Which Yankees really had the best batting eye?

Did the Yanks make a mistake by passing on Reed Johnson?
Managerial changes in Tampa & Charleston

Since their rise from the depths of the American League in the mid-90s, the Yankees have always held a reputation as a patient team that can wear down opposing starting pitchers. The team consistently ranks near the top of the league in walks, finishing first in 2009. Patience has many effects, among them putting men on base for future hitters and getting into the opposing bullpen quickly. These effects have helped the Yankees win quite a few games over the past decade and a half.

Laying off pitches in and of itself, however, isn’t necessarily a good trait. Some players simply take pitches, regardless of where they cross the plate. That can be a good thing, but it doesn’t signify discipline. What we want is the number of pitches a player swings at outside the strike zone. Furthermore, we want to see how this compares to his swing percentage inside the zone, to see if he’s simply laying off pitches, or just laying off the ones outside the zone.

Here’s the list, taken from FanGraphs. O-Swing% is the percentage of pitches swung at outside the zone, Z-Swing% is the percentage inside the zone, Swing% is the overall percentage of pitches swung at, and Zone% is the percentage of pitches the player saw inside the strike zone. The Ratio number, which is how I sorted the list, is the out-of-zone percentage divided by the in-zone percentage. The lower the better, since we want the least out of zone swinging to the most in-zone swinging.

While Brett Gardner swung at the lowest percentage of pitches outside the zone, he also swung at the fewest pitches inside the zone. Since I wanted to correct for players who simply don’t swing — his 34.1 overall swing percentage was the lowest on the team — Gardner falls a bit, though he’s still in the middle of the pack. Jorge Posada, it appears, has the best combination of swinging at pitches inside the zone and laying off pitches outside the zone.

Just for fun, and because it might be more telling, here’s the same table, except the ratio is out-of-zone swings to overall swing percentage. It comes out much the same, though with a few changes.

Now, for the fun part. Anyone have any suggestions on how to better manipulate this data? This is a pretty rudimentary study, and it pales in comparison to what Jeff Zimmerman is studying. Consider this a jumping off point. Comments? Suggestions? Let’s talk about this.

Did the Yanks make a mistake by passing on Reed Johnson?
Managerial changes in Tampa & Charleston
  • NextYankeeDynasty

    very interesting stuff and thats for taking the time to pull this together….two things that jump out to me is Brett Gardner is being too selective, he needs to be more aggressive this season….

    And Cano, its frustrating to see that he swings at so many pitches out of the zone, he could be a .333 hitter every year if he learned to lay off more pitches…..

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      What I want to find, and what I think I’ll have a much harder time finding, is Cano’s numbers on those pitches out of the zone. I can take it to the level of his contact percentage on those pitches, but I want to know what happens to the balls once he does make contact.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

        We’ve all long suspected that Cano’s great contact ability is a double edged sword (i.e., he makes contact on pitches that he should either take or not hit at all, resulting in balls put into play non-authoritatively)… It would be nice to see that quantified numerically, though.

        • A.D.

          Yeah, the gift/curse of being able to get the bat on almost anything.

      • http://www.fackyouk.blogspot.com Matt @ Fack Youk

        If only you had the Pro version of the Bloomberg software…

    • Bo

      gardners not selective. he just cant really hit.

      No pitcher is going to walk him. Why bother when he cant hit for power?

      • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

        Evidence for this is…?

        • whozat

          that he’s always had a high strikeout rate as well as a high walk rate and does not hit for power, at all levels. That suggested that he was just taking lots of pitches in the minors, a conclusion that is borne out by his first big-league season.

          Do we know for sure that this is what he’s doing? No, but his statement that he needs to be more aggressive makes it likely that our conclusion is correct. I expect pitchers to start throwing him even more pitches in the zone. If he doesn’t change his approach, or if changing his approach just results in more swinging K’s and weakly hit balls…he’ll be useless at the plate. Hence, Randy Winn :-)

          • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

            Does he need to be more aggressive? Yes.

            Do we know that he can’t hit? No. There is far too little evidence for that. In fact, the evidence that we DO have doesn’t bear that out.

            • whozat

              Ignore the boversimplification. Is anything that I said untrue?

              The evidence we have absolutely bears out the point that I made: Brett Gardner’s approach is to take lots of pitches, and he cannot hit for power. There’s no evidence that his eye is particularly discerning, or that he has good contact skills. Not really evidence that he’s BAD at those things, just not really evidence at all.

              It is absolutely possible that Brett has a good eye and that being more aggressive will mean that he increases the ZSwing/OSwing ratio as he increases Swing%. It is also absolutely possible that it goes the other way, because he can’t really tell the difference. It’s also possible that he doesn’t change much (because it’s tough to develop a new approach) and pitcher pound the zone even more, leading to more backwards K’s

          • JPR

            He radically changed his swing last year and ceased to make a step. He was moving his head too much as the pitches were at thier closest to him which is bad. I think if he can reincorporate his step into his swing without the head movement he will have more power in his swing…maybe Long has that as a goal? As much as the sample says nothing how do we know if he can hit or not? It is still too small.

    • JPR

      The crazy part about Cano is his hit chart is usually pink not white or red or blue because he is a free swinger and gets hits all over the zone.This is why he is a career .306 hitter….Dustin Pedroia’s is .307…….Cano gets a bad rap his defense is smooth and he is surrounded by A Rod Jeter and Tex …which makes him look like a slacker but he actually a smooth dude who needs more confidance in the clutch. These stats dont really show that. Actually, there are not many free swinger type hitters out there…

    • Yazman

      Joseph, great follow up to your previous Gardner post.

      This shows he does have a good eye, AND he needs to get better hitting pitches in the zone. I think he will.

      As suggested by the zone% (+ his speed + lack of power), he should expect lots of fat pitches to drive in the gaps or slap for singles.

      Doing so is his #1 challenge this year.

  • JGS

    Only thing I can think of is breaking it down by the count. Most guys will be swinging at more pitches out of the zone with two strikes and most will simply look at a pitch down the middle on 3-0

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      I’m pretty sure David Appelman from FanGraphs was talking about adding count-based information this year. That would be so, so nice.

  • http://twitter.com/tafkasic the artist formerly known as (sic)

    Instinctively, I would think that a low O-Swing% would correlate with a low K rate. The less bad pitches you swing at, the less likely you are to strike out. But that doesn’t seem to be the case w/ Swisher, or with Mike Cameron (who had an O-Swing% of 17.4 in 2009. I dont have the numbers in Excel, but if someone did they could run a correlation statistic on O-Swing% and K rate and see if there’s anything there.

    Also, it does seem like a low O-Swing% correlates with a high OBP, although Cameron is an outlier there as well.


    • http://twitter.com/tafkasic the artist formerly known as (sic)

      It’s possible that Swisher has such a discerning eye that he’s willing to take pitches for Strike 3 that he thinks are balls. An interesting wrinkle to the O-Swing% vs. K rate correlation would be to break out K rate by Ks swinging and Ks looking.

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

        I remember a story about Giambi always checking the video when he got punched out on a borderline strike 3, and him usually being right. I’m sure there’s a percentage of times that happens to disciplined hitters, but I’m not sure if it’s statistically significant enough to make a difference in an analysis.

        • http://twitter.com/tafkasic the artist formerly known as (sic)

          Makes sense. The more I think about it, I’m more concerned with examining how a high or low OSwing% translates into positive or negative outcomes for the club (i.e a high OBP). Eyeballing the OSwing% leaderboard, it seems like there’s a pretty significant correlation.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

        Spinning it forward, I’m reminded of the peak-ages post here earlier (can’t remember who wrote it or what it was titled) that said that an average player’s peak HR/SLG years are in the late 20s but peak BB years are in the early 30s.

        It’s possible that the reason Swisher takes so many called Strike 3s are not simply that he thinks they’re balls, but that they ARE balls but he doesn’t have the name recognition/cache/status to get said call from the umpires. As he adds more years in the league and the reputation of his batting eye increases, he may get more favorable calls from umpires.

        (Yet another reason umpiring sucks, but I digest.)

        • http://twitter.com/tafkasic the artist formerly known as (sic)

          This is where some integrated Pitch Fx data would be so choice. i.e. how many times did Swisher strike out looking on balls that were out of the zone? And you could track it and plot it against other high-OBP guys early in their career vs. late in their career. i.e. did Giambi’s K rate on balls out of the zone decrease as he got older?

    • Thomas

      For O-Swing % vs. K %, you get a correlation coefficient of -0.197.

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

        Have I mentioned that you guys rock?

      • Thomas


        For K % vs O-Swing %, it is r = -0.197

        For OBP vs. O Swing %, it is r = -0.484.

        • http://twitter.com/tafkasic the artist formerly known as (sic)

          Awesome. Nicely done. Makes sense too.

  • Hughesus Christo

    Goddamn Melky

    • Bo

      All his game winning hits say hello.

      • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

        Jeter had no walkoff hits. Melky had three. Who do you want?

        • JGS

          four if you count the one in Game 2 of the ALCS

          • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

            Walkoff error.

          • http://i.cdn.turner.com/si/multimedia/photo_gallery/0902/mlb.alex.rodriguez.through.the.years/images/1993.alex-rodriguez.jpg Drew

            Heh.. If people can’t get over Melky’s poor plate discipline(at times), after a WS title, they’ll never get over it. He helped the team more than he hurt it.

            • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

              Of course, I just think the poster was saying this more out of shock at exactly how poor his plate discipline was. That and game winning hits are an awful, awful way to judge how good a player is. They’re basically useless.

  • pat

    Nick Johnson would have been # 1 in both charts with a .255 Out of Zone Swing Ratio and a .409 Out of Zone Overall Ratio.

    • Chip

      Wow, and by a huge margin too. I really wonder how in-depth the front office really goes on these things. Do you all think that if teams analysis were posted like this it would blow away studies done by Fangraphs, RAB, and such? Or, would they look like obvious things compared to the depth that the blogging sites do? Obviously, it will depend on the team in question but it’s an interesting thought

      • MattG

        I am certain it would blow them away. Their making $200M worth of decisions based on this data, I am sure they’ve got another $3-4M invested in getting the proper data.

      • http://twitter.com/tafkasic the artist formerly known as (sic)

        Yeah, I have to think this is pretty elementary compared to a lot of FO. Except the Royals, who are still using CDs with 50 free hours of AOL to get access to their email.

        • A.D.

          Really depends on how much data they themselves have available that’s easily manipulable.

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

        Yes, our heads would explode. Mark Shapiro developed a system called Diamond View for the Indians when he took over. All of the team’s baseball people can access it, and it has every piece of information humanly possible. Scouting Reports, stats, salary, service time info, for everyone in the majors, minors, college, etc.

        It’s bananas.

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Templeton_Peck Templeton “Brendog” Peck


  • pete

    What I want/can’t wait for is a fusion technology of pitch/fx and hit/fx that, instead of BA/LD% stuff, just calculated average projectile velocities/angles. Then you could use that to measure what kind of effectiveness hitters had when swinging inzone and out of zone.

    • http://twitter.com/tafkasic the artist formerly known as (sic)

      you and me both pal.

  • A.D.

    This is very interesting, I think some of the issues one would want to clean up in terms of selectiveness, is looking at count (i.e. a hitter takes 2-0, probably had a pretty good reason), along with controlling for success out of the zone I.e. Cano has higher than avg contact & swing rates across the board, but does he good success outside the zone (i.e. the Tony Gwynn started hitting home runs by pulling balls on the inside corner)

    Although neither of those will be easy.

  • Lance

    I am definitely going to need to look up the O-Swing% for Vladdy Guerrero.

    • whozat

      Wait…there are times Vlad doesn’t swing?

      • thurdonpaul

        lol, yeah i think its about 6 times a year :)

    • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

      Hey, that comment is relevant and makes sense. Congrats!

      • Tom Zig

        Heh. I know what you did. You thought he was Lanny. I did the same at first, but I double checked.

        • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

          Wahaha, you’re right.

          Never mind. Not that it’s not a good comment, it’s just that LBSG still hasn’t posted anything relevant.
          My bad.

          Should’ve been able to tell it wasn’t Lanny.

          • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

            He’s posting as Bo now below anyway.

            • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

              Acing like his usual, boversimplicated self.

          • Lance, not Lanny or Bo

            Ha, I’ll have to make a more unique handle.

            • A.D.

              Well done

  • Jammy Jammers

    Good riddance to Melky, Molina and Damon!

    • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

      Die I say! Die! DIE!

      Wait, what?

    • Bo

      When you see Gardner/Winns numbers come June you may be taking that back

      • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

        Or, he could be right. I find that one more likely for various reasons.

  • Ned

    How about the same stats for the new players signed?

  • http://CG CG

    Where would Granderson fit on the charts? I’d love to see new versions of the charts with Nick Johnson , Winn and Granderson on it… (as long as I’m making requests)….

    Love the data – supercool!

  • Geo

    If my math is right, here are the 2009 ratios for the newest Yankees:

    Nick Johnson = .26 (Nationals) and .25 (Marlins)

    Curtis Granderson = .31
    Randy Winn = .37

  • Rose

    What I don’t understand is why pitchers aren’t just throwing down the middle to Brett Gardner. No, not because he can’t hit or sucks or what anybody else wants to rant or rave about. But we can all agree that he’s the worst hitter on the team (at least as of last year, etc). Anybody and Everybody who has surrounded him has been infinitely better and more feared. This combined with the fact that Brett Gardner is incredibly fast and is a high risk to steal a base immediately WITH all these potent bats behind him in the order. It boggles my mind why certain pitchers wouldn’t just test the waters and challenge him.

    Brett Gardner had only 4 less walks than Robinson Cano despite nearly a 400 plate appearance difference in Cano’s favor. Melky had well over 250 plate appearances but only like 17 more walks.

    Just interesting to me…

    • whozat

      now that the “book” is out on him, I expect we’ll see more of this.

    • Matt

      Pitchers DO throw down the middle to Gardener. His 50.5% zone percentage is the highest on the list.

      What I find strange is that pitchers also seem to throw down the middle of the plate to Cano, even though it’s clear he will swing at anything.

    • Steve H

      Because pitchers aren’t that good. They can’t put the ball exactly where they want when they want, see AJ Burnett. If he had Gred Maddux’ command (and head) he’d be a Hall of Famer. In fact, I’d be willing to be Maddux could face Gardner 100x and not walk him more than once. If they could throw strikes on every pitch, to Gardner they probably would.

  • Matt

    My take?

    Cano needs glasses.

    • Jammy Jammers

      Cano also needs Reuben Sierra’s arm around him in the dugout keeping him nice and warm.

  • Wes

    I was surprised to see absolutely no correlation between the number of pitches outside the zone (1-Zone%) and the O-Swing%. I would think that pitchers would be more likely to miss the strike zone intentionally if they knew that a player was more likely to chase the pitch.

    I’ll bet we’d see a significant correlation if we looked at only 2-strike counts, where the pitcher was trying to get someone to chase for strike 3.

  • southernyankeefan

    Pedro Marinez is very familiar with Matsui’s O-swing.

  • Dan

    I was thinking, to find a simple, one number measure of a player’s plate discipline, we could simply multiply (1-OSwing%)*ZSwing%

    This would, in effect, discount a player’s propensity to swing at pitches he should swing at by his propensity to swing at pitches he should not swing at.

    As it were, if we say a player with good discipline should swing at every pitch in the zone (obviously not entirely true, but every statistical measure has it’s limits), and should ignore every pitch outside the zone (not unreasonable), then the perfect player would score a 1 or [(1-0.00%)*100%)]. a player who swings at 25% of pitches outside the zone, and 100% of pitches inside the zone would have a 75% Plate Effeciency. I’ll test this by measuring Jorge, Swisher, ARod, Cano, Melky, and Molina…the top three and bottom three on your list…and Jeter and Gardner, for shits and giggles.

    Jorge = (1-.189)* .661 = 53.6% Plate Efficiency
    Swish = (1-.174)* .567 = 46.8%
    Arod = (1-.213)* .677 = 53.3%
    Jeter = (1-.222)* .699 = 54.4%
    Molina = (1-.264)* .699 = 51.4%
    Melky = (1-.249)* .637 = 47.8%
    Cano = (1-.304)* .728 = 50.7%
    Gardner = (1-.172)* .507 = 42.0%

    outside of Molina, (obviously this does not take into account the ability, or lackthereof, to make solid contact), the list is not overly surprising. what do you all think?

  • The Doctor

    Holy crap is Carl Crawford amazingly poor here. Not that I’m greatly surprised, but yeesh.