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« Clayton Kershaw's Platoon-Proof Slider | Main | Rockies Versus Freddy Freeman »
Friday
Jul222011

@LoLoMarlins: Where Are The Walks?

On May 27, Logan Morrison was hitting like an MVP candidate for a Florida Marlins team in the thick of the NL East race. The lefty batter had a .330 batting average, a .424 OBP and a .585 slugging percentage, and the 29-20 Fish sat just two games back of the Phillies.

Flash forward to late July, and Morrison's line has nosedived to .257/.331/.469. And at 15 games back, the Marlins can't see first place with a high-powered telescope. Morrison is still hitting for power, but his walk rate has evaporated in the summer heat:

Morrison's walk rate, by month

April: 15.2%*

May: 10.4%*

June: 7.1%

July: 3.8%

* Morrison served a DL stint for a left foot sprain from late April to mid-May

That plummeting rate of free passes taken suggests that Morrison has started hacking at the plate. He certainly isn't showing the same level of discipline that he did last year, when he swung at just 19 percent of pitches thrown out of the strike zone, but he hasn't morphed into Delmon Young, either:

Morrison's chase rate, by month:

April: 29%

May: 27%

June: 24%

July: 27%

Overall: 26%

League Average: 28%

Throughout the year, Morrison has swung at more pitches thrown high out of the zone:

Morrison's swing rate by pitch location, 2010

 Morrison's swing rate by pitch location, 2011

Those extra swings at pitches thrown up the ladder play a large part in his sharply declining walk rate. But there's another problem, too: Morrison is taking more strikes as the year progresses. Check out his called strike percentage by month:

April: 30%

May: 28%

June: 35%

July: 38%

League Average: 31%

Pitchers are pounding the zone low-and-away against Morrison more often since June:

Pitch frequency by location against Morrison, April-May

 

Pitch frequency by location against Morrison, June-July

And Morrison is taking many of those strikes:

Pitch frequency of Morrison's taken strikes, June-July

You'll note that some of those low-and-away pitches that umps have called for strikes, well, aren't really strikes as defined by the zone. But Morrison can't take it for granted that those borderline pitches will go his way. In general, umpires stretch the outside corner of the strike zone with left-handed batters at the plate:

League average pitch frequency of taken strikes for left-handed hitters

For Morrison to start drawing walks again, he'll need to lay off those high, out-of-zone offerings and perhaps swing more often on low-and-away pitches that umpires tend to give to pitchers. That last part may seem counterintuitive, but this is where Game Theory -- the cat-and-mouse contest between batter and pitcher -- comes into play.

Right now, Morrison is keeping the bat on his shoulder on low-and-away pitches, and pitchers are taking advantage of that by throwing there more often. If Morrison starts to take big cuts at more of those pitches, pitchers might throw there less often, locating the ball farther off the plate or somewhere else where they're less likely to get the benefit of the doubt from the man in blue. That, in turn, would mean more balls, fewer strikes and a better chance of drawing a walk. Maybe someone should send Morrison a Tweet.

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