Milton Bradley’s plate discipline

Milton Bradley has a lot of problems in life. He’s constantly getting injured, getting into fights with teammates and umpires and is coming off of a season in which he slugged under .400, threw a ball into the stands and got suspended for being a big fat jerk to teammates, fans and the media.

However, one good thing that he can proudly lay claim to is extraordinary play discipline. Over his career, he has walked in over 12% of his plate appearances (compared to a league average of around 9% during that span), and that number has jumped to over 14% in each of his past two seasons. When it comes to laying off pitches outside of the strike zone and working the count, Bradley is the king.

With Pitch f/x data on nearly 5,000 pitches seen by Bradley over the past 3 years, we can get a pretty good visual of how well he is able to judge the strike zone. Like always, this is from the catchers point of view:

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As you can see, he really does have exceptional plate discipline. He rarely, rarely swings at pitches outside of the strike zone, and is able to seperae the juicy strikes from the tougher ones. Notice that in the “take” chart, there is almost an unobstructed white circle in the middle? That’s not normal. Most players aren’t able to swing at so few pitches out of the strike zone, and are able to recognize good strikes from bad ones. It’s usually one or the other.

The league average rate for swings on pitches outside of the strike zone is a little under 26%. Over the past 3 years, Milton’s been at a cool 19.3%. The league average rate for swings on pitches in the “sweet spot” of the plate is a little over 67%. Milton, over the past 3 years, has swung at 78.8% of such pitches. If you break it down by count, comparing those rates to the league average, you get some interesting information:

Ball Strike # of pitches Milton O-Swing Lg O-Swing Milton F-Swing Lg F-Swing
0 0 1398 15.1% 15.1% 69.4% 46.8%
0 1 554 22.0% 26.8% 82.8% 78.0%
0 2 241 14.8% 33.5% 100% 89.8%
1 0 557 18.4% 21.2% 75.2% 64.3%
1 1 446 24.0% 30.6% 81.0% 82.2%
1 2 334 22.8% 38.5% 87.3% 91.6%
2 0 200 13.8% 18.7% 72.1% 60.9%
2 1 244 17.0% 32.7% 92.3% 85.2%
2 2 296 25.0% 42.5% 92.8% 93.2%
3 0 65 4.6% 6.0% 44.0% 18.2%
3 1 107 32.1% 26.2% 79.0% 78.3%
3 2 202 28.4% 45.1% 100% 94.9%

O-Swing refers to the percentage of pitches outside of the strike zone that are swung at, and F-Swing is the percentage of pitches in the heart of the strike zone that are swung at.

If you’ll take a look at the 2 strike counts, you can see why he is often so successful. The average hitter turns into Miguel Olivo on two strike counts, swinging at nearly 40% of the pitches they seen out of the strike zone. The full count is especially brutal, as hitters seem to lose all resemblance of plate discipline. Bradley, on the other hand, keeps his cool and only ventures out of the strike zone about 20% of the time.

It’s also impressive that on the 0-2 and 3-2 counts he swings at 100% of the pitches that are in the heart of the strike zone. That may seem like a no brainer, but a league average hitter will only swing at those 90-95% of the time. Heck, guys like Burrell, Fielder and Morneau only swing at 3-2 pitches down the middle 80-85% of the time.

The fact that Bradley has such a bad year – and it wasn’t even that bad – can be placed solely on a huge drop in ISO from his previously established norms. His plate discipline and contact skills were just as good as they were in 08 and the year before that, and there is no evidence that the drop in ISO is anything “real”. Despite the personality problems, teams are apparently lining up to try and steal Bradley away from Jim Hendry because he is still a very good player.

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Nick Steiner
Nick Steiner

I can buy that.  According to FanGraphs’ batted ball numbers, which may not be perfectly accurate, his LD% was about 5% down from last year.  However, it was still above the league average mark and higher than his 06 and 07 seasons. 

He has been hitting much more ground balls, you’re right about that, so that explains a lot of the drop in power.

Rob G.
Rob G.

**His plate discipline and contact skills were just as good**

nice article, but one point of contention is that I wouldn’t call his contact skills quite as good. Yes, he didn’t strike out as often in 2009, but he hit a lot more ground balls and a lot less line drives.

For the more obsessed viewer, watching a few games of Bradley you’d see him pound ground ball after weak-ass groundball from the left side of the plate far too consistently.