Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Swing Frequencies of the Pirates Offense

The 2013 season is 19 games old for the Pittsburgh Pirates; yet hot or cold starts are still nothing more than that in most cases due to the small sample size of the season. However, a hitter’s swing rate is something that tends to begin to stabilize early on in the season (at around 50 plate appearances) and the Bucs have eight hitters that can be examined using this statistic.

I have also added each player’s swinging strike percentage as this statistic would be the next to stabilize (at around 100 plate appearances); it’s also a good reference point for the swing percentage – as if a player is swinging more often may indicate whether the player is controlling that aggression. Conversely, if a player is swinging at fewer pitches, a reduced whiff frequency can highlight selectivity.

Looking at players that are swinging on a more regular basis than 2012, the Pirates have three hitters with more than 50 plate appearances that would fall into this category. While Garrett Jones and Starling Marte have seen a slight swing increase, Pedro Alvarez has seen a large increase:

Season
Player
Swing%
SwStr%
2012
Garrett Jones
51.3%
11.7%
2013
Garrett Jones
52.2%
13.5%
2012
Pedro Alvarez
48.0%
13.6%
2013
Pedro Alvarez
53.2%
18.9%
2012
Starling Marte
46.1%
12.5%
2013
Starling Marte
47.1%
11.2%

When I looked at Alvarez last week his swing percentage stood at 50.8%, whiffing on 19.3% of swings; so while he swung more often over the weekend, he at least made more contact (hitting a pair of home runs in the process). 

Jones is continuing his more aggressive approach at the plate this season (2012 was the first season where his Swing% surpassed the 50% mark); however he’s also missing more often. The difference is that he is currently swinging and missing more often outside of the zone, as his O-Contact% has dropped from 66.7% to 52.6% - swinging at some very bad pitches below the zone: 


One of Jones’ big misses at the plate was highlighted by FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan, swinging at a pitch that was located 39.7 inches from the center of the zone: 


Of the eight hitters that are swinging on a less frequent basis than in 2012, the difference for Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker has been very small (although McCutchen is making more contact). Clint Barmes is also currently swinging, as well as whiffing, less often, however it hasn’t stopped him from striking out more than he did last year (24.1 K%). Nonetheless, two of the Pirates’ hottest hitters are also part of this group:

Season
Player
Swing%
SwStr%
2012
Andrew McCutchen
46.2%
9.8%
2013
Andrew McCutchen
46.0%
9.0%
2012
Clint Barmes
51.7%
10.5%
2013
Clint Barmes
49.7%
9.4%
2012
Neil Walker
46.0%
8.1%
2013
Neil Walker
45.4%
8.3%
2012
41.6%
8.3%
2013
Russell Martin
35.6%
3.8%
2012
45.8%
9.4%
2013
Travis Snider
41.7%
6.6%

I examined Russell Martin last week and noted how he had been incredibly selective at the plate. He has since turned a batting line of .103/.205/.154 into .241/.349/.426 with a great series against the Braves, increasing his wOBA 167 points to .344. While he’s not going to continue on the torrid pace that he’s been on over the last week (hitting .526/.609/.947), it should also be noted that Martin’s batting average on balls in play is still a below average .234 – so his overall line does have room for improvement, especially if he maintains his current level of plate discipline

Travis Snider has been the Pirates’ best hitter on the season overall (.392 wOBA) and a doubles machine. While Martin was sure to see natural regression toward the mean to aid in his improvement, Snider’s .429 BABIP will be unsustainable and will see regression in this department. Nonetheless, not only is he swinging at a lower regularity between last season and this year, his 2012 Swing% was also below his career 49.3% mark. Snider’s whiff frequency is showing a similar trend, almost cut in half from his career 12.0 SwStr%. Like Martin, Snider has only swung at a small number of bad pitches, otherwise showing very strong plate discipline: 


Both of Snider’s swing% and swinging strike percentage will be worth monitoring going forward as it could signify a huge difference in Snider’s approach at the plate – especially if Snider starts to see more at-bats against left-handed pitching (only three plate appearances so far), rather than remaining in the right field platoon.

The season is still early and the Pirates have a 10-9 record and a lot will change – even over the next week. Nonetheless, at this point of the season contributions from all players will now begin to be questioned as to whether they are sustainable going forward as the sample size continues to grow.

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