Who has the best eye in the majors? Who has to be given the take sign on an intentional walk? Bases on balls and strikeouts don’t tell the whole story- they are also a reflection of the most feared and therefore most likely to be pitched around. But with pitch f/x, we can tell who swung at the fewest pitches out of their strike zone as well as what they did with them.
I’m know I’ve seen this done somewhere before online, but here’s a minor twist: instead of using the rulebook strike zone, I’ve used the one that is actually called (which is about two inches to either side). It doesn’t make much sense to call a swing out of zone if it was at a pitch that would usually be called a strike anyway. (Still, if anyone knows where I could find another set of these numbers for comparison, do tell!)
Here are the players who took the highest and lowest percentage of their swing at pitches out of the strike zone:
|Fewest Swings OOZ||Most Swings OOZ|
|Name||% OOZ||Name||% OOZ
|Tony Graffanino||23||Garret Anderson||56.9|
|Jose Cruz||25.6||Scott Thorman||56.1|
|Troy Glaus||26.1||Jonny Gomes||55.8|
|Austin Kearns||27||Johnny Estrada||55.8|
|Morgan Ensberg||27||Ryan Zimmerman||55.6|
|Jack Cust||28||Vladimir Guerrero||55.4|
|Jeff Conine||28.3||Melky Cabrera||55.3|
|Daric Barton||29.0||Miguel Olivo||54.8|
|Ramon Vazquez||29.9||Alfonso Soriano||54.1|
|Kenny Lofton||30.3||Joey Votto||53.9|
It’s worth noting that their reputations are not unfounded- Vladimir Guerrero and Ichiro Suzuki are right at the top of total pitches swung at out of the zone and put in play. The reason they don’t top this list is that they swing at a ton of strikes as well.
Of course this doesn’t affect the bottom line of how effective these hitters were, but you can use these numbers (for the full list click here) to see the different kinds of hitters that are out there. Some players get a lot of walks because they very rarely chase, like Troy Glaus. Prince Fielder on the other hand, was actually 11th in the league for the most pitches chased but still boasts a .395 OBP. Glaus is highly selective; Fielder was being pitched around, and probably swung at a lot of lousy pitches because that’s all he saw for months.
I’m sure teams have scouting reports that reflect these numbers to tell hitters how to get dangerous but undisciplined hitters like Soriano and Anderson out. (And maybe Jonny Gomes’ career has gone off a cliff because the word is out that he will swing at anything?). No matter how good a hitter is, he puts himself at a disadvantage by swinging at pitches out of the zone. Of course, that’s just the result of an aggressive approach that has it’s benefits as well. And maybe a player swings at a lot of bad pitches but does a pretty good job at making contact with them.
So here are the players who missed the most and fewest of pitches out of the strike zone:
|Fewest OOZ Missed||Most OOZ Missed|
|Name||Missed %||BABIP||Name||Missed %
|David Eckstein||5.4||.163||Russell Branyan||60||.600|
|Paul Lo Duca||6.5||.190||Wily Mo Pena||54.6||.368|
|Luis Castillo||7.1||.275||Jack Cust||51.6||.345|
|Juan Pierre||8.1||.311||Jason Smith||50.9||.208|
|Kevin Mench||8.6||.096||Jose Cruz||50.7||.125|
|Placido Polanco||8.6||.398||Rob Bowen||50||.333|
|Tony Graffanino||8.7||.111||Bill Hall||48.8||.429|
|Toby Hall||9.8||.400||Victor Diaz||48.6||.857|
|Jason Tyner||10.2||.265||Mike Cameron||48.2||.231|
|Jason Kendall||10.2||.306||Morgan Ensberg||47.5||.333|
Again, we can see the difference between types of hitters here. Jack Cust doesn’t swing at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone, which is a good thing because he misses so many of them (with his huge cuts that’s not much of a surprise). Same goes for Jose Cruz Jr. (Here are the complete numbers). On the other hand, Tony Graffanino was the most selective in the league and also doesn’t miss many of the balls he does swing at. Unfortunately he makes very weak contact when he does.
You can tell this by the BABIP on balls out of the zone also shown in the above table (batting average on balls in play: here are the complete rankings). This is taking a ridiculously small sample size in some cases, especially for the players who don’t swing much and miss most of the pitches out of the zone (that Victor Diaz had 6 of the 7 pitches out of the zone he managed to put in play fall in is not particularly relevant).
Still, you can see there’s a big difference between Juan Pierre, whose BABIP on bad pitches is exactly the same as his normal one, and David Eckstein, whose BABIP plunges from .320 to .163 when he chases. Eckstein has a reputation for fouling off pitches in long at bats- those numbers mean he also hits a lot of weak tappers trying to defend the plate as well. On the other hand, we see players like Jack Cust and Wily Mo Pena. They take giant cuts at everything and miss most pitches out of the zone, but do rather well on the ones they do manage to make contact with.