Last time I looked at what players were swinging at I used the excellent, free, and easily accessible data from FanGraphs. It wasn't enough for me though, so I decided to get a little more raw. After being internally wishy-washy for the first month and a half of the season, I finally broke down and gathered up some Pitch FX data from MLB.com's GameDay system. Let me show you what I think I've found about Brandon Phillips.
NOTE: PitchFX data is a different source than FanGraphs data, so there will be some variation. Also, there are some "missing pitches" within PitchFX - presumably when the system was not working properly - so there will be some slight variation because of that as well.
Take a look after the jump...
Phillips was really the impetus for me to get into this data. It seems to me that he swings at a lot of bad balls and I wanted to find out if it was true or if it was my seething hatred of all things Brandon Phillips (right, chandrathan?). It turns out there is some evidence behind my perceptions.
This graph shows how often a hitter makes contact on a swing at a pitch in a specific zone. Red means the hitter makes high contact in that area. Blue is a low contact area. (NOTE: Contact includes foul balls.) White means no swings have been registered on pitches in that area. BIP means the rate of swings that put balls into play. BA is the hitter's batting average on balls thrown into that zone. SLG is the hitter's slugging percentage in that zone.
In order to add context to the first graph, I've added this graph to show how often a hitter sees a pitch (P) in a specific zone as well as how often they swing (S). Green areas are zones that the hitter frequently swings in. Orange areas see very few swing attempts by the hitter.
Both of the above graphs are oriented from the catcher's perspective.
So, if you're not confused yet, let's move on...
Two things stick out to me. First of all, Phillips kills the ball in the strike zone. He makes contact on 85% of his swings in the zone. And when he puts the ball in play, he rakes - .392 avg, .716 slugging. I don't know how that compares to the league, but it seems dangerous to me.
The second thing that I noticed is that Phillips makes very good contact on pitches from the outside edge of the plate in. Based upon the few players that I've looked at, this looks fairly common and it makes sense. The big difference for Phillips is that he swings at a lot of pitches off the plate as well.
You'll notice that I highlighted the area low and outside the zone. Phillips is getting killed there. Over those 4 highlighted boxes combined, Phillips has seen 179 pitches, swinging at 87 of them (49%). He's only put bat on ball for 44 of those swings (51%) and only 19 of those contacts went into play. That means 78% of the time he's swinging at those pitches, it goes for a strike - and these are pitches that should be balls. That leaves him with a batting average of .167 and a slugging percentage of .194 on pitches in the highlighted area.
BP - let those pitches go! They are balls. You want to make that leap to being Barry Larkin? Stop swinging at pitches in that area and you'll get there quickly. Force the pitcher to throw it over the plate. You devour those pitches. And if that happens, I may even start to like you.