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Greg Walkers’ Burden: Promote Less Hacking

2010/04/18

If you throw it, Pierzynski will swing at it.

Much has been made about the Sox’s hitting woes this season. Going into today’s game, the Sox were hitting just .216. I’ve already made a couple of remarks about how cruddy their luck has been on balls in play. The team’s .218 BABIP is by far the worst in the league. The 2nd worst team BABIP is .256. That’s just unbelievably bad luck on balls that they’ve put in play.

Their batted ball stats give us somewhat of a clue about why the balls aren’t falling for hits – Only 16.1% of the balls put in play are line drives, 48% are ground-balls, and 14.4% are pop-ups. They’re among the laggards in all of those categories. More liners and less weak contact would be nice. In spite of the soft numbers they’re putting up in these departments, I wouldn’t read too much into it until they’ve played more games. It’s just way too early to trust these numbers I’m throwing at you as something that have any predictive value going forward. Steve Slowinksi of Drays Bay recently reminded us of when sample size stats become meaningful. (Bookmark it.)

Offense Statistics:

  • 50 PA: Swing%
  • 100 PA: Contact Rate
  • 150 PA: Strikeout Rate, Line Drive Rate, Pitches/PA
  • 200 PA: Walk Rate, Ground Ball Rate, GB/FB
  • 250 PA: Fly Ball Rate
  • 300 PA: Home Run Rate, HR/FB
  • 500 PA: OBP, SLG, OPS, 1B Rate, Popup Rate
  • 550 PA: ISO

Gordon Beckham leads the team in plate appearances with 59. So the only reliable stats we have are swing rates.  I’m going to specifically look at O-Swing%, or Outside Swing percentage. FanGraphs.com features this stat on their player pages, and they tell us why we should care about it.

When a batter swings at a pitch thrown outside the strike zone his chances of success are severely decreased. The ability of a batter to differentiate pitches inside or outside the strike zone is often called plate discipline and O-Swing% is a good measure of true plate discipline.

The correlation between O-Swing% and a player’s walk rate has shown to be quite strong. More walks, more runs, more wins=better fan experience, less yelling at the TV.

With this hacktastic bunch, we expected the Sox to not sniff the leaderboards in on-base percentage this year. But the hitters have been extraordinarily  hacky this season, and we’re to the point that this information is showing us something that’s getting to be reliable, if it isn’t already.

O-Swing%
2010 2009 Difference
M. Kotsay 32.1% 20.5% 11.6%
A.J. Pierzynski 49.1% 38.1% 11.0%
A. Ramirez 42.6% 32.1% 10.5%
G. Beckham 31.6% 24.8% 6.8%
A. Rios 32.2% 26.1% 6.1%
P. Konerko 26.7% 22.0% 4.7%
J. Pierre 24.0% 24.7% -0.7%
C. Quentin 25.6% 29.4% -3.8%
M. Teahen 27.9% 32.3% -4.4%
A. Jones 18.5% 24.0% -5.5%
League Average 26.6% 25.1% 1.5%
Team 31.1% 26.3% 4.8%
  • A.J. has always been a free-swinger, but he’s really out doing himself so far this year. Throw the ball anywhere near the plate, A.J. will swing at it without discretion.
  • Alexei Ramirez is in the same boat, and still has not drawn a walk all season. Alexei made real strides in plate discipline last season over his rookie year (42.7% O-Swing%, 3.5% BB), but I’m afraid he’s backsliding.
  • DFA Kotsay, please.
  • Konerko’s extra hacking has not hurt his OBP yet, but it’s reason enough to believe he’ll regress from his nifty 17.4% OBP back to his career norms, I would think. I’m not really concerned about him, Beckham or Rios at this point.
  • Mark Teahen has walked in 23% of his plate appearances. Keep hitting him 8th or 9th, Ozzie. (Blergh). In all seriousness, Teahen’s going to come back to earth, but back when he was a pretty decent player, he was walking in 9% of his PA’s, and not 7%. Correspondingly, his O-Swing% this season is more in line with his ’06-’07  rates.   This bodes well.
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11 Comments leave one →
  1. 2010/04/18 7:38 PM

    i enjoyed this post.

  2. colin permalink
    2010/04/18 8:26 PM

    White Sox Baseball: Yuck.

  3. The Wizard permalink
    2010/04/18 9:22 PM

    Good post!

    Should we keep an eye on Zone% (Percentage of pitches seen inside the strike zone) too?

    Alexei swings more than Teahen outside (42.6 to 27.9%), but pitchers throw him more inside (52.3 to 42.9%).

    • 2010/04/18 11:32 PM

      yeah, Appelman showed the relationship between Zone% and O-Swing% was pretty linear to where you can come up with an expected walk rate. I’m not sure yet when Zone% data becomes reliable. If it is, (and I’m guessing it’s not) judging by Appelman’s graph, Jones is expected to walk 14%, Teahen, Pierre and Quentin 12%, Pierzynski and Alexei around 7%.

  4. quartz77277 permalink
    2010/04/19 11:52 AM

    “DFA Kotsay, please.”
    Truer words were never spoken. Before season, I thought this offense was going to be bad, but I think I underestimated our lack of hitting. Additionally, Konerko and Andruw Jones have started the season with unsustainable power (slugging %). I fear what will happen when they begin to regress to the mean.

  5. 2010/04/19 12:33 PM

    Great Post.I wonder if their high O-swing% has to do with their complete deseperation to make something happen offensively.

    Every team has its funks where one or two players carry the team offensively. Look at Choo yesterday. Without his production we might have won that game. But everyone is sucking at once. They should eventually snap out of it.

  6. Christo P. Ney permalink
    2010/04/19 2:37 PM

    I’ll eat a bag of glass if Pierre ends up with a 12% walk rate AND Alexei breaks the 7% barrier (even if he did last year). Print that.

    I’d like to second your nomination for DFA-ing Kotsay. And remember, “He’s the best athlete on the team.” (Kenny-Farmer-Hawk)

    • 2010/04/19 4:05 PM

      yeah, i’d help you eat that bag of glass and wash it down with a glass of battery acid if pierre hits 12% on his BB rate.

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