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Fukudome's Discipline

Kosuke Fukudome represents a player whose batting average does not reflect his offensive value.  The Cubs outfielder owns a .260 career batting average.  That's not bad, but it's certainly not great for this era.  What Fukudome does very well is draw walks, which gives him a .370 OBP, 110 points above his batting average.  Judged on his OBP, Fukudome becomes an excellent offensive player, perfect for a lead off role.

Fukudome discipline at the plate is best seen in this swing rate heat map:

Kosuke Fukudome career swing rate.Not only does he do a great job of keeping his swings in the strike zone, he concentrates them in the upper half of the zone.  There's a good reason for his, as Fukudome has a limited zone of success in the zone:

Kosuke Fukudome career in play average.His hot zone looks like a comma turned upside down.  This suggests to me that Kosuke's high walk rate is more necessity than skill.  Unless the ball is right down the middle of the plate, he doesn't hit that well.  To be successful with a low average, Fukudome needs to pick his pitches extremely well.  He swings at pitches he can hit, and takes enough outside of the strike zone to draw walks.

Interestingly, pitchers seem to approach Fukudome incorrectly:

Koskue Fukudome career pitch frequency.They pitch him down, but not down enough, leaving plenty of pitches right in the middle of the plate.  The best place to pitch him, however, is inside, and pitchers avoid that part of the plate.  If they start busting him inside, pitchers might start turning more of his batted balls into outs.


L.A. Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw: Early Season Pitch Breakdown

Clayton Kershaw's slider is arguably his best pitch.  Fangraphs has it at 22.3 runs above average over the course of his career.  He's off to a good start with the pitch this season, as batters have managed one hit on 27 swings.  He's also struck out nine batters on sliders and they've put up a 48.1% contact rate overall against them.

Kershaw's fastball has given him a little trouble this season.  In his last start in Colorado, Kershaw allowed two home runs on fastballs, and both were pitches up in the zone. 

Clayton Kershaw's Fastball
(Click to enlarge)

It looks like Kershaw's fastball is coming in a little flatter than in previous seasons. The HRs to Chris Ianetta and Troy Tulowitzki were located in the upper middle portion of the zone and had BrkX readings of under -1.0. Batters have put up an expected wOBA of .323 so far against Kershaw's fastball, compared to his previous three season expected wOBA of .291. But with only two starts worth of fastballs to compare, it's obviously much too early to draw any significant conclusions from the data.


Nelson Cruz Looks Lower

Nelson Cruz tied a major league record by hitting homers in each of the first four Texas Rangers game of the season.  The Texas outfielder showed impressive power during the three previous seasons, slugging .565 during the period.  Nelson concentrated his power in the upper half of the strike zone:

Nelson Cruz slugging zones, 2008-2010.Not surprisingly, pitchers tried to work him down and away:

Nelson Cruz, pitch frequency, 2008-2010.Pitcher probably don't get the ball down as much as they'd like against Nelson, but you can see the intent in the heat map.

In 2011, they tried the same thing:

Nelson Cruz, pitch frequency, 2011.So far, they are doing a very good job of working Nelson down.  What they didn't count on was Cruz making an adjustment:

Nelson Cruz slugging zones, 2011.Instead of waiting to crush a high pitch, Nelson went down and got the low pitches.  The pitchers were following their scouting report and got burned.  It may be that Nelson just got lucky.  It's early in the season and anything can happen in a few at bats.  It would make sense, however, for Cruz to learn to hit where the pitchers are working, so it may be time for the scouting report to change.