming he asks to be released rather than assigned to the club’s AAA affiliate in Oklahoma City, the Dodgers will eat the remainder of his contract and essentially pay Crawford nearly 35 million dollars to disappear.  Rather than projecting future performance, let’s instead take a look back at Crawford’s production since signing with Boston:

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Although up-to-date $/WAR figures could have been used, I stuck with the estimates of 2010, in order to further emphasize how poorly this pact has been when compared to the organization’s expectations when they chose to sign Crawford.  Elbow injury notwithstanding, it is difficult to imagine how this contract could have soured so quickly.  Crawford has already cost his employers 85 million dollars more than his production would have warranted, and even if he latches on somewhere and plays out the remainder of the deal, it’s very likely that figure ends up more than 100 million dollars in the red.  So, how did this happen?  How did Carl Crawford, he of the 7.7 WAR in 2010, second in all of baseball, flop so badly, producing only 5.3 WAR since signing with the Red Sox?

Well, the most obvious answer is the boring one: Carl Crawford got old.  Fast.  From 2008-2010, Crawford’s final three seasons in Tampa Bay, he was actually the best defensive player in the MLB, posting a UZR/150 of 20.6 in left field, two runs better than his nearest competitor on the leaderboard.  A bit of regression and decline were certainly expected, as it is incredibly difficult to sustain this level of performance, but nobody could have expected the utter evaporation of his defensive value upon arriving in Boston.  Crawford posted a negative UZR during his time patrolling the Green Monster; some criticize the Red Sox for wasting his defensive abilities in what is considered to be the smallest left field in all of baseball, suggesting that he should have been moved to Fenway’s right field in order to better leverage his extraordinary range.  However, even before his elbow injury, Crawford was known for having a weak throwing arm, and with a partially torn UCL, it would have been nearly impossible for him to play anywhere other than left.

Even so, his damaged elbow fails to explain the mysterious loss of range that sent him tumbling down the UZR leaderboards, and instead of providing value as an elite defensive player, Crawford instead resembled an average corner outfielder during his time in Boston.  After being dealt to Los Angeles, Crawford’s defensive numbers did improve slightly, perhaps indicating that he never felt comfortable playing in front of the 37-foot wall, but by the time he arrived in Chavez Ravine, Crawford had already lost a step or two, placing a ceiling on his future defensive contributions.

This loss of speed was evident on the base paths as well, with Crawford never again imposing his will upon opposing batteries like he did during his time with the Rays.  From the time of his promotion to Tampa Bay in 2002 until the end of 2010, Crawford had stolen 409 bases in 499 attempts, for a success rate of nearly 82% and the second-highest stolen base total in all of baseball during that timeframe.  However, after signing with Boston, it seems as if Crawford became more timid as a runner, never attempting more than 30 steals in a single season.  Since 2011, Crawford owns a 79% success rate, quite similar to his career average, yet he’s running far less frequently, stealing only 71 bases in 90 attempts.  Whether due to a loss of speed or a lack of aggression, or perhaps a combination of the two, Crawford never regained his form as a base-stealer, resulting in the loss of a huge chunk of his base-running value.

Unlike his collapse in the outfield and on the base paths, Crawford’s decline at the plate cannot be explained by a loss of speed simply chalked up to age.  This dilemma is a bit more perplexing.  After posting the two best seasons of his career at the plate in Tampa Bay immediately prior to hitting free agency, Crawford’s production in the batter’s box cratered after signing with Boston in 2011, falling to levels only experienced by the outfielder during his first full season in the majors in 2003.  Since joining the Red Sox, Crawford has sported a more aggressive approach leading to fewer walks and more strikeouts, has exhibited less power than he did during his time in Tampa Bay, and his problems against left-handed pitching have only been exacerbated.  In a vacuum, none of these changes themselves would be damning, but in conjunction with one another, this trio has formed a nasty combination, only hastening Crawford’s demise.

Starting in 2006, as Crawford entered his offensive prime and started to become a force at the plate, his Zone%, the number of pitches he saw in the strike zone, began to decline as pitchers decided to carefully pitch around him rather than challenging him, falling from a high of 57% to only 43% in 2010.  During his MVP-level campaigns in 2009 and 2010, Crawford adjusted to these changes appropriately, cutting his swing rate and accepting the free passes being handed to him by opposing pitchers, adopting what could be considered somewhat of a slugger’s profile.  However, in 2011, perhaps feeling the weight of his new contract and worrying that hits rather than walks were needed to justify the nine-figure deal and appease Boston fans, Crawford gave these gains back, as his O-Swing% jumped by nearly three points.

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Surprisingly, Crawford actually controlled the outside corner of the plate, but he expanded the zone in nearly every other direction.  By chasing balls rather than selectively punishing mistakes, Crawford effectively got himself out more than ever, posting a career-high K% and his lowest BB% since 2003.  Even when Crawford did make contact, the quality was often terrible, as his Soft% rose to a nearly unfathomable 26%, contributing to a 40-point drop in his BABIP and a subsequent, almost identical, fall in batting average.  Although some of the walks have returned since his horrendous 2011, Crawford’s strikeouts remain elevated, seriously limiting his offensive production.

The lack of quality contact has also affected Crawford’s power output, because although his fly ball and line drive tendencies have been in line with his career norms, Crawford is doing far less damage.  During his time in Tampa, Crawford had an ISO of .148, peaking at .188 in 2010.  In Boston and Los Angeles however, this number has fallen to .136, and he’s never posted a single-season ISO higher than .150.

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This loss of power is most obvious at the top of the strike zone and on the outside corner, where Crawford is now capable of doing little to no damage.  Even in his wheelhouse, down and in, Crawford’s strength has eroded, leaving him as a shell of his 2010 American League MVP candidate self at the plate.

Finally, and perhaps most troubling, since leaving Tampa Bay, it seems like Crawford has forgotten how to hit left-handed pitching.  Even in his prime, the lefty struggled against southpaws, boasting only a .308 wOBA, but since signing with Boston, his production against same-handed pitching has collapsed, with his wOBA falling nearly 30 points, leaving with him with a wRC+ of 73 against lefties.  And yes, we now have an answer, his platoon split absolutely matters.  The final straw came in 2013, when he posted an ISO 0f .084 and a wRC+ of 56 in 115 plate appearances against left-handers; since then, Crawford has become a platoon outfielder, almost never allowed to face lefties and failing miserably when he does, as evidenced by his -64 wRC+ against them this year (granted, in only 12 plate appearances).

So, there you have it.  Carl Crawford, the electric baserunner, phenomenal outfielder, and prodigious hitter of less than six years ago is soon to be unemployed, assuming he clears waivers and is released.  Does he have any baseball left in him, or is this 142-million-dollar man done?  In any other year, he might have been, but given the number of contenders that will need an outfielder and the limited supply, it’s very possible that a team will give him a chance.  However, it is unclear if Crawford even wants to continue playing, given that the team acquiring him will almost certainly place him in a platoon role, while he has stated that he doesn’t believe he is a platoon player.  If he does agree to play in a limited role, where could he land?  An obvious answer is Cleveland, yet during his time in Boston, Crawford didn’t get along well with current Indians’ skipper Terry Francona.  Somewhat comically, Boston is another obvious fit, as he could be a nice platoon partner for Chris Young, but we all know how his first stint with the Red Sox went.  Other teams that could be interested in the outfielder’s services include the Orioles, Nationals, Mariners, and White Sox, although they may look to make a bigger splash before settling upon Crawford.  Whether Crawford returns to the big leagues or not, his time as an impact player almost certainly ended years ago, and that’s a shame.

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No matter their team allegiance, fans of the game of baseball have to be disappointed by the outcome of Crawford’s career, as his prime was gone far too soon.  One of few players that could truly dominate the game in every phase, through a combination of injury, age, and perhaps a lack of mental toughness, Carl Crawford’s star was extinguished almost immediately after signing with Boston.


How Plate Discipline Impacts wRC+

Like many of you, I spend hours on FanGraphs trying to take in as much information as possible. One of the more fascinating statistics to me is the category of plate discipline. This includes how often a batter will swing on a pitch inside or outside of the zone, how often a batter swings and misses, and many other variables that affect a player’s approach at the plate. While these numbers alone are a good indication on how a player acts at bat, I wanted to know how these numbers affected performance. For instance, it would make sense that a higher O-Swing% could lead to less-than-average hitting. The 2015 season had Adam Jones second in O-Swing%, swinging at 47% of pitches outside of the strike zone. Pablo Sandoval led the league in O-Swing% with a 48% rate. Jones recorded a 109 wRC+ while the Kung Fu Panda had a 75 wRC+.

By breaking down these Plate Discipline statistics for the 2015 season, I believe that we can get a good answer on which statistic leads to the best performance. For my methodology, I used the wRC+ and Plate Discipline leaderboard for the 2015 season. After breaking down each statistic, I compiled a top 10 and bottom 10 wRC+. Additionally, I grouped percentages to get the number of batters and average wRC+ for certain percentages.

O-Swing %

O-Swing% = Swings at pitches outside the zone / pitches outside the zone

Top 10 wRC+ Average: 97

Name O-Swing% wRC+
Pablo Sandoval 47.80% 75
Adam Jones 46.50% 109
Avisail Garcia 45.20% 83
Marlon Byrd 43.90% 100
Salvador Perez 42.50% 87
Kevin Pillar 40.10% 93
Starling Marte 39.40% 117
Gerardo Parra 39.40% 108
Freddy Galvis 39.20% 76
Nolan Arenado 38.50% 119

 

Bottom 10 wRC+ Average: 132

Name O-Swing% wRC+
Brett Gardner 22.90% 105
Ben Zobrist 22.60% 123
Matt Carpenter 22.50% 139
Paul Goldschmidt 22.40% 164
Jose Bautista 22.20% 148
Carlos Santana 21.10% 110
Francisco Cervelli 20.90% 119
Dexter Fowler 20.90% 110
Curtis Granderson 19.90% 132
Joey Votto 19.10% 172

 

Percentage Count Average wRC+
40%-48% 6 91
30%-39% 73 106
20%-29% 60 117
< 20% 2 152

O-Swing% gives us a pretty good indication of a player’s overall performance. It’s no surprise that patience and a good eye are part of a skill set that leads to a higher wRC+. For each 10-percent decrease of O-Swing percentage, batters see an increase of over 10 points for their wRC+. The top 10 wRC+ compared to the bottom 10 also tells a compelling story of what O-Swing tells us. In the top 10, we see a couple of above-average hitters like Starling Marte and Nolan Arenado. However, we also see five of the top 10 with a wRC+ under 100 and one hitter (Marlon Byrd) at 100. On the other side of the spectrum, there isn’t a hitter under 100 wRC+ in the bottom 10. The difference in wRC+ between the top and bottom 10 is 35, the biggest difference between all the statistics.

Let’s look at two very different extremes: Joey Votto and Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval had an O-Swing% of 48 percent while Votto had a 19 percent rate, which means that while Sandoval is swinging at almost half of the balls he faces, Votto is taking a little more than 80% of pitches out of the zone. Sandoval faced 1848 pitches (1287 strikes to 561 balls) while Votto faced 3020 pitches (1644 strikes to 1376 balls). Sandoval’s more than double strike-to-ball ratio and Votto leading the league in walks can both be explained by their O-Swing percentage.

Z-Swing %

Z-Swing%  = Swings at pitches inside the zone / pitches inside the zone

Top 10 wRC+ Average: 111

Name Z-Swing% wRC+
Marlon Byrd 83.20% 100
Brandon Belt 80.90% 135
Adam Jones 80.60% 109
Avisail Garcia 78.90% 83
Billy Burns 78.80% 102
Carlos Gonzalez 78.10% 114
Ryan Howard 77.80% 92
Starling Marte 77.50% 117
Kris Bryant 76.20% 136
Brandon Crawford 76.10% 117

Bottom 10 wRC+ Average: 115

Name Z-Swing% wRC+
Carlos Santana 57.90% 110
Logan Forsythe 57.70% 126
Joe Mauer 57.50% 94
Brock Holt 57.40% 98
Brett Gardner 55.80% 105
Brian McCann 55.80% 105
Mookie Betts 55.70% 119
Mike Trout 55.60% 172
Ben Zobrist 55.40% 123
Martin Prado 53.20% 100

 

Percentage Count Average wRC+
80%-83% 3 115
70%-79% 51 111
60%-69% 75 110
50%-59% 12 114

The first thing that I noticed when looking at the Z-Swing charts is the duplication of names from the O-Swing charts. Adam Jones, Avisail Garcia, Marlon Byrd, and Starling Marte showed up on both the O and Z Swing percentage top-10 while Ben Zobrist, Carlos Santana, and Brett Gardner appeared on both bottom-10 lists. This is a very mixed bag of players for both the top and bottom. Both have a 100 wRC+ hitter, the epitome of average. Both have seven hitters batting above 100 wRC+ meaning that both lists also have two hitters batting below 100. The top and bottom 10 averages are almost even. The one outlier that separates them is Mike Trout in the bottom 10 with a 172 wRC+. Seeing the same name on multiple lists can tell us a lot about a player. Someone like Marlon Byrd will swing at most of the pitches you send his way while Ben Zobrist will take a pitch outside of the zone about 77% of the time but will also take a strike 45% of the time as well.

O-Contact %

O-Contact% = Number of pitches on which contact was made on pitches outside the zone / Swings on pitches outside the zone

Top 10 wRC+ Average: 104

Name O-Contact% wRC+
Nick Markakis 86.10% 107
Michael Brantley 84.60% 135
Daniel Murphy 83.50% 110
Ender Inciarte 82.30% 100
Melky Cabrera 82.10% 91
Wilmer Flores 82.00% 95
Jose Altuve 81.70% 120
Ben Zobrist 80.90% 123
Angel Pagan 80.80% 81
Yadier Molina 80.20% 80

 

Bottom 10 wRC+ Average: 104

Name O-Contact% wRC+
Anthony Gose 55.00% 90
Avisail Garcia 55.00% 83
Nick Castellanos 53.20% 94
Ryan Howard 52.80% 92
Michael Taylor 52.10% 69
Justin Upton 51.50% 120
Addison Russell 51.10% 90
Chris Davis 50.90% 147
Kris Bryant 49.20% 136
Joc Pederson 49.00% 115

 

Percentage Count Average wRC+
80%-86% 10 104
70%-79% 46 103
60%-69% 60 118
50%-59% 23 105
< 50% 2 126

Similar to Z-Swing%, O-Contact doesn’t show much disparity between the top and bottom 10. In fact, they’re identical at 104 wRC+. A higher O-Contact gives a batter more balls in play, but doesn’t always lead to success. My initial thought was that swinging at a pitch way out of the zone can lead to weak contact, and usually an out. The fact the top and bottom are identical shows that this isn’t always the case.  It also makes sense why the middle of the pack (60%-69%) has the greatest wRC+ (besides the small sample size of < 50%). These batters are still able to make contact with pitches outside of the zone more than half of the time, but also miss the pitch enough of the time where they don’t make bad contact.

Z-Contact %

Z-Contact%  = Number of pitches on which contact was made on pitches inside the zone / Swings on pitches inside the zone

Top 10 wRC+ Average: 110

Name Z-Contact% wRC+
Daniel Murphy 97.50% 110
Ben Revere 96.70% 98
Michael Brantley 96.30% 135
Yangervis Solarte 95.50% 109
Martin Prado 95.40% 100
A.J. Pollock 94.60% 132
Jose Altuve 94.60% 120
Ian Kinsler 94.50% 111
Erick Aybar 94.30% 80
Ender Inciarte 94.20% 100

 

Bottom 10 wRC+ Average: 125

Name Z-Contact% wRC+
Mark Trumbo 80.90% 108
Brandon Belt 80.70% 135
J.D. Martinez 80.60% 137
Nelson Cruz 79.30% 158
Justin Upton 78.00% 120
Michael Taylor 77.40% 69
Joc Pederson 77.00% 115
Chris Davis 76.50% 147
Alex Rodriguez 76.50% 129
Kris Bryant 75.80% 136

 

Percentage Count Average wRC+
90%-98% 55 106
80%-89% 79 113
70%-79% 7 125

Z-Contact was the most surprising statistic in terms on its effect on wRC+, until you look at the names in the bottom 10. One would expect that hitters that hit more pitches in the zone would be the better performers. However, the bottom 10 is filled with power hitters, leading to the main difference in wRC+. Davis and Cruz were number one and two in terms of home-run leaders in 2015. In fact, besides Michael Taylor, the bottom 10 is all in the top 50 for home runs in the MLB. The list makes sense as players like Chris Davis are trying to “Crush” the ball out of the park and swing harder than someone in the top 10 like Martin Prado.

SwStrike %

SwStr% = Swings and misses / Total pitches

Top 10 wRC+ Average: 110

Name SwStr% wRC+
Avisail Garcia 17.30% 83
Marlon Byrd 17.20% 100
Ryan Howard 16.60% 92
Kris Bryant 16.50% 136
Michael Taylor 16.00% 69
Chris Davis 15.60% 147
Carlos Gonzalez 15.20% 114
J.D. Martinez 14.90% 137
Mark Trumbo 14.60% 108
Joc Pederson 14.00% 115

 

Bottom 10 wRC+ Average: 105

Name SwStr% wRC+
Ian Kinsler 5.20% 111
Ender Inciarte 4.90% 100
Andrelton Simmons 4.90% 82
Angel Pagan 4.40% 81
Martin Prado 4.30% 100
Ben Zobrist 4.20% 123
Nick Markakis 4.10% 107
Ben Revere 4.10% 98
Daniel Murphy 3.90% 110
Michael Brantley 3.10% 135

 

Percentage Count Average wRC+
15%-18% 7 106
12%-14.9% 20 107
9%-11.9% 36 117
6%-8.9% 50 114
3%-5.9% 17 106

Not surprisingly, the top 10 for SwStrike looks a combination of both the O-Contact and Z-Contact bottom 10. Obviously if your contact is low, you’re going to have more swings and misses. The main factor that stood out to me looking at the top and bottom 10 is the deviation of wRC+. The top 10 is all over the place, having players like Kris Bryant with a 136 wRC+, Michael Taylor with 69, and every level of player in between. The bottom 10 has less variation, providing a more consistent group of hitters.

Totals

Category Top 10 Bottom 10 Difference (Bottom to Top)
O-Swing% 97 132 35
Z-Swing% 111 115 4
O-Contact% 104 104 0
Z-Contact% 110 125 15
SwStr% 110 105 -5

 

As evidenced by the chart, the main statistic in regards to plate discipline to show a great change in performance that compares the bottom to the top level is O-Swing percentage. Z-Contact seems to also be relevant when evaluating and predicting a player’s performance.