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What are they swinging at?

Darren Hauck/AP


I noticed yesterday that FanGraphs has added a fantastic new feature to their site.  They call it plate discipline stats, and it gives us the ability to go one step further into analyzing the player's performance.  It's not quite the level of detail that you get from Pitch F/X data, but frankly, it's a helluva lot easier to get to and to comprehend.

So what do these plate discipline stats tell us?  Well it gives us an idea of how a hitter address the strike zone.  It lets us see how often they are swinging at pitches in the zone compared to pitches outside of the zone.  Also, it tells us how often they are making contact on those pitches they swing at.  Unfortunately, it does not tell us what kind of contact they are making, but maybe we'll get there some day.

The great thing for us is that it allows us to examine the source of our frustrations a little further.  Many of us have been, uh, concerned about the amount of aggressiveness certain players are showing during their at bats.  These data will  hopefully give us a better idea of whether or not that concern is warranted.  Specifically, we'll be able to tell a little better whether or not a certain player is being aggressive in the zone or if they are just hacking away at whatever the pitcher throws up there.  After the jump you'll find a table of some of the Reds hitters this season, so go ahead and take the leap of faith that I'm not playin' witcha...

All numbers were prior to today's game.

Name          PA  Pit  Zone%  Z-Swg%  Z-Cnct%  O-Swg% O-Cnct% Swing% Cntct% StL%  StS%  1st%
Keppinger 121 423 54.9% 62.8% 95.7% 21.9% 87.5% 44.3% 93.9% 31% 4% 26%
Phillips 115 419 49.8% 76.3% 90.1% 34.5% 44.9% 55.3% 75.9% 18% 19% 46%
Griffey Jr. 112 441 48.2% 67.7% 93.4% 21.8% 53.2% 43.9% 83.1% 26% 12% 27%
Encarnacion 111 439 49.5% 63.2% 88.2% 22.9% 66.0% 42.9% 82.2% 29% 13% 25%
Dunn 106 447 43.9% 65.6% 79.0% 13.6% 45.5% 36.4% 72.0% 30% 20% 23%
Patterson 94 328 50.8% 67.3% 95.4% 26.8% 69.1% 47.3% 88.1% 21% 11% 22%
Bako 80 297 49.3% 65.0% 91.2% 23.6% 50.0% 44.0% 80.0% 26% 15% 33%
Votto 78 260 53.0% 76.7% 81.4% 28.0% 48.5% 53.8% 73.3% 19% 22% 44%
Freel 52 197 59.3% 68.7% 87.3% 26.6% 61.9% 51.6% 82.0% 26% 13% 21%
Hatteberg 41 144 50.7% 65.2% 95.6% 12.0% 62.5% 39.0% 90.6% 31% 6% 27%

Glossary: Pit=pitches seen, Zone%=pct of pitches in the strike zone, Z-Swg%=pct of zone pitches swung at, Z-Cnct%=pct of swings in the zone that made contact, O-Swg%=pct of out of zone pitches swung at, O-Cnct%=pct of out of zone swings that made contact,Swing%=pct of pitches swung at, Cntct%=pct of swings that made contact, StL%=pct of strikes that were looking, StS%=Pct of strikes that were swing and miss,1st%=pct of first pitches swung at. (The last three fields are actually from Baseball-Reference, but I felt they were relevant to the discussion)

There's a lot of new stuff to digest here, so take your time.  Okay, that's enough.

Here are a few things that I noticed right off the bat:

  • Scott Hatteberg hardly ever swings at pitches out of the zone.  He's only swung at 12% of the pitches out of the zone this year, which is just below his average for the last 4 years at 13.15%.  In case you are wondering, the league average over the last three years has been right around 23%.
  • Joey Votto is a more aggressive hitter than I expected.  And I'm not so sure that this is all Dusty's doing.  Last season, he swung at 74% of the pitches in the zone.  This year he's up to nearly 77% so far.  The league average is around 67%.  What's good is that after swinging at about 32% of the balls out of the zone in his month in bigs last year, he's cut that down to 28% so far this year.  So he seems to be aggressive in the right spots in the zone.  I can't say that I'm loving the 44% swing rate on the first pitch, but he's not being killed by getting to an 0-1 count (.265/.306/.500 after an 0-1 count).  And since he appears to be attacking the zone more, and he's still hitting well over all, I won't complain too much.
  • Paul Bako's biggest improvement is that he's making a lot more contact this season.  His average over the last four years has been about 73%, but he's up to 80% this year.  He's especially making more contact out of the zone than in the past.  This should be somewhat of a red flag for future performance as I doubt that a player of his age has suddenly learned to hit pitches off of the plate.
  • Corey Patterson has cut his swinging down drastically from the past.  His average over the last 3 years was to swing at 55% of the pitches, but this season he's dropped that rate down to 47%.  Combine that with the fact that he's making a lot more contact as well (about 11% more than in the past), and you'd think that he'd be more productive.  The problem could be a couple of things.  First, he could have adjusted his swing so much that now he's making more contact but not hitting the ball very hard (his line drives are down a lot from his peak year).  Secondly, he's making more contact out of the strike zone than in the past, which may be another indicator that he's probably not making very good contact. 
  • Brandon Phillips has been too aggressive at the plate.  First of all, he's swinging at the first pitch too much, and he's not getting by as well as Votto after an 0-1 count (.241/.279/.379).  He's also swinging at pitches outside of the zone too much (about 10% more than the league average).  The thing is, that number is not that far off what he did last year.  The big difference this year is that he's making about 10% less contact than he did last season on balls out of the zone.  Add in the fact that he's seen fewer strikes this year and it starts to make more sense as to why Phillips has struggled this far.  Pitchers don't have to throw him strikes because they know he'll swing at pretty much anything.  The good news is that he's starting to make much better contact, but it sure would be nice if he'd lay off some of those pitches out of the zone a little more.  Especially those sliders.
  • The only thing I can scrape from these numbers about Adam Dunn is that he's not getting anything to swing at.  As you can see, he's hardly been going out of the zone after pitches and his contact rates are pretty much in line with his norms over the last few years.  His Zone% of 43.9% puts him at 15th in the league for lowest rate of pitches seen in the strike zone (NOTE: The top 11 are all Dodgers or Angels players which leads me to believe that their monitoring system might be wonky).  It appears that Dunn simply is not getting very many pitches to hit from one at bat to the next.  That's not to say that he's not struggling, just that the only thing out of whack from a plate discipline perspective is the lack of pitches he sees in the strike zone.  This could be a driver behind the fact that his line drive rate is WAY down (about 8% lower than his career average) while his ground ball rate is WAY up (that's where the 8% went).  That's the big thing that he needs to resolve if he's going to get back on track.
  • Probably the most amazing thing in the data is that Jeff Keppinger has swung and missed at just 10 pitches all season (going into today's game).  The dude is a contact machine.  He trails only Luis Castillo and Yadier Molina in contact percentage, but both of those guys have an OPS that is about 100 points lower than Keppinger.  It'd be great if he could get his line drive rate back up to where it was last season, but you still have to be amazed at his ability to put bat on ball and still be a pretty good Major League hitter while doing it.

Anything on there that I missed?  Do you see anything that concerns you or makes you want to strangle the manager with a fishing line?