The Mockingbird

Garbage Picking

with 7 comments

Oh, right…those guys. The whole city I live in/team I write about thing. Before I got a little carried away with the number crunching, the idea behind my last post was to see how selective the Blue Jays last year. Sometimes it seemed like the entire team was still going after junky breaking balls out of the zone in the 7th inning when the soft-tosser on the mound had been throwing them all game, and the team as a whole was criticized for being unprepared. But were they undisciplined?

First, who took the most hacks at pitches out of the strike zone?

Blue Jays Swinging Out of Zone
Name % OOZ
Reed Johnson 52.4
Alex Rios 44.7
Vernon Wells 43.1
John McDonald 42.1
Matt Stairs 41.1
Lyle Overbay 38.5
Frank Thomas 38.4
Gregg Zaun 38.1
Aaron Hill 37.6
Troy Glaus 26.1

The league average is 42% so that’s pretty good, really. As noted in my other post, Troy Glaus was the third most selective player in the league last season. The only big problem is our leadoff man swinging at balls more often that he did at strikes. Reed has never been much of a walker (he prefers to get his free passes by getting plunked), but it would sure help him fill that role if he wasn’t such a hacker.

Another oddity is Aaron Hill: his BB% fell from 6.9 -> 6.4 last season, and his K rate skyrocketed from 10.9 -> 15.5. It wasn’t because he was chasing pitches out of the zone, though, as he had one of the best eyes on the Blue Jays. He must have either been taking or swinging through too many good pitches (possibly trying for too much power). Also of note is that Rios was actually chasing more bad pitches than Vernon. It sure didn’t seem that way- it goes to show you don’t notice a player’s weaknesses when the results are there.

Next, here’s the percentage of swings at pitches out of the strike zone that came up empty:

Blue Jays Whiffs Out of Zone
Name % Missed
Troy Glaus 32.5
Matt Stairs 29.3
Lyle Overbay 28.2
Vernon Wells 27.4
Aaron Hill 24.9
Reed Johnson 23.8
Alex Rios 21.6
Frank Thomas 21.0
John McDonald 20.7
Gregg Zaun 17.6

The league average whiff percentage is 27.4. As you would expect, Troy Glaus looks kind of stupid when he takes one of his huge cute at a ball out of the zone, which is why he makes sure not to do it very often.

Zaun on the other hand is much more controlled. He grinds out long at bats because if he decides to swing, it’s hard to get even a pitch out of the strike zone by him. The surprise here is that Frank Thomas doesn’t miss the ball when he’s chasing that often. Instead, he makes weak contact:

Blue Jays BABIP
Frank Thomas .229
Reed Johnson .254
Vernon Wells .260
Gregg Zaun .261
John McDonald .292
Alex Rios .305
Aaron Hill .336
Matt Stairs .344
Lyle Overbay .366
Troy Glaus .459

This is batting average on balls in play. It reflects how many balls that a player put in play fell for a hit, and thus is heavily affected by luck. But it can also reflect the quality of contact that a hitter is making. If you make a lot of weak or easily fielded contact (like infield popups *cough* Vernon *cough*) your BABIP is going to be low, but if you either totally miss or crunch the ball, it will be high.

The league average usually hovers between .290 – .300, but this year it was .303. For pitches OOZ (by my calculations) it was .296, so hitters made slightly weaker contact on pitches out of the zone. Especially at the start of the season, this was certainly true for Frank Thomas, who seemed to always pop up pitches away from him, and Vernon Wells, who was rolling over outside pitches trying to pull too much and grounding them to the shortstop.

Overall, these numbers show that the Jays as a team have above-average batting eyes, if not necessarily the patience or pitch selection to go along with it. Hopefully Gary Denbo can use that to get the team on track and out of the cellar in on-base percentage next year.


Written by halejon

November 27, 2007 at 2:01 am

7 Responses

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  1. Jon,

    Very good analysis, my friend. Very weird numbers for Reed Johnson, don’t you think? I really hope he comes back strong in 2008 and doesn’t have any lingering effects from his back surgery.

    Dave Rouleau

    November 27, 2007 at 2:39 pm

  2. Yeah, they’re disturbing. I can’t say I’m really surprised, he’s always been a free swinger. I’m not sure I would have guessed he was at the top of the league, but he did look absolutely lost for a few weeks after he came back from injury. Not even sure if he could change that- part of the reason he gets so many HBP is he’s diving over the plate at everything.


    November 27, 2007 at 3:24 pm

  3. I think a lot of Johnson’s offensive woes can be related to two factors; first, his back injury which he has no control over, and second, not altering his stance and approach to compensate for his injury, which he, the Jays, and Brantley should have had control over.

    Part of Johnson’s effectiveness as a hitter is the sheer speed in which he gets the bat around. He’s got very quick hands, and part of the reason he can hit homeruns is the torque that speed generates doesn’t need a lot of muscle behind it. That’s part of what turned him into a tough at bat in 2006 is that even chasing, he’d foul pitches off, or flare the odd one for a hit. It forced pitchers to either try and beat him in the zone, or try and back him off and reopen the outside part of the plate.

    With a back injury like his, his ability to rotate his torso and shoulders with the same speed should have been impaired. That means less bat speed, and in turn, less power and ability to catch marginal or out of zone pitches in the top part of the plate. Watching Johnson’s first 50 or so at-bats back, before sheer frustration took over, he was approaching and selecting like 2006, but just couldn’t catch up in the ball to force those pitches to the plate.

    In his case, what he should have done in gone back to basics. Get further back in the box, stick to the zone, and accept the odd upstairs call that will get you punched out, because you can’t get the bat on it anyway. Johnson has a decent eye and normally makes good contact; so there’s no reason that shifting to a more conversative approach shouldn’t have at least gotten him closer to an average year offensively.

    Unfortunately, Johnson’s got ‘girt/guts/spunk/clutch/etc’ and keep trying to bat like his injury hadn’t happened. Which meant more strikeouts, and especially later in the season, just some pathetic at-bats, chasing two-seamers at head height. If Gibbons or Brantley had pulled him aside after those first couple of weeks and said ‘we want some adjustments so you can go a little slower, come back 100% and still contribute’, he might have had an alright year, considering. Shame it didn’t happen.

    Bryant Telfer

    November 27, 2007 at 9:33 pm

  4. I agree…especially on stuff away from him. Last year Reed could make up for chasing pitches high and away by fouling them off or even punching them into right, but this season he just looked like he didn’t know what he was doing because he couldn’t catch up to them. He ends up so ridiculously far over the plate and isn’t afraid to take one for the team that it must be really hard to find somewhere to pitch to him when his bat speed is there, so it makes sense for him to be hacking.

    I’m not sure how much he could have adapted last seaon, though. The man is 30 years old and has worked on integrating his approach to his skills and makeup for his entire career. I don’t think that’s the sort of thing you can relearn in a couple hundred at-bats. That’s like wishing that Vernon would be a little more patient when he goes into a slump or that Glaus could be a little more of a contact hitter sometimes. At this point, their approach is so deeply ingrained in everything they do that it’s impossible to change on the fly in the majors- he would have to go down to the minors and start over.

    I’d rather just accept that he’s not healthy and write off the rest of his season instead of messing with something you’re just going to have to change back for 2008. It certainly looks like the Jays are confident he still has it (when healthy) to hand him the leadoff spot again next year.


    November 27, 2007 at 11:38 pm

  5. I don’t think that’s the sort of thing you can relearn in a couple hundred at-bats.

    It’s not really a question of relearning. Most ballplayers have a couple of different approaches at bat depending on the situation. When you’re playing dealing with wind or rain, you alter your stance a bit to try and hit more on a low plane and keep it under. If you’ve got a soft-tossing junkballer, you need to be more mobile in the box. It’s that kind of adaptation that I didn’t see Johnson making.

    Hitting from deeper in the box gives you that extra fraction of a second to size up the pitch. It makes it more difficult to jump on breaking pitches cleanly, but it tends to let you work the count a little more. It’s not retooling your swing so much as adjusting to the conditions. I think Johnson didn’t want to acknowledge the injury as much as he should, and pushed himself into a no-win situation at the plate. He probably even felt healthy, but didn’t want to see if the injury was robbing him of any power or speed.

    Next year could be interesting. I didn’t see 2006 as the fluke a lot of people did.

    Bryant Telfer

    November 28, 2007 at 7:07 pm

  6. […] November 27, Jonathan Hale published “Garbage Picking“, an article looking at out of zone tendencies for Toronto Blue Jays […]

  7. […] November 27, he published “Garbage Picking“, an article looking at out of zone tendencies for Toronto Blue Jays […]

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