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Altuve's Short Plate Appearances

Since signing with the Astros out of Venezuela in 2007, Jose Altuve has gone from pint-sized novelty act to a prominent part of the team's rebuilding efforts. The 5-foot-7 second baseman, a career .327/.386/.481 minor league hitter, made his MLB debut in late July and holds a .322/.336/.400 line so far in 121 plate appearances.

Altuve has succeeded to this point while swinging at just about everything. He has offered at about 54 percent of pitches seen overall, which is nine percentage points above the league average. Altuve might be short, but his strike zone is gigantic:

 Altuve's swing rate by pitch location

Altuve has chased 39 percent of pitches thrown out of the strike zone, compared to the 28 percent league average. It's no surprise, then, that he has drawn all of two walks and has seen the fewest pitches per plate appearance (3.1) of any major leaguer with 100+ plate appearances.

Despite his hacking, Altuve has fared well due to a low strikeout rate (under 11 percent) and a +.350 batting average on balls in play. It will be interesting to see if the 21-year-old can continue to defy expectations with his aytypical hitting approach and small frame. The Hardball Times' Oliver projection system has Altuve becoming an above-average hitter in the years to come, posting near-.300 averages with a dash of power.

Should Altuve settle in as a quality batter, he would be in rare company among his vertically-challenged brethren: just 21 hitters in MLB history have posted an OPS+ above 100 (minimum 3,000 plate appearances) while standing 5-foot-7 or shorter, according to Baseball-Reference. And keep in mind that most of those guys played in the early 20th century, when the height of the average male was a couple of inches shorter than it is today. Joe Morgan, Yogi Berra, Don Buford, Albie Pearson and Bip Roberts are the only players on the list who played after World War II. Scouts have been selling Altuve short for years, though, so I wouldn't count him out.


Friendly Pitches to Casper Wells

Casper Wells of the Seattle Mariners hit his sixth home run in his 15th game since joining the team on July 31st.  Casper likes to hit pitches down and away for home runs:

Casper Wells home runs, career through Aug. 20, 2011.Since he joined the Mariners, guess where pitchers are concentrating their strikes?

Casper Wells, pitch frequency, with the Seattle Mariners, 2011.Fast balls up seem to be the way to limit Casper's power:

Casper Wells, in play slugging, career vs. fastballs.At some point pitchers will figure out that working Wells away leads to bad results.  We'll see what happens when they start busting him up and in.


Fister Chasing a Dream

Doug Fister of the Detroit Tigers ranks as one of the best pitchers in 2011 at getting batters to chase pitches outside the strike zone.  This should be a good thing; batters swinging at pitches out of the strike zone should result in better outcomes for the pitcher.  Take a look at the batting averages allowed by the top ten pitchers in chase percentage.


PitcherTeamPlate AppearancesAVG AgainstStrikeout %Chase %
Ricky Nolasco FLA 712 0.291 0.167 0.367
Doug Fister DET 670 0.265 0.140 0.360
Dan Haren LAA 753 0.227 0.207 0.341
Carl Pavano MIN 718 0.294 0.102 0.340
Cole Hamels PHI 677 0.215 0.229 0.338
Jeff Karstens PIT 573 0.255 0.148 0.336
Jon Niese NYM 670 0.278 0.197 0.336
Roy Halladay PHI 735 0.245 0.241 0.334
Justin Verlander DET 778 0.187 0.262 0.333
Cory Luebke SD 385 0.198 0.270 0.333


Note that the batting averages allowed correlate much better with strike out rate than with chase percentage.  Chasing pitches without inducing misses doesn't really seem to lead to better outcomes.  Balls in play tend to find holes with some regularity.

Note that Fister posted a .252 BA against with the Mariners, a good fielding team.  With the poor fielding Detroit Tigers, that's up to .369.  He doesn't miss bats, so even though he's good at getting hitters to fish outside the strike zone, those balls in play still depend on his fielders catching them.  So far, the Tigers haven't.