Wednesday, June 19, 2013

LINE DRIVES: v3.0--Impatiently Patient

Felipe M

If it seems that I put too much onus on hitters with great plate approach and patience when I write my fantasy baseball advice columns, it's because I'm in a head-to-head league where a player's hitting slump can prove to be more costly than in roto leagues.  For example:

  • Most head-to-head leagues deduct points for hitters' strikeouts
  • Hard to keep up with your opponents when a batter is posting a big fat ZERO for that particular week.
  • When a player is in the middle of a hitting slump, that hitter must fall back on his ability to get on-base in order to not hurt your fantasy baseball team. There are other ways to score points besides (extra) base-hits.
But most importantly, for me, it's easier to gauge a player getting out of his slump soon by analyzing a particular player's walks and strikeouts.  Is a hitter just swinging at every pitch or is he patiently waiting for the right pitch to hit?  Is he finding ways to get on base to keep himself "in the game?" Or is that player wasting outs and then "stewing" about it in the dugout?  Is that player willing to walk his way out of a slump or is that player striking out at an alarming rate (i.e. B.J. Upton)?

Where does fit in with roto-leaguers?  Well, if a hitter is willing to "wait for his pitch," instead of being overly aggressive, then that hitter will reward your team with a higher batting average, more homeruns, and overall more production for the counting stats that your team needs to stack.

The following is a unique list of ballplayers:
  • Names highlighted in blue are hitters that have seen, on average, the most pitches per plate appearances.  Twelve names are listed because three players tied for 10th place. 
  • Names highlighted in red are the top 10 hitters in terms of swinging percentage in the league.  
  • The table is sorted by highest to lowest on-base%.  
  • All stats are as of Monday, June 17, 2013.


PATIENCE VS IMPATIENCE
Player
P/PA
Swing%
BB%
SO%
Avg
OBP
SLG
BABIP
Shin-Soo Choo
4.24
39%
15.1%
20.4%
0.275
0.425
0.471
0.335
Joe Mauer
4.24
38%
12.9%
19.2%
0.321
0.409
0.474
0.394
Paul Goldschmidt
4.23
42%
11.6%
20.9%
0.305
0.386
0.556
0.344
Carlos Santana
4.37
38%
14.0%
18.9%
0.283
0.385
0.496
0.323
Freddie Freeman
3.82
53%
7.4%
18.9%
0.327
0.383
0.489
0.388
Carlos Gomez
3.76
56%
4.1%
21.5%
0.317
0.356
0.587
0.370
Seth Smith
4.23
43%
10.2%
24.7%
0.273
0.353
0.440
0.352
Josh Willingham
4.30
37%
13.2%
26.1%
0.211
0.352
0.411
0.256
Mike Napoli
4.52
42%
10.0%
33.3%
0.262
0.347
0.467
0.385
Justin Morneau
3.72
53%
7.1%
16.1%
0.288
0.341
0.379
0.335
Jason Kipnis
4.24
39%
10.1%
23.9%
0.265
0.340
0.457
0.323
Torii Hunter
3.70
55%
5.0%
16.8%
0.292
0.339
0.405
0.346
Pablo Sandoval
3.42
59%
5.0%
10.7%
0.289
0.326
0.427
0.294
Adam Jones
3.63
58%
2.6%
19.2%
0.302
0.326
0.513
0.338
Alejandro De Aza
4.23
44%
6.8%
26.0%
0.268
0.314
0.421
0.339
Mark Reynolds
4.29
46%
9.8%
30.5%
0.234
0.312
0.443
0.287
Stephen Drew
4.25
40%
11.7%
27.4%
0.215
0.305
0.374
0.282
Alexei Ramirez
3.37
55%
3.6%
13.3%
0.264
0.295
0.326
0.302
Alfonso Soriano
3.67
56%
3.4%
22.7%
0.253
0.285
0.398
0.304
Adam Dunn
4.36
43%
11.1%
31.8%
0.184
0.280
0.447
0.186
Josh Hamilton
3.64
56%
6.5%
24.4%
0.217
0.273
0.395
0.253
Yuniesky Betancourt
3.31
56%
3.4%
15.8%
0.215
0.243
0.365
0.222

Immediately, you will not only notice that 3 out of the 4 players with the highest on-base% on this list also have a swing% of less than 40% (Josh Willingham has the lowest swing% at 37%), but also have Walk% above 11%.  You will also notice that they don't go over 21% in terms of their StrikeOut% (SO%).  The league average is currently at 20%.  When you hear about certain players that walk as much as they strikeout, they're referring to these players. Shin-Soo Choo personifies that ideal.  

Ranking at #5 and #6 on this table are two players that are highlighted in red:
  • While Freddie Freeman has an aggressive approach at the plate (which limits his walks), he doesn't strikeout that much.  He puts enough contact on the ball where strikeouts are not a concern for him.  His BABIP is extremely high (ranked #2 on this table), but it has to be because of the lack of walks and better than anticipated contact, allowing him to produce the slash line he currently owns at the moment (.327/.383/.489).  There is a lot of luck involved in Freeman's current production, but because he is able to keep his strikeouts in check, he gives himself an opportunity to come up with positive results.
  • On the other hand, Carlos Gomez, I believe, might be more of an illusion than a reality.  Where this .943 OPS comes from is what we're trying to figure out, but one this is for sure--it certainly is a career high for the free-swinging, but speedy Gomez.  He showed some power last season so perhaps the 19 homers in 2012 were part of some unfulfilled potential that finally came into fruition.  But his poor approach at the plate has resulted in only one season where his on-base% was over .300 (.305 in 2012).  Suddenly it's at .356!  Suddenly, he can utilize that speed (currently has 13 stolen bases) and has been one of the best outfielders in the league this season.  But do we put this much faith on an incredibly impatient hitter?  There are signs that point to trouble:
    • The extremely low walk rate is nearly as twice as low as the league average.
    • He's posting all of these big numbers despite having an SO% of 21.5%--Gomez strikes out 5 times as much as he walks!
    • He owns the 4th highest BABIP on this table--.370
While I'm comfortable in proclaiming that Freeman might be due for a slight regression, Gomez is due for a freefall without a parachute.  One advantage that Gomez has is that he does have great speed so he can still get on base by running out grounders, double-plays, and bunting his way on base.  But I just can't see Gomez sustaining this much success with very little skill at the plate.  

Seth Smith is still struggling against left-handed pitching, but has an .844 OPS against right-handed pitchers.  Smith's walk and strikeout numbers are somewhat skewed by his struggles against southpaws, but they're still steady enough to trust his batting eye.  The one concern is a .352 BABIP that may have helped boost his overall numbers.  Nevertheless, when he's facing right-handed pitching, Smith is almost guaranteed to have a good game.  

Willingham has the 3rd highest Walk% on the list and it has been the one saving grace to his frustrating season so far.  His low batting average is a result of a low BABIP of .256 and his Slugging% is the lowest it's been since 2005 (when he lost his rookie status), despite hitting 10 homeruns this season.  Nonetheless, because he is patient at the plate, the high SO% (#5 on this list of players) has not inversely affected his on-base%.  

While we're at it, let's look at this table from a high strikeout% perspective:  

PATIENCE VS IMPATIENCE
Player
P/PA
Swing%
BB%
SO%
Avg
OBP
SLG
BABIP
Mike Napoli
4.52
42%
10.0%
33.3%
0.262
0.347
0.467
0.385
Adam Dunn
4.36
43%
11.1%
31.8%
0.184
0.280
0.447
0.186
Mark Reynolds
4.29
46%
9.8%
30.5%
0.234
0.312
0.443
0.287
Stephen Drew
4.25
40%
11.7%
27.4%
0.215
0.305
0.374
0.282
Josh Willingham
4.30
37%
13.2%
26.1%
0.211
0.352
0.411
0.256
Alejandro De Aza
4.23
44%
6.8%
26.0%
0.268
0.314
0.421
0.339
Seth Smith
4.23
43%
10.2%
24.7%
0.273
0.353
0.440
0.352
Josh Hamilton
3.64
56%
6.5%
24.4%
0.217
0.273
0.395
0.253
Jason Kipnis
4.24
39%
10.1%
23.9%
0.265
0.340
0.457
0.323
Alfonso Soriano
3.67
56%
3.4%
22.7%
0.253
0.285
0.398
0.304
We see a lot of familiar faces on this list, but we also see a lot of blue.  You're probably thinking to yourself, "I thought more patience meant better results?"  Well, it does.  But it also means that since these hitters are seeing more pitches, that means they get deeper into counts, meaning they increase their chances of either taking a walk or striking out in a plate appearance.  However, not only are 60% of these hitters' walk% are above 10% (with Mark Reynolds close to joining that club with a 9.8% Walk%), but these 10 hitters average more homeruns than the next 10 hitters on the list (9.6 vs 8.8).  So even though these players limit themselves with the possible outcomes of their plate appearances (walk or strikeouts), but they also have the power to drive the ball out of the park, adding the third possible outcome to their plate appearance--the homerun!  The "all or nothing" slugger, if you will.

Unfortunately, half of these players' BABIP are lower than average (Adam Dunn's BABIP of .186 is a league worst, perhaps making him the unluckiest player in the Majors).  These 10 hitters also own a minute, group batting average of .238.  So even though these players know how to work a count and take their walks, the problem with a lot of these "all-or-nothing" batters is that they're not taking enough walks and are striking out too much.  For the guys wearing blue tags on their names, it might be that they could be a bit too patient and perhaps need to be more aggressive at the plate.  

A quick rundown:
  • Mike Napoli needed a high BABIP of .385 just to be able to hit .262 on the year.  He's due for a slump.
  • It can't get any worse for Dunn as his BB/K is similar to Napoli's and his HR% is double that of Napoli's as well.  We seem to be saying this every season that Dunn has been wearing a Chicago White Sox uniform, but he can only go up from here.  
  • Reynolds, like Dunn, has a similar approach to Napoli and a higher HR% as well, but none of the gaudy slash line that Napoli possesses.  Reynolds current BABIP of .287 might mean that Reynolds has room for slight improvement.  
  • Stephen Drew has probably seen better days.
  • Alejandro De Aza has been a major disappointment this season.  The pop in his bat is nice, but his mediocre slash line comes at the heels of a .339 BABIP.  De Aza is a head-scratcher because he does see a lot of pitches and his swing% is kept in check.  Despite the patient approach, De Aza still doesn't take enough walks and strikes out too much.  De Aza is a player that highly depends on making good contact with the ball (career BABIP of .341) and relies on his speed on the basepaths.  The SO% of 26% is also a career high for De Aza.  Add it all up and you're left with a very ordinary player.
  • Josh Hamilton's struggles are well-chronicled (didn't realize that eye color was a tangible attribute that needed to be tracked when analyzing player performance).  Hamilton's struggles can be summed up fairly easy: not enough walks, too many strikeouts, and not enough good contact with the ball.  
  • Jason Kipnis' approach has led to some success despite the low BB/K.  The good slash line might be a product of a .323 BABIP.  If Kipnis can cut back on the strikeouts, he might be able to prevent a slump from prolonging for too long.  Otherwise, I believe he's due for a dip in production.
  • Alfonso Soriano has been mentioned as someone that might help roto-leaguers who are looking for a cheap source of homeruns and stolen bases.  If you can stomach his awful approach at the plate, he can still be that 15/15 guy, otherwise don't expect much of anything else.  The counting stats are more of a direct result to consistent playing time more than skill.  
Finally, we take a look at the BABIP leader on the first data table, Joe Mauer.  We have been hyping up Mauer since February.  He posseses an OPS of .883 despite having a worse HR% than Mike Napoli (2.1% vs Napoli's 3.2%).  Both players have high BABIPs, but Mauer has been drawing more walks and can control his strikeouts.  But isn't Mauer due for some regression?  Maybe, but Mauer has posted a BABIP of .300+ since his rookie year.  Plus if anybody can sustain this kind of hitting for the remainder of the season, it would be Mauer who has proven to be one of the best hitting talents in the Majors.  But isn't a high BABIP an indicator of luck rather than skill? Yes, but when you're talking about Mauer who has the hitting skills and great plate approach, all you can do is chalk this one up to Mauer finding ways to create his own luck.  

In conclusion, we've learned that the patient approach is indeed the best approach at the plate.  Free-swinging players (i.e. Pablo Sandoval and Adam Jones) can still be productive as long as they can continue to deliver good contact with the ball and, most importantly of all, limit their strikeouts.  Conversely, we also found out that there is such a thing as being too patient as players that fall into this category (Adam Dunn, Mark Reynolds, etc.), limit the possible outcomes of a plate appearance by taking going deep into counts as they look for the perfect pitch to drive the ball far ("all-or-nothing" slugger).  

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