April 18, 2014 Leave a comment
Believe it or not, I don’t spend all of my time expanding a meager idea into a 2,500-word blah-fest. I learn plenty of new things about baseball every day, so once a week, I’m going to deposit them here.
-When it comes to Starlin Castro, the league has a scouting report with which it’s very comfortable. Castro’s swing got long and leveraged in 2013, driven mostly by way too much stride. He started trying to pull everything, and has scarcely adjusted.
Therefore, he’s started seeing a ton of pitches low and away from him. Fully a third of opponents’ offerings have been at the bottom of the zone or below, and from the middle of the plate out. He’ll have to adjust in a big way, in both approach and mechanics, in order to recapture the success he had early in his career.
-A quote from Paul O’Neill (the writer, not the outfielder), in Sports Illustrated in the 1950s, as relayed by Roger Kahn in The Head Game:
More and more late-inning tie ball games are put in the hands of relief pitchers. A pitcher winning 300 looks less and less likely with each passing season.
You’ll see things like this written every so often. The 300-game winner has been pronounced extinct a half-dozen times since then, which is strange, because baseball rarely goes more than a decade between 300-game winners. It’s fair to point out that the pace of marginalization for starters is accelerating lately, but I’m more inclined, after reading things like this, to wonder who the next guy will be, rather than whether a next guy exists.
-Andrelton Simmons struck out Thursday, the first time he’d done so all season. It came in his 13th game. That’s very impressive, although not historic: 16 player seasons since 1993 have begun with at least 15 whiffless games.
Simmons has had this skill from the moment he arrived in the big leagues. The specific form of his contact, though, makes him extra interesting.
In The Bill James Handbook 2014, there’s a delightful new section entitled “Hitter Analysis”. It’s chock-full of the most process-driven numbers batters generate. It tells you the number of pitches each batter saw, how many they swung at and how many (of those they took) were called strikes, and how many were balls.
It also tells you (and this is the fun part) how many of the batter’s swings resulted in whiffs, how many in foul balls and how many in balls in play. That swing-outcome data set fascinates me. The more I comb the data, the more players seem to fit certain profiles based on how their swings turn out.
Simmons is a rare breed, maybe the most interesting and unique player listed. In 2013, he saw 2,307 pitches. He swung at 1,068 of them. Of the 1,239 he watched, 437 were called strikes.
When he swung, he missed 135 times. He fouled off 373 pitches. And he put 560 balls in play. Those numbers are as staggering as I hope they feel. Very few hitters approximate Simmons’ skill for sheer contact; even fewer direct the balls they do hit into the field of play so consistently. Yadier Molina is a loose fit for the profile, but closer ones are Ben Revere, Ryan Hanigan and Juan Pierre.
Simmons isn’t like those guys as batters, though, for two reasons. Firstly, he puts the ball in the air, and does so a lot. The guys listed above are, without exception, ground-ball hitters. Secondly, he’s extremely aggressive, especially compared to Hanigan, for instance. The best fit for the Simmons profile, taking away plate discipline, might be Ben Zobrist. Zobrist, though, is much more patient. Importantly, this profile doesn’t seem to lend itself to a huge batting average on balls in play, so if Simmons is to thrive, he’ll need to rely on the power he flashed last year or get significantly more patient. I’m betting o. The former being the easier thing to maintain, so know that as long as Simmons keeps the approach he uses right now, even while sustaining an exceptional contact rate, his offensive value will depend on driving the ball.
-Speaking of driving the ball:
I wish I could present this more prettily; I’m somewhat limited by my own technology. That image comes from the venerable baseballsavant.com, and it lays Jose Batista’s 54-homer season (2010, on the left) next to Chris Davis’s 53-homer campaign last year (right).
All I want is to take a moment to ponder the different distributions, of fly balls in general and of homers specifically. Knowing nothing but this, which guy would you expect to better sustain his success?
I can tell you that opposite-field power is more consistent than pull power, at least in terms of home runs. On the other hand, most batters hit most of their pulled balls on the ground, but Bautista has carefully cultivated the skill of launching fly balls to his pull field. He doesn’t hit a terribly unusual percentage of flies out of the park; he just hits a terribly unusual number of flies to a part of the park out of which nearly one ball on every three will fly.
Davis’s approach is more classic, his power more majestic. He has a swing designed to drive the ball in the air, direction be damned. My only concern is that, with nothing suggesting that he’s unique, he’s a candidate to return to, say, the very human 33 homers he hit in 2012. Anyway, this bears watching.