Who's Swinging at Bad Pitches

Not this guy. - Brad White

While the Blue Jays have some very patient hitters they also employ some hackers. Who's been swinging at the most bad pitches and how are they faring when they do?

When watching baseball every fan has their own unique preferences for what it is about the game that they enjoy the most. Home runs have mass appeal, as does defensive wizardry and electric base running, but these events are uncommon enough that it would be easy to find baseball dull if they were all one enjoyed. I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that readers of bluebirdbanter do not find baseball to be dull so it stands to reason there are other aspects of the game that most of us enjoy other than the obvious attractions.

For me, the best part of baseball is the duel at home plate between the pitcher and the hitter. To call it a chess match would be to use one of the worst and most prevalent clichés in professional sports commentary, and also a massive overstatement in terms of the degree of strategy involved. However, there is a tactical element to it that I really enjoy. I like watching a good hitter wait out a pitcher and force him down the plate where he gets clobbered and I like watching a pitcher paint the corners and expand the strike zone just as much. I'm not an offense or a pitching guy in particular I just enjoy the duel.

There are very few things that cheapen this enjoyment for me but one of them is seeing guys swing at awful pitches. Some people get riled up when fielding is ugly or base running mistakes are made, and I get that, but at a visceral level those don't get to me as much. The reason that guys swinging at pitches way out of the zone gets to me is twofold:

1) It seems like the pitcher didn't really earn it.

I think we all look for there to be some kind of justice in the world. We'd like to believe we inhabit a place where people get what they deserve. When J.P. Arencibia swings at a pitch a foot out of the zone on a 3 ball count the pitcher deserves to have walked him and only though J.P.'s incompetence does he remain at the plate as a potential/automatic out. I know that pitchers and catchers deserve credit for knowing tendencies and for deceptive pitches that look inside the zone but aren't and this shouldn't be dismissed or even minimized. However, I'm trying to describe the way it feels to watch more so than the way it actually is.

2) The mistake seems more mental than the equivalent mistake for a pitcher.

If a pitcher throws a fastball right down the plate to Edwin Encarnacion and he is taken out of the park it almost certainly is not because he forgot it was a bad idea to throw a meatball down the pipe, but rather because he missed his spot. Very few pitchers would actively try and throw a pitch there and assume it would go well for them, except maybe on a 3-0 count. When a hitter swings for a pitch well outside the zone it almost seems like he was unaware of where the strike zone was, and if that's not the case he figured he could hit something he knew was outside the zone. Almost without exception hitters make more and better contact on pitches in the zone so it is frustrating as a fan to see hitters seemingly ignore this information. Once again I keep using words like seem because I know it's far more complicated than that and I know that strike zone judgment isn't easy or else everyone would do it.

Hopefully at this point you understand my quasi irrational issue with poor plate discipline. Instead of trying to rid myself of a difficult to justify bias that actively makes me unhappy, especially when watching certain players, I decided I would sink some research into it for your reading pleasure.

In order for me to determine which Jays hitters are swinging at the most bad pitches I had to come up with a working definition of bad pitch. If I was feeling lazy I would simply define it as a pitch outside the strike zone but I don't think that's entirely fair. Firstly, hitters are often good at hitting certain pitches outside the strike zone. For example, Jose Bautista does an excellent job of hitting pitches off the plate inside. Additionally if the pitch was close enough to the plate it might behoove the batter to swing for it due to an umpire's specific zone or a two strike count. It is hard to criticize a hitter for that.

With a little help from Brooks Baseball I settled on a definition of a bad pitch that, while imperfect, was good enough to satisfy my curiosity on the issue of the plate discipline on this team. I decided that I would define a bad pitch to swing at as a pitch that was off the plate in two directions like a high and inside pitch or one that was low and outside. For the purposes of this article I will use the letters "BP" to denote "bad pitch" as defined above. Trust me; it'll save everyone a great deal of time. Ultimately a picture can be worth a thousand words and I've already provided you with eight hundred plus words so here's a picture to show you what I'm talking about:

Above is Joey Votto's swing rate by where the pitches are thrown since 2007. Keep in mind that all these pictures are from the catcher's point of view. With a left handed hitter like Votto the leftmost squares in this picture are off the plate outside and the rightmost ones are inside. I used Votto as an example because he has an excellent eye and also because of Canadian content laws. The pitches I'm talking about are in the four corners of this picture, all of them are off the plate in two directions and as such I think it is difficult to justify swinging for them. This logic isn't perfect because they could be half an inch off the plate in both directions but more often than not they should be the pitches that are most obviously balls.

This article goes through all Jays with over 200 PA, mainly because I wanted to include Kawasaki and Lawrie, in an effort to determine who swings the most at these bad pitches, and what the result of swinging at these pitches is. If Emilio Bonifacio is hitting .450 and slugging .1000 on pitches that are both down and inside then it's hard for me to complain. Spoiler Alert: he isn't. The players below are ranked from the most to least disciplined this year in terms of not swinging for pitches in the four areas specified above:

#1 Jose Bautista

Swing Rate by Zone in 2013:

BP Swing% 2013: 10.8%

BP Swing% 2007-2013: 11.4%

It is interesting to note that Jose Bautista did not swing at these pitches even earlier in his career before he found his power stroke. Also he has had extraordinary success laying off the pitch low and away which is both the pitch he is thrown the most and the one that others often struggle with. You can see in the picture above that he even lays off strikes in the lower outside section more than half the time.

Results when swinging at BP

Time Period

AVG

ISO

Whiff% per Swing

2013

.143

.047

55.3%

Career

.154

.068

50%

Bautista shows the ability to occasionally do something with a bad pitch, although he whiffs often, especially at the pitches low and away that he is normally so good at taking (66.6% since 2007).

#2 Munenori Kawasaki

Swing Rate by Zone in 2013:

BP Swing% 2013: 11.3%

BP Swing% 2007-2013: 13.6%

Munenori Kawasaki's ability to be patient at the plate is arguably his only offensive skill so it's no surprise to see him near the top of this list.

Results when swinging at BP

Time Period

AVG

ISO

Whiff% per Swing

2013

.333

.000

18.7%

Career

.143

.000

35.7%

One shouldn't put much stock in that batting average based on the minute sample but it is interesting that Kawasaki makes contact with these pitches, presumably fouling them off.

#3 Maicer Izturis

Swing Rate by Zone in 2013:

BP Swing% 2013: 12.4%

BP Swing% 2007-2013: 16.4%

Maicer Izturis has shown some improvement in holding back on BP this year, unfortunately he has declined precipitously in every other aspect of playing baseball.

Results when swinging at BP

Time Period

AVG

ISO

Whiff% per Swing

2013

.273

.091

21.7%

Career

.160

.057

31.8%

I somehow doubt that Izturis has become a wizard at hitting pitches out of the zone in 2013, this has got to be a small sample size thing because he swings at so few and as a result doesn't put many into play. However, his overall career numbers in this area are some of the best on the team.

#4 Edwin Encarnacion

Swing Rate by Zone in 2013:

BP Swing% 2013: 13.5%

BP Swing% 2007-2013: 15.8%

Edwin is aging like a fine wine and his plate discipline appears to be a big part of his improvement over the last two years.

Results when swinging at BP

Time Period

AVG.

ISO.

Whiff% per Swing

2013

.000

.000

44.6%

Career

.060

.000

50.7%

Edwin has yet to record an extra base hit on a "bad pitch" in the PitchFx era. I wouldn't have expected that.

#5 Jose Reyes

Swing Rate by Zone in 2013:

BP Swing% 2013: 14.3%

BP Swing% 2007-2013: 19.5%

Jose Reyes has not swung as often for pitches at the corners of the diagram as he has in the past. This is interesting given that his walk rate is barely above his career average. We are seeing him swing at pitches down off the plate with some regularity so his total plate discipline isn't flawless. It's hard to break this picture down too much given that Reyes is a switch hitter, although he takes the majority of his swings from the left side suggesting he might have a little bit of an issue chasing down and away.

Results when swinging at BP

Time Period

AVG.

ISO.

Whiff% per Swing

2013

.000

.000

42.1%

Career

.115

.014

39.2%


Reyes doesn't whiff as much as some other hitters on bad pitches but it's not like he does anything with them.

#6 Brett Lawrie

Swing Rate by Zone in 2013:

BP Swing% 2013: 18.4%

BP Swing% 2007-2013: 17.3%

Lawrie comes in right in the middle of the pack, perhaps a bit higher than expected. His ability to resist the temptation of the pitch low and outside stands out.

Results when swinging at BP

Time Period

AVG.

ISO.

Whiff% per Swing

2013

.000

.000

42.3%

Career

.029

.029

54.2%

Hitting the BP just isn't Lawrie's thing so far in his career, let's hope he doesn't try too hard to pick it up.

#7 Adam Lind

Swing Rate by Zone in 2013:

BP Swing% 2013: 20.3%

BP Swing% 2007-2013: 21.3%

I did a piece last week about Lind's declining approach this year and I think this would look a lot uglier since June or so.

Results when swinging at BP

Time Period

AVG.

ISO.

Whiff% per Swing

2013

.000

.000

62.5%

Career

.085

.016

49.1%

Nothing to see here.

#8 Colby Rasmus

Swing Rate by Zone in 2013:

BP Swing% 2013: 22.7%

BP Swing% 2007-2013: 22.9%

It seems pretty astounding to me that Rasmus has managed to hold off on 98.61% of pitches high and away. Unfortunately the overall picture isn't quite so pretty, with him have troubles laying off low pitches. To be fair to Colby that is where his power comes from.

Results when swinging at BP

Time Period

AVG.

ISO.

Whiff% per Swing

2013

.182

.000

55.1%

Career

.148

.020

57%

Rasmus has been better than some, but with his traditional heavy helping of whiffs.

T-#9 Emilio Bonifacio

Swing Rate by Zone in 2013:

BP Swing% 2013: 22.8%

BP Swing% 2007-2013: 17.4%

I knew there was a reason I hate watching Bonifacio hit with such a burning passion. It's especially infuriating to note that he once had some idea how to control the strike zone

Results when swinging at BP

Time Period

AVG.

ISO.

Whiff% per Swing

2013

.045

.000

54.1%

Career

.146

.031

48.8%

Some days it feels like he is hitting less than .146 with a .031 ISO now....

T-#9 Melky Cabrera

Swing Rate by Zone in 2013:

BP Swing% 2013: 22.8%

BP Swing% 2007-2013: 23.5%

There are no two ways about it, Melky Cabrera is an absolute hacker. This data merely confirms what Jays fans have been seeing this year.

Results when swinging at BP

Time Period

AVG.

ISO.

Whiff% per Swing

2013

.111

.037

36.5%

Career

.131

.093

32.4%

Melky's career ISO on BP is higher than his total ISO in 2013. Sometimes baseball makes you sad.

#11 J.P. Arencibia

Swing Rate by Zone in 2013:

BP Swing% 2013: 23.3%

BP Swing% 2007-2013: 23.9%

I bet you're kind of surprised J.P.'s name isn't the last one on the list. On the plus side this is a way in which Arencibia hasn't gotten worse in 2013! On a sour note the rate at which he is swinging at that low inside pitch is awful.

Results when swinging at BP

Time Period

AVG.

ISO.

Whiff% per Swing

2013

.188

.031

55.2%

Career

.118

.010

60.6%

J.P hasn't been as hopeless at hitting these pitches as some, but then again he's had a lot of practice.

#12 Rajai Davis

Swing Rate by Zone in 2013:

BP Swing% 2013: 29.8%

BP Swing% 2007-2013: 23.9%

Rajai Davis has never had much regard for the strike zone and this season is no exception. He is having more trouble with the low outside pitch than ever, not a good look for a hitter in his 30's.

Results when swinging at BP

Time Period

AVG.

ISO.

Whiff% per Swing

2013

.143

.000

47.2%

Career

.123

.016

53.9%

Rajai Davis is bound to slap some ugly hits on some ugly pitches but the ends definitely do not justify the means.

After examining every hitter of importance for the Jays, sorry Mark DeRosa, two things are clear. The first is that no one has any real success hitting what this article classifies as "bad pitches". The second is that some of the Blue Jays are swinging at these pitches far more than they should. Strike zone judgment is not an easy thing but when you swing for pitches out of the zone in two directions 20% of the time and whiff on around 50% of those swings you are giving away strikes and, as a result, outs.

I'm not trying to suggest there is an epidemic of poor plate discipline on this team (the Jays rank 9th in the league in BB%), but it is definitely an area where the team could stand to improve, especially at a couple of positions. Improving is easier said than done but it's possible. As much as I absolutely despise hearing commentator's ramble about the fundamentals of baseball, I think it would be hard not to consider taking bad pitches as something that might fall under that umbrella. That being said it's not everything either. Maicer Izturis is a player who scores well in terms of plate discipline and yet has been a remarkably ineffective player this year. There is more than one way to be a great in baseball, that's part of what makes baseball interesting. There is also more than one way to be gut-wrenchingly awful. The brand of awfulness that involves hacking at pitches well out of the zone is the one I find the most unwatchable. Unfortunately, that's a brand of awfulness that Blue Jays fans have been exposed to a fair amount this year. There are no long term solutions on the horizon, but I can think of a short term one. Bring back Kawasaki.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Bluebird Banter

You must be a member of Bluebird Banter to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Bluebird Banter. You should read them.

Join Bluebird Banter

You must be a member of Bluebird Banter to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Bluebird Banter. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9351_tracker