The Other Fifteen

Eighty-five percent of the f---in' world is working. The other fifteen come out here.


A look at plate discipline

Reader DeRoMyHero asked:

Is there any way to judge a "good walk rate" (a.k.a. "plate discipline)? After all, not all walks are equally good for hitters or bad for pitchers.

1. For Rickey Henderson or Tim Raines, a walk is almost always good. Even though both had some power (especially Henderson), they created more problems by just getting on base.

2. For Barry Bonds, a walk (particularly with RISP) is usually bad -- especially with Pedro Feliz behind him. Maybe he should have expanded his SZ a bit, trading a few more outs for more RBI potential. Was he selfish to guard his stats at the expense of the team, or would his performance have slipped too much?

3. For some aggressive hitters (Aramis Ramirez, Michael Young), trying to get them to draw more walks would diminish their overall effectiveness. They do so much damage with fastballs early in the count that a walk would be a consolation prize.

4. A cleanup hitter like Adam Dunn accomplishes less with a walk than a leadoff hitter. The guy behind him likely is not as good of a hitter, and it takes at least 4 singles to score Dunn from 1B. Would he do more damage by being more aggressive?

5. A #8 hitter has to adjust based on the situation, i.e., he must be capable of being patient or aggressive. I ask this because I have seen reviews of Tyler Colvin that say he "needs more plate discipline". If he can produce like Michael Young when he swings, who cares?

Conversely, the Rangers have a young DH named Jason Botts, who has made a living in AAA of taking pitchers 3-2, then hitting the cripple fastball. (He is Adam Dunn with more speed -- BB, K, HR.) The jury seems to be out on whether he can hit anything other than a fastball down the middle -- a requirement in the ML, especially as a DH.

Has anyone come up with a way to analyze good walk rates based on type of hitter or spot in the batting order?

Nothing quite like a simple question, right?

First, a quick aside. When it comes down to winning games, we really don't care where a player's value comes from, just so long as he provides that value. You can have an all-glove, no-hit shortstop and a stone-handed Silver Slugger at the position - so long as their overall value is equivalent there's no difference in value between them.

Where the how becomes valuable is in player development and forecasting. You worry about how a player creates his value when you want to try and figure out what value he'll provide in the future, and how you can maximize his future value.

Okay, now back to bidness. First, we need to see if the premise is true - are some walks more valuable than others? To figure that we need a tool to value walks in relation to other events on offense.

I've made no secret of my deep and abiding love for linear weights. Simply put, linear weights are simply the average expected run value of an event. But we know that the run expectancy value of a triple is very different depending on whether or not the bases are loaded or empty - the linear weight tables used in, say, wOBA or Batting Runs don't look at the base/out state information when determining value. But nothing stops us from doing so.

[If you want to get more deeply into these things, Win Probability Added is the stat for you. Suffice it to say that there is a sabermetric holy war over WPA that is well beyond the scope of this article.]

Let's ignore out state for a moment and just look at run values based on men on base, which is what we're talking about here - the question is distinctly asking about the difference between Runs and RBIs, essentially.

Baserunners 1B 2B 3B HR BB K Out
--- .29 .49 .68 1.00 .29 -.20 -.20
x-- .49 .97 1.36 1.74 .43 -.32 -.36
-x- .72 1.00 1.16 1.60 .23 -.39 -.34
--x .72 .86 1.00 1.51 .21 -.48 -.29
xx- .93 1.54 1.94 2.38 .56 -.52 -.48
x-x .88 .93 1.77 2.22 .38 -.61 -.46
-xx 1.17 1.46 1.62 2.07 .23 -.70 -.56
xxx 1.38 2.00 2.40 2.86 1.00 -.82 -.68

And, yes, the relative value of a walk compared to the other positive offensive events decreases in "RBI situations;" this is why a single is generally more valuable than a walk - a single can advance the runner, while the walk can't.

But a walk does still have positive run value, especially compared to the negative run value of the out. And here is the cold, hard truth:

72% of all balls put into play are turned into outs.

There are, of course, things you can do as a hitter to help a particular batted ball beat those odds - you can hit a line drive, which is much harder to field than a ground ball or a fly ball, or you could avoid putting the ball in play together, and just knock it out of the yard. Both of those require making solid contact with the ball. And, I'm sure it won't surprise you to hear that the further a ball is from the center of the strike zone, the harder it is to turn it into a hit. You do not do yourself any favors by swinging at pitchers pitches - just because it would be more valuable for Barry Bonds to hit a home run than take a walk, doesn't mean that he's going to have much success trying to hit curveballs aimed at his shoelaces.

This is why plate discipline is so important, and it's not just because of walks and OBP. Everyone, repeat after me:

OBP is not plate discipline.

OBP is not plate discipline.

OBP is not plate discipline.

And, just to add on:

Walks are not plate discipline.

Walks are not plate discipline.

Walks are not plate discipline.

Both of them correlate well with plate discipline and are crude proxies of plate discipline, but they are not plate discipline.

The two best measures of plate discipline are IsoD and Pitches per Plate Appearance. Pitches per plate appearance is a wonderful, oft-overlooked stat - shocking, since it's so dirt simple that even ESPN provides it. IsoD is just a fancy name for walks over plate appearances; essentially OBP without the hitting. Anyways, here's all Cubs with 100 at-bats or more, sorted by IsoD:

NAME AB BB/PA P/PA
Daryle Ward 110 0.165 3.64
Cliff Floyd 282 0.109 3.58
Derrek Lee 567 0.109 4.02
Mark DeRosa 502 0.101 3.96
Matt Murton 235 0.1 3.75
Jason Kendall 174 0.094 4.23
Mike Fontenot 234 0.085 3.93
Ryan Theriot 537 0.082 3.53
Aramis Ramirez 506 0.077 3.67
Michael Barrett 211 0.074 3.54
Felix Pie 177 0.072 3.73
Jacque Jones 453 0.069 3.64
Cesar Izturis 191 0.063 3.42
Angel Pagan 148 0.062 3.87
Alfonso Soriano 579 0.05 3.67

And here's the same table, sorted by pitches per plate appearance:

NAME AB BB/PA P/PA
Jason Kendall 174 0.094 4.23
Derrek Lee 567 0.109 4.02
Mark DeRosa 502 0.101 3.96
Mike Fontenot 234 0.085 3.93
Angel Pagan 148 0.062 3.87
Matt Murton 235 0.1 3.75
Felix Pie 177 0.072 3.73
Aramis Ramirez 506 0.077 3.67
Alfonso Soriano 579 0.05 3.67
Daryle Ward 110 0.165 3.64
Jacque Jones 453 0.069 3.64
Cliff Floyd 282 0.109 3.58
Michael Barrett 211 0.074 3.54
Ryan Theriot 537 0.082 3.53
Cesar Izturis 191 0.063 3.42

First off, just because it's something I'm dying to point out: Ryan Theriot? Not a very patient hitter. (In fact, he was the WORST starter on the team when it came to pitches per plate appearance. True story!)

But now, let me get over that and try to provide some analysis. Remember? Walks aren't plate discipline - or rather, they aren't all of plate discipline.

Plate discipline, simply defined, is only swinging at your pitches, not the pitcher's pitches. Remember: balls are harder to hit than strikes. So you want to do a good job of making pitchers throw you strikes, and recognizing which pitches are good to hit and which aren't.

I won't belabor the whole idea of "pitchers counts" and "hitters counts;" anything that you're likely to hear about from TV announcers hardly needs my help in becoming common knowledge. Suffice it to say - you get better results as a hitter if you learn to take bad pitches, work yourself into favorable counts, and make the pitcher throw you strikes. [If you're interested in looking at the specific dynamics of how counts effect a hitter, I'm happy to oblige, though.]

So when we say we want Colvin to develop more plate discipline, we do want him to walk more. But we want him to walk more as a byproduct of swinging at pitches he can hit and taking pitches he can't. Better plate discipline makes you a better hitter - it doesn't just mean walks, it means more hits and more hits for extra bases.

Labels: ,

8 Responses to “A look at plate discipline”

  1. # Anonymous Maddog

    You mean Ryan Theriot isn't a patient hitter? I never would have guessed that seeing as he led the team in first pitch outs in 2007 and all.  

  2. # Blogger Colin Wyers

    Why, it's almost as if one's own eyes can decieve them! If only we had some sort of meticulous records of baseball events that we could aggregate and use to provide facts about our players!  

  3. # Anonymous Maddog

    If only! I know I look forward to the day when baseball keeps better records of the events within a game.  

  4. # Anonymous DeRoMyHero

    Thanks for the insight, Colin.

    BTW, on Theriot...

    He reminds me of Pierre. He was very patient when he first came up, but pitchers realized that he can't hit a ball over a shallow RF's head; they proceeded to feed him hittable first-pitch fastballs on the outer half knowing that he would hurt them more by walking than making contact. I need to look at his P/PA by month to confirm that -- that's just what I felt like watching him. He wasn't swinging at bad pitches; it's just that the only thing he can do with a fastball on the outer half is hit a pop fly to the RF or a grounder to 2B.

    Batting order does have something to do with walk rate for disciplined hitters, though. DeRo is a clone of Michael Young at the plate -- they both come from the Rudy Jaramillo school of "going to work on the first good fastball you see". The difference was that Young was hitting in front of Texeira (i.e., fastball heaven) and DeRo was hitting in front of Izturis, Hill, and Kendall (i.e., he was fed a lot of slop). That's why DeRo's walk rate was so much higher than his career rate. I don't think he saw a first-pitch fastball all season. OTOH, Young gets 200 hits every year, but doesn't walk much.  

  5. # Blogger Jonathan

    I tried to get at the whole real-discipline thing by breaking it down pitch by pitch. (There's a link to a full list for the league at the end). It's still not perfect, but I like the % of pitches that a "correct" decision to swing or not was made. I think % of balls swung at has been done a few times, but that can be misleading too because some guys just don't swing very often, period. Is that really discipline?  

  6. # Blogger Jonathan

    Err...and by balls I mean "balls out of the strike zone".  

  7. # Blogger Colin Wyers

    Jonathan: Interesting. A lot of fun stuff can be done with Pitch f/x data that really opens up a lot of these conversations.

    It really does depend on how specific you want to get with this sort of analysis - depending on a player's ability to make contact with outside pitches and his expected "true" BABIP, it could be correct to swing at more or fewer pitches overall.  

  8. # Blogger Jonathan

    Exactly...some guys might be right to swing at many more pitches OOZ (assuming they're borderline) because it doesn't hurt them anywhere near as much. I was trying to figure out who's the best "garbage picker" in the league by comparing their BABIP OOZ (full list here) to their normal averages, but it gets cloudy because the sample sizes are kind of small.

    At least we can get a handle on the different types of hitters though- like Troy Glaus, who is tops in the league in not swinging at balls, and has to be because he's towards the bottom when he does swing at them (if you've ever seen his swing that's not particularly surprising).  

Post a Comment

Links to this post

Create a Link