A Quick Fix for JP Arencibia’s OBP
Some players simply will never have the ability to recognize and lay off tough pitches that start in the zone and wind out of it. I get that. It is entirely possible to have a reasonable career that is based on hitting first pitches and mistakes very, very, far, and accepting that once you get behind in the count it’s going to take a miracle to get on base.
But other times, the balance between taking strikes and chasing balls becomes so lopsided that opposing pitchers can adjust their entire pitching strategy to take advantage of a player. Without the fear of a potential walk, there isn’t the same need to get ahead with the first pitch, or ‘give in’ in a hitter’s count with a fastball, and a hitter just stops getting reasonable pitches to hit, ever. In the same way that it pays sometimes to bunt or else the opposition will play way back on the grass and gain more than you lose by bunting, sometimes you just have to take a close pitch that might very well be a strike just so the league knows you’re capable of it.
Case in point: J.P. Arencibia. On 3-2 counts, most hitters are going to see somewhat more strikes with the threat of a walk looming. But now that every scouting report on him is just a giant yellow highlighter down his walk, swing, and miss rates, only 46 percent of full-count pitches have been in the strike zone (down from 55% last year — and not surprisingly, he’s missing them at 48%, up from 32%). Which brings to mind a novel way to “make the adjustment” back at the league: never, ever, swing with the count full.
Using his current strategy of “attempting to use his baseball skills to avoid striking out” in full counts, JP has struck out 19 times and walked 6. He also has three singles and two doubles. If he was instead using the revolutionary approach of “keeping the bat on your damn shoulder at all times”, of the 46 pitches he saw in those counts, 21 were in the zone and 25 of them were out. So, if we forget that some of those pitches happened in the same at-bats due to foul balls:
Using skills to reach base: 19 strikeouts, six walks, 10 outs in play, three singles and two doubles, vs:
Doing absolutely nothing: 21 strikeouts, 25 walks, zero balls in play.
OF COURSE THIS IS AN ABSURD SUGGESTION. But no more than the fact that not using his bat in full count situations would not seriously affect how often Arencibia strikes out on 3-2, and that somehow convincing the league that he was in the batter’s box ready to do his thing when he was actually watching the payoff pitch from his usual position crouched behind the plate would more than double his walk rate overall. His average would fall from .218 to .215, but his OBP would soar from the current league-worst .253 up to .295. And with JP’s pop, that’s a major-league catcher!