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Entries in walk rate (3)

Thursday
Feb062014

A More Patient Yasiel Puig in 2014?

Yasiel Puig was a bat-flipping, stop-sign-defying, cutoff-man-missing marvel in 2013. The Dodgers outfielder tied Ted Williams for the second-best park-and-league-adjusted OPS ever for a rookie getting 400-plus plate appearances (60 percent above average), placing just behind Johnny Mize (162 OPS+) and ahead of Albert Pujols (157 OPS+). Here's a scary thought for pitchers and catchers getting set to report for spring training: the 23-year-old is still learning the strike zone, and he's proving to be a quick study. Considering the progress Puig made in tightening his plate approach down the stretch, pitchers shouldn't count on retiring him with junk pitches in 2014. Puig's newfound patience may even earn him the leadoff role in L.A. this year.

When Puig debuted back in June, he displayed the patience of a kindergartener hell-bent on cracking open a Hershey-stuffed pinata. He swung at 38.3 percent of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone, which was far above the 28 percent major league average and second-highest among all National League hitters that month (Alfonso Soriano was first, at 46.6 percent). Puig was particularly hack-happy on pitches thrown inside, chasing 36.2 percent of the time.

Puig's swing rate vs. inside pitches, June of 2013

  Puig was ridiculously productive in June, of course, as seemingly every ball he put in play evaded leather. He walked in just 3.7 percent of his plate appearances, however -- fine if you're racking up hits like Teddy Ballgame and Ty Cobb, but problematic otherwise. To his credit, Puig quickly began to shrink his eyes-to-ankles strike. He chased fewer inside pitches out of the zone in July, August and September.

Puig's swing rate vs. inside pitches, July of 2013

 

Puig's swing rate vs. inside pitches, August of 2013

 

Puig's swing rate vs. inside pitches, September 2013

 

After chasing 36.2 percent of inside stuff in June, Puig went after 32.5 percent of those pitches in July, 26.3 percent in August, and just 22.3 percent in September. That newfound patience is crucial to Puig's long-term success, considering that pitchers try to bust him in on the hands more often (43.7 percent of the time) than any other big league hitter. Overall, Puig's chase rate was close to the league average by the season's final month (30.5 percent in September), and he boasted a double-digit walk rate during in both August and September.

Gifted as he is, Puig might be considered a "disappointment" by some in 2014 because he set such a high bar for himself as a rookie (the Oliver projection system forecasts Puig for a still-excellent .292/.362/.512 line next year, compared to  his actual .319/.391/.534 in 2013). But the gains he made in controlling the strike zone figure to carry over into next year and beyond, as changes in a hitter's swing rate take on meaning after about 50 plate appearances. Combine Puig's light-tower power with a more polished plate approach, and you have the recipe for a perennial MVP contender. If this guy's not getting himself out, who will?

Wednesday
Dec112013

Carlos Beltran a Different Man at the Plate, Too

After nearly a decade of rumors fitting him for pinstripes, Carlos Beltran has officially become a Yankee by inking a three-year, $45 million contract. Beltran, entering his age 37 season, isn't the same all-around superstar who once complemented his big bat with high-percentage base thievery and gliding, Gold Glove-caliber defense in the outfield. The same can be said at the plate -- he's not the same hitter he used to be. But in this case, his production hasn't suffered much as a result.

Beltran has shown a keen eye during his big league career, posting a double-digit walk rate nine times in sixteen seasons. But as the switch-hitter has crossed his mid-30's, he has turned into more of a hacker: his unintentional walk rate dipped from 10.7 percent in 2011 to 8.1 percent in 2012 and 6.2 percent this past year. The last time Beltran drew so few walks was 1998, when he was a 21-year-old blue-chipper getting a late-September look with the Royals. Yet Beltran is still raking, putting up a park-and-league adjusted OPS 54 percent above average in '11, and 28 percent above average in both '12 and '13. What gives?

Turns out, the Yankees' latest mercenary replacement for Robinson Cano has expanded his strike zone against "soft" pitches -- curveballs, sliders and changeups -- while still doing damage against those offerings. Those extra chases haven't helped Beltran, but he has offset them by also becoming more aggressive on breaking and off-speed stuff thrown within the strike zone.

Here's Beltran's swing rate against soft pitches over the past three seasons. You'll note two key changes in Beltran's approach: he's chasing more curves, sliders and changeups thrown below the knees, but he's also letting it rip more often on soft stuff thrown high in the strike zone:

Beltran's swing rate vs. soft pitches, 2011

Beltran's swing rate vs. soft pitches, 2012

Beltran's swing rate vs. soft pitches, 2013

In 2011, Beltran's chase rate versus curves, sliders and changeups (29 percent) was comfortably below the major league average (32 percent). But he has lunged at more soft stuff in both 2012 (35 percent) and 2013 (38 percent). Bad things tend to happen when hitters swing at soft pitches thrown off the plate (they slugged a collective .197 on those offerings from 2011-13), and Beltran is no exception (his three-year slugging percentage is .235).

While Beltran has shown less patience on soft stuff thrown out of the zone, he has simultaneously become more discerning -- and deadly -- on piches tossed over the plate. Beltran's swing rate on in-zone breaking and off-speed pitches has climbed from around 71 percent in 2011 and '12 to 75 percent in 2013 (the MLB average is about 65 percent). Great things tend to happen when hitters swing at in-zone curves, sliders and changeups (.492 slugging percentage), and Beltran is once again no exception: he slugged .535 in 2011, .572 in 2012, and .582 in 2013.

Carlos Beltran has shown less ability to lay off breaking and off-speed pitches thrown outside of the strike zone, leading to more weakly hit grounders and fly balls. But he has become better at knowing when to take a cut at soft stuff thrown inside of the strike zone, leading to more drives that split the gaps or clear the fence. The result has basically been a wash. Beltran is a more aggressive hitter than he used to be, though not a worse hitter. He's just different.

Friday
Jul122013

Josh Hamilton is Finally Looking like Like Last May

The Josh Hamilton story need not be repeated here. Eventually the movie that is being directed by Casey Affleck will come out, and we can all relive Josh's harrowing experience as he climbed from the gutters of drug addiction to the highest peaks of baseball stardom. What can be repeated, is that in December of last year, there was more than a quiet buzz on Katella Ave. in the city of Anaheim. After Arte Moreno had gone and had one of the most expensive free-agent shopping sprees ever prior to the 2012 season with the signings of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, he went and did it again. 

Luxury tax be damned. Payroll be damned. Signing a player on the wrong side of 30...again...damn.

Welcome to the Angels

After having a solid spring training, when nothing mattered at all, Hamilton stormed out of the gates in April to the tune of a .204/.252/.296 slash line. It was the only month in Hamilton's career that he has ever had an OPS under .600. May was better OPS-wise, as he put up .237/.315/.495 slash line, good for an .810 OPS. But then he cratered again in June with a .231/.284/.396 line.

This was going to be a long season.

Even eternally optimistic fans were starting to dread not just this season, but the four years left on that $125MM deal. 

With brown paper sacks in hand, Halo fans prepared for the absolute worst.

But then, Josh hurt his wrist during an aggressive hitting drill during a late-June series against the Pirates. He sat out the series. Upon coming back in the next series against the Tigers, he got a hit in his first game back.

Then another one in the next game.

Then another. 

Before you knew it, 12 games later, Hamilton had a nice little hitting streak going ending the other night in Chicago, but then he followed that up with two home runs in the following game.

It's only two weeks into July, but currently, he is sporting a .290/.353/.710 line. A line that, in some ways, is very similar to the .344/.405/.781 month of May that Josh had in 2012.

Did I lose you with that connection?

Yeah, I thought so. It's a pretty big leap to join those two months together. 

May 2012 and July 2013

Josh hit 12 home runs last May (he has 14 in all of 2013).

Yeah, that is a ton of red. It is also a lot of space that is being taken up pitches being swung at. 

Last May, Josh swung at an astounding 57.7% of pitches thrown his way. Yet he still managed to strike out in less than 20% of his plate appearances (barely, 19.8%) and walked in more than 10% of his plate appearances (again, barely with a 10.8 BB%). How? I don't know. If you had thrown the rosin bag towards the plate, he would have swung. It was just one of those months.

But this is where Josh's recent surge over the last two weeks actually looks better than the one he had last May. 

Josh's upper cut-type swing is made for pitches low in the zone. And he has done a good job of going after those pitches so far this month. But what has made July 2013 nearly as good as May 2012, is not how much or how hard he is hitting the ball, but rather, how much he is not swinging at the ball.

If you go by the last two weeks, instead of "just games played within the month of July," Josh has a well-above-what-Angels-fans-have-come-to-expect, 13% walk rate. By adding in those last few days in June (which was a three-game series against the Astros), Hamilton's slash line explodes. If you recall, his July line is .290/.353/.710, add in those three games and it is .333/.435/.744.

An identical ISO (Isolated Slugging) of .410 for both time frames, and a better walk rate so far this month. Angels fans have been waiting for this kind of outburst from Hamilton, and now that it is happening, they are afraid to breathe on it for fear of it vanishing like a whisper in the breeze.

The month is only half over, and there is also that silly All-Star break next week that could have who-knows-what kind of effect on the run that Hamilton is currently on. But for the time being, Angels fans have put away the head covers, and are donning their team swag. Even bringing their Josh Hamilton jerseys out of the closet for some sunlight.

Of course, now that I have written something about Josh's streak, he'll more than likely turn back into a pumpkin, and slump through the rest of the season.

But what if he doesn't?

As awful as the the Angels have played, they are only 6.5 games back in the wild card race and that's nothing when you have a hot Josh Hamilton.