Mike Napoli (TEX) has been the most productive hitter in the last month of baseball. His .567 wOBA since July 6th leads the majors and is 85 points better Hideki Matsui (OAK) in second place on the list.
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Entries in Florida Marlins (11)
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
* 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:
League Average: 28%
Throughout the year, Morrison has swung at more pitches thrown high out of the zone:
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:
League Average: 31%
Pitchers are pounding the zone low-and-away against Morrison more often since June:
And Morrison is taking many of those strikes:
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:
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.
With the Florida Marlins double-digit games behind, in both the National League East and NL Wild Card standings, and contending teams always looking for lefty relief help, expect to hear Randy Choate's name come up often in trade rumors this month.
The 35-year-old, signed over the winter to a two-year, $2.5 million deal, is death to all things southpawed. He has limited lefty hitters to a .206 batting average, a .282 on-base percentage and a .284 slugging percentage during the course of his big league career. Choate must be handled judiciously by his manager, lest right-handed hitters clog up the bases against him (.278/.397/.411 career line versus righties), but he's as good of a LOOGY (left-handed one out guy) as you're going to find. The Marlins have gone to greath lengths to limit his exposure to right-handers this year, as Choate has enjoyed the platoon advantage against 54 of the 74 batters that he has faced.
Choate pounds lefties inside with a mid-80s sinker that has over 11 inches of tailing action in on the hands, or breaks out an upper-70s slider that darts far in the opposite direction. Here's what his sinker/slider combo looks like to those poor left-handed souls:
Overall, Choate has thrown his sinker about 58 percent of the time and his slider about 42 percent. But he hasn't followed a typical pattern in terms of when he has tossed those pitches. In first-pitch counts, Choate has gone to his slider 65 percent of the time. In two-strike counts, he has thrown his sinker about 60 percent. Breaking balls in a fastball count, and fastballs in situations where most pitches call on the breaking stuff -- talk about messing with lefties' heads.
Choate's inside/outside approach and backwards pitching has produced a 22-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 63 percent ground ball rate against lefties. You'd have to think that teams vying for a division title or a Wild Card spot are salivating at the prospect of getting this LOOGY to shut down their rivals' big lefty bats.