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Is Ichiro Really a Free Swinger?

Ichiro Suzuki (SEA) earned the reputation as a hitter who will swing at anything.  We've seen him earn hits on balls at his shoe tops and way outside the strike zone.  Is he really that much of a free swinger, however?  The data indicates he may be more selective than thought.

The following graph shows Ichiro's swing rate versus the rate for the majors since the start of the 2008 season:

Ichiro Suzuki swing rate (left) versus MLB rate (right), 2008-2011.Note that most of Ichiro's swing density is in the strike zone.  Yes, he does swing out of the zone more than average, especially down.  There's a good reason for that, however:

Ichiro Suzuki contact rate (left) versus MLB rate (right), 2008-2011.When most batters go out of the strike zone, they swing and miss, especially up and down.  When Ichiro goes out of the strike zone, he makes contact.  Ichiro's strike zone is simply bigger than than it is for most players.  Not only does he make contact, he makes productive contact:

Ichiro Suzuki, in play average, 2008-2011.Notice the nice bright reds down and outside the strike zone.  Those are some of his best places to get a hit.  This represents more evidence that Suzuki's strike zone covers more area.  When most players swing out of the zone, they trade balls for outs.  Ichiro trades them for hits.  He is a selective hitter, just not in the traditional way.


Francisco Liriano's No Hitter

A quick glance at Francisco Liriano's (Minnesota Twins) pitch location heat map from his no-hitter versus the Chicago White Sox. Click here to view the complete no hitter pitch log.


Dustin Pedroia's Excellent At Bat

In the bottom of the fifth inning Monday night, Dustin Pedroia (BOS) battled Jered Weaver (LAA) for 13 pitches, the batter eventually delivering a two-RBI single that resulted in the Red Sox taking the lead.  The following chart shows the pitches of the at bat overlayed on Dustin's hot zones since the start of the 2008 season:

Dustin Pedroia vs. Jered Weaver, May 2, 2011, bottom of the fifth inning.From the batter's point of view, this sequence shows Dustin's superb strike zone judgement.  He only swung at two pitches out of the strike zone (6 and 12), and they were both probably too close to take with two strikes and Weaver on the mound.  Dustin did not swing and miss in the sequence, nor did he take a strike.  Each swing resulted in a foul ball or ball in play.  In Moneyball terms, Pedroia's process was very good.

From the pitcher's point of view, Weaver mixed his pitches well in every dimension.  He used four different pitches during the sequence, four fastballs, three changeups, three sliders, and three cutters.  Three times he threw the same pitch on consecutive throws, but on almost every toss he changed location, up, down in and out.  Until the last three pitches, there was always something different about the previous pitch.

The last three pitches, however, is what did in Weaver.  Pitches 11 and 12 were classified as cutters and pitch 13 as a fastball, but the three had all about the same speed, spin and movement.  Pedroia basically saw the same pitch three times in a row for the first time during the at bat.  Note, too, that pitch 13 was higher on the corner than the other two, and that's right on the edge of a hot zone for Dustin.  Pedroia had the pitch timed, Weaver put it in a good location, and the single on pitch 13 turned the game around.  It was a classic battle between a fine pitcher and a fine hitter.