FanPost

Who is the best at swinging at pitches in the strike zone* on the Giants, and does it matter?

*Name change requested by owlcroft

It can be argued that the difference between baseball batters and other people is that, while baseball players aren't necessarily as athletic (see Fielder, Prince and Sandoval, Pablo), they have a skill very few other people have. It takes a 90 MPH fastball slightly less than half a second to cross home plate, and in this time, a batter must decide if the small white ball is in a completely arbitrary, rather small zone and then, if so, to swing the bat quickly enough to generate some force on the ball. This is perhaps the second most amazing thing about baseball (the first is all of pitching, which should not medically be possible).

Baseball players make their careers out of this skill, and all of them are among the best in the world at it. However, as we can see when we watch Buster Posey carefully choosing which pitch to blast out of the park versus Melky Cabrera swinging at a pitch that hits him, some baseball players are better than other baseball players at this skill. This statistical study attempts to find out who is the best at this skill on the Giants, and what it actually means about how good they are at the baseballing.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Apart from two weeks in pre-calculus and a little bit in AP Bio, I have never learned statistics in school. All I know about statistics, I have read online. Therefore, I am sorry if my statistics suck, or are actually meaningless, or whatever.

One of my favorite things about advanced statistics sites like Fangraphs and Baseball Reference is the pitch discipline data. You can see what percent of pitches a hitter swings at, both in the zone and out of the zone. However, this is not a great statistic for a batting eye; a hitter who doesn't swing at many pitches outside the zone but also inside the zone simply is more patient. What we're looking for is the highest ratio of swings at pitches inside the strike zone.

Using raw pitch data from BB-Ref, we can find out using simple arithmetic how many pitches a batter has seen both in and out of the strike zone. Then, we can multiply these values by their o-swing% (out of the zone) and their z-swing% (in the zone) to find out how many pitches in and out of the zone they have swung at, total. Comparing the values we get from this, we can find the percentage of a batter's swings that come inside the strike zone. Using excel, I did this for the Giants, with a cutoff of 100 plate appearances The results are as such (ordered by % of swings in K zone):

Player

O-Swing%

Z-Swing%

Pitches

% In Zone

Strikes

Balls

Swings

Swings in K zone

1

Marco Scutaro

0.222

0.541

1904

0.511

973

931

733

71.76%

2

Gregor Blanco

0.245

0.634

1396

0.458

639

757

590

68.64%

3

Ryan Theriot

0.272

0.591

1319

0.489

645

674

564

67.55%

4

Buster Posey

0.267

0.617

1832

0.468

857

975

789

67.05%

5

Brandon Belt

0.311

0.81

1248

0.391

488

760

631

62.60%

6

Angel Pagan

0.294

0.623

1744

0.434

757

987

762

61.94%

7

Emmanuel Burriss

0.338

0.616

492

0.452

222

270

228

60.09%

8

Brandon Crawford

0.36

0.706

1389

0.432

600

789

708

59.89%

9

Hunter Pence

0.335

0.687

1939

0.42

814

1125

936

59.72%

10

Joaquin Arias

0.377

0.631

905

0.453

410

495

446

58.07%

11

Nate Schierholtz

0.361

0.727

779

0.398

310

469

394

57.11%

12

Hector Sanchez

0.446

0.781

563

0.429

242

321

332

56.93%

13

Melky Cabrera

0.347

0.668

1771

0.404

715

1056

844

56.64%

14

Brett Pill

0.421

0.671

381

0.42

160

221

200

53.50%

15

Pablo Sandoval

0.471

0.816

968

0.33

319

649

566

45.94%

Some thoughts:

  • Buster Posey is awesome
  • Scutaro and Theriot are both higher than expected. Both were bolstered because they don't swing at pitches outside the strike zone. I expected Scutaro to show that (though not to the extent that he clearly leads the team), but not Theriot; he seems like more of a hacker, which apparently is not actually the truth.
  • 5th on the team isn't bad, but I expected Brandon Belt to be a bit higher. Belt swings at 31% of pitches outside the zone, which is good but not great. Why does he draw so many walks? It might have something to do with the fact that only 39% of pitches he actually sees are in the strike zone, second on the team only to Pablo Sandoval (we'll get to him). When he does get a pitch in the strike zone, though, he swings at it: His 81% Z-Swing% is second on the team, and apart from Hector Sanchez's 78% there's no one particularly close (first, as you may have guessed, is Pablo Sandoval). So much for being passive.
  • I don't get Pablo Sandoval. While, as we will get into soon, a good eye does not necessarily correlate to a good player, how Sandoval manages to be successful with his approach is beyond me. Obviously, his 45.94% seems low comparatively without even adding context. Adding context? Pablo Sandoval has swung at more pitches outside the strike zone than inside the strike zone. And he has a 138 OPS+. And he's done this throughout his career. Pitchers avoid the zone like the plague vs Pablo; only 33% of pitches he sees are in the zone. I'm thinking that's a few too many.

Obviously, having a good eye is a useful skill for a player. But how useful? Does it actually correlate to good hitting? Let's run some regressions and find out! Keep in mind, though, that this is only a 15 player sample, so some results may be wonky, one in particular. If I used the entire league and multiple seasons, I would get better results, but I don't hate myself nearly enough to do that.

Batting Eye vs OBP

Eyeobp_medium

While it might be expected that batting eye would have a strong correlation to OBP, it actually has a pretty weak one. This is probably because batting average factors heavily into OBP, and while batting eye and average might be slightly correlated, it isn't strong. While the link to OBP isn't that strong, though...

Batting Eye vs BB%

Eyebbpercent_medium

BB% has a better correlation with batting eye, as expected. Other factors play a part here, as well. In particular, how many pitches are thrown in the strike zone is important, which is why Sandoval is above the line. However, K/BB should have a very strong correlation...

Batting Eye vs K/BB

Eyekbb_medium

Huh. That's not as high as expected. The problem here, though, is one of the sample - it's small enough that one outlier is ruining the data. In this case, the outlier is Hector Sanchez, who is simply so bad at taking walks and not striking out that he makes everyone else look great by comparison. Let's remove Hacktor:

Eyekbbminushector_medium

That correlation is much more what we expected. As I said, if we ran this with the entire league over multiple seasons, the data would mean a lot more, but I just care about the Giants today.

Batting Eye vs LD%

Eyeld_medium

Woah! That's much higher than I expected. Batting eye actually seems to have a strong correlation to line drive %. It makes sense if you think about it - if hitters are more selective, they are more likely to make more solid contact.

Batting Eye vs P/PA

Eyeppa_medium

As expected - players with a better eye will be able to make pitchers throw more pitches in every plate appearance. No surprises here.

Batting Eye vs OPS+

Eyeopsplus_medium

And here's the wonky one. On the San Francisco Giants, there is a negative correlation between batting eye and OPS. That is, having a better eye makes you a worse hitter, which obviously makes no sense. Again, the issue here is of sample; These results would not hold if we tested the entire league. There are obviously going to be outliers in the entire league - it just so happens that the Giants have two of them, Melky Cabrera and Pablo Sandoval.

What does this all mean? Perhaps something. Perhaps nothing. Most likely something in the middle of something and nothing. Anyway, it is pretty interesting to look at something we argue about all the time in a stat-based light.

This FanPost is reader-generated, and it does not necessarily reflect the views of McCovey Chronicles. If the author uses filler to achieve the minimum word requirement, a moderator may edit the FanPost for his or her own amusement.

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