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Cut to the Chase: Can Twins Hitters Avoid Balls Out of the Zone?

Last season, the Twins had a historically good offense on the way to setting the MLB’s all-time home run record. Coming off this great season, there are still things the club can do to improve. As the old adage goes, good can always get better and that should be the focus for Minnesota this spring. One way to improve is avoiding pitches out of the zone and there are players that could help the Twins make positive strides throughout 2020.
Image courtesy of © Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports
Players are going to continue to chase a higher number of pitches especially with launch angle and exit velocity becoming more prevalent in the baseball vernacular. Last season, the MLB average was 28.8% for chase percentage with a 57.6% chase contact percentage. Compared to previous seasons, chase percentage has gone up each year from 27.3% in 2017 to 27.6% in 2018.

Not all Twins hitters need to improve their chase rate. Mitch Garver was much better than the league average with a 17.4 chase % and it was no surprise for Luis Arraez to be better than league average (24.3 chase %). Other Twins better than league average included Miguel Sano (26.2%), Jorge Polanco (26.6%), Nelson Cruz (27.2%), and Max Kepler (27.6%). These players could certainly make improvements this year, but they were already better than or close to league average.

Sano might be a surprising name to be included in the list above, because of his offensive profile. He is a larger player that is considered a power hitter and this player type typically has big swings that can result in a lot of strikeouts. Sano’s chase % was less than two points lower than Arraez, who became well known for his eye at the plate during his rookie season. Sano was even a full point better than Cruz, his hitting mentor, in relation to chase %.

Newly signed Josh Donaldson has fared well with chase percentage even though, like Sano, he fits the profile of a power hitter. For his career, he has a 22.6 chase % while last season he was slightly higher at 23.1%. Last season, he also made more contact outside of the zone (60.0 chase contact %), a career high. His veteran approach at the plate could help other players especially some of the younger players in the organization.

Eddie Rosario is an interesting case when it comes to chase percentage. He led all Twins players with a 43.1 chase % and it placed him fifth in all of baseball. What makes him interesting is the amount of contact he makes outside of the zone (over 70% of the time) and that puts him in baseball’s top 20. It’s hard to imagine Rosario changing his offensive approach at this point in his career, but it would be nice if he could get his chase % below 40%.

Byron Buxton and Marwin Gonzalez had similar profiles when it came to chase % with Buxton’s chase percentage (33.9 %) only 0.4% higher than Gonzalez. Prior to the 2019 season, Buxton’s career chase % was under 32% and it seems like he could get back to that mark if he is healthy. Gonzalez had his career best chase % with the 2017 Astros and most fans are familiar with the cheating scandal surrounding that club. His chase % last season might have been the best of his career when excluding the 2017-18 seasons.

Baseball is continuing to evolve, but some small changes for Twins batters could help the club reach their ultimate goal. Which Twins batters can make the biggest changes with chase % in 2020? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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14 Comments

Good hitters can easily go outside the zone and get a pitch. Might be easier to go after an outside fastball than a nasty breaking ball. I love the aggressiveness of the Twins hitters and I hope they don't stop this year. The only pitch I wish they could lay off is the high fastball, not good odds for any hitter
Not much good happens going after a low outside curveball. That used to be the bane of Buxton and Sano. If they can continue to hold off on those pitches outside the zone the sky is the limit. If not, they could go back to hitting .180 again.
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Richard Swerdlick
Feb 26 2020 06:13 AM

As an almost 70 y.o I am amazed that these athletes can even see the balls coming in on them yet alone make a micro second decision about swinging. 

    • Seth Stohs, Blake, PDX Twin and 3 others like this

First, this comment is based on my understanding of how chase percentage is determined.That being, if the hitter had not swung, what the umpire "should" have called it based on the electronic zone.If my understanding is accurate I have a problem with the assumption that chasing is a bad thing fundamentally.Until the electronic zone comes into play taking a borderline pitch that should be a ball still has huge risk of taking a strike.  

 

So the real question is what kind of pitches are being chased.Just as others have commented on, chasing a borderline fastball is not such a bad thing where contact percentage is very high.I mean if the ball is half an inch off the plate, does it really change the odds of hitting it hard, most likely not.However, chasing a ball high around the neck, bouncing in the dirt, or way off the plate reduces contact percentage and more importantly hard hit contact significantly.Those are the pitches Buxton needs to cut down on.Chase percentage does not take into account how bad the chase was.

 

You point to Garver very low chase percentage, but he made a point of saying he was going to swing at middle middle as much as possible and leave boarder line pitches.I have not confirmed this, but he most likely took a lot of strikes on that edge of the zone, not saying he should have swung, but he made choice to risk of a called strike.

 

The other issue with the stat of chase percentage as a whole is it does not address when the chase was.For example, if the chase is even a boarder line chase with no strikes that may be something to address, even worse if it is a bad chase with no strikes.However, a boarder line chase with two strikes fighting off a pitch that could be called a strike, to me, is a good chase.Therefore, not all chases are created equal.

 

Also, chasing a boarder line fastball off the plate that gets driven hard is not a bad chase, but taking that pitch that gets called a strike, because umpires get those calls wrong at about a 50% clip, is a bad take because now fall behind in a count. 

 

One final thing.Changing a players approach that has worked, at least good, for their career does not always improve their numbers.Of course, if you can get a player to stop swinging at pitches they cannot hit is a good idea, but just saying reducing overall chase percentage will be good results is flawed. 

 

Good hitters can easily go outside the zone and get a pitch. Might be easier to go after an outside fastball than a nasty breaking ball. I love the aggressiveness of the Twins hitters and I hope they don't stop this year. The only pitch I wish they could lay off is the high fastball, not good odds for any hitter

That high fast bell gets a lot of the better hitters in baseball. Thats part of the reason Odo thrived using it last year. Back in the day high fast ball were ill advised because players had flatter swings and were worried less about launch angle and more about making solid contact and high fast ball would get smacked hard. 

 

Not much good happens going after a low outside curveball. That used to be the bane of Buxton and Sano. If they can continue to hold off on those pitches outside the zone the sky is the limit. If not, they could go back to hitting .180 again.

 

It was the thing that frustrated fans early in the careers of Torii Hunter and Michael Cuddyer too. 

    • big dog likes this

Last season, the Twins had a historically good offense on the way to setting the MLB’s all-time home run record. Coming off this great season, there are still things the club can do to improve. As the old adage goes, good can always get better and that should be the focus for Minnesota this spring. One way to improve is avoiding pitches out of the zone and there are players that could help the Twins make positive strides throughout 2020.Players are going to continue to chase a higher number of pitches especially with launch angle and exit velocity becoming more prevalent in the baseball vernacular. Last season, the MLB average was 28.8% for chase percentage with a 57.6% chase contact percentage. Compared to previous seasons, chase percentage has gone up each year from 27.3% in 2017 to 27.6% in 2018.

Not all Twins hitters need to improve their chase rate. Mitch Garver was much better than the league average with a 17.4 chase % and it was no surprise for Luis Arraez to be better than league average (24.3 chase %). Other Twins better than league average included Miguel Sano (26.2%), Jorge Polanco (26.6%), Nelson Cruz (27.2%), and Max Kepler (27.6%). These players could certainly make improvements this year, but they were already better than or close to league average.

Sano might be a surprising name to be included in the list above, because of his offensive profile. He is a larger player that is considered a power hitter and this player type typically has big swings that can result in a lot of strikeouts. Sano’s chase % was less than two points lower than Arraez, who became well known for his eye at the plate during his rookie season. Sano was even a full point better than Cruz, his hitting mentor, in relation to chase %.

Newly signed Josh Donaldson has fared well with chase percentage even though, like Sano, he fits the profile of a power hitter. For his career, he has a 22.6 chase % while last season he was slightly higher at 23.1%. Last season, he also made more contact outside of the zone (60.0 chase contact %), a career high. His veteran approach at the plate could help other players especially some of the younger players in the organization.

Eddie Rosario is an interesting case when it comes to chase percentage. He led all Twins players with a 43.1 chase % and it placed him fifth in all of baseball. What makes him interesting is the amount of contact he makes outside of the zone (over 70% of the time) and that puts him in baseball’s top 20. It’s hard to imagine Rosario changing his offensive approach at this point in his career, but it would be nice if he could get his chase % below 40%.

Byron Buxton and Marwin Gonzalez had similar profiles when it came to chase % with Buxton’s chase percentage (33.9 %) only 0.4% higher than Gonzalez. Prior to the 2019 season, Buxton’s career chase % was under 32% and it seems like he could get back to that mark if he is healthy. Gonzalez had his career best chase % with the 2017 Astros and most fans are familiar with the cheating scandal surrounding that club. His chase % last season might have been the best of his career when excluding the 2017-18 seasons.

Baseball is continuing to evolve, but some small changes for Twins batters could help the club reach their ultimate goal. Which Twins batters can make the biggest changes with chase % in 2020? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
— Latest Twins coverage from our writers
— Recent Twins discussion in our forums
— Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email

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Sano doesn't surprise me, as I've already seen those numbers regarding him.

I've posted multiple times that the numbers don't bare out the misconception that when Sano strikes out it's because he flails at breaking pitches out of the zone.
He's always had tremendous plate discipline, his K struggles have always come when he whiffs on pitches in the zone.

Of course, once somebody's "eye test" tells them something, even something false, no amount of factual data is likely to change their minds.
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strumdatjaguar
Feb 26 2020 07:18 PM
Maybe Marwin González has some ideas from his Astro days. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.
Photo
strumdatjaguar
Feb 26 2020 07:18 PM
Maybe Marwin González has some ideas from his Astro days. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.
I don't expect Rosario to suddenly re-invent himself. And let's be honest, guy is an amazing "bad ball" hitter. But if he can take all his experience and just reign it in even a little bit, he becomes so much more dangerous.

And while not mentioned, I would like to see The Turtle make a few adjustments. Contact is great! But contact on stuff way outside the zone doesn't cut it. We saw he could hit in 2018. Healthy, we saw he could hit in 2019. When hurt or coming back, he really struggled at times. Able to just lay off the crazy/stupid stuff, guy has value as a reserve. Not a stud, not a star, but potential as a useful reserve.
    • wabene likes this
Photo
Aerodeliria
Feb 26 2020 08:40 PM
Sano has been named team captain! https://www.japantim...n/#.XlcrkigzYdU OK...sorry about that. I'm just in a strange mood today.

 

It was the thing that frustrated fans early in the careers of Torii Hunter and Michael Cuddyer too. 

Sammy Sosa, too.

Photo
Cap'n Piranha
Feb 27 2020 05:15 PM

 

I don't expect Rosario to suddenly re-invent himself. And let's be honest, guy is an amazing "bad ball" hitter. But if he can take all his experience and just reign it in even a little bit, he becomes so much more dangerous.

And while not mentioned, I would like to see The Turtle make a few adjustments. Contact is great! But contact on stuff way outside the zone doesn't cut it. We saw he could hit in 2018. Healthy, we saw he could hit in 2019. When hurt or coming back, he really struggled at times. Able to just lay off the crazy/stupid stuff, guy has value as a reserve. Not a stud, not a star, but potential as a useful reserve.

 

An amazing "Bad Ball" hitter is likely to still be worse than an average "Good Ball" hitter.The beauty of baseball, distilled to it's simplest level, is that the pitcher has to put the ball where he least wants to put the ball.Therefore, swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone (which is what "bad balls" are), helps the pitcher.There are times where a batter can succeed in hitting a pitch outside of the zone, but over the course of a season, the odds are heavily in the pitcher's favor.

 

In the second half of last year, Eddie Rosario swung at 49.1% of pitches "outside" the zone (3rd highest out of 140 in baseball).As a result, he saw the 10th lowest percentage of pitches "in" the zone.This insistence on chasing led him to post the 35th lowest rate of hard contact and 61st highest rate of soft contact.This directly degrades his power--Eddie had 12 homers in 266 PA's in the second half, compared to 21 from Sano in 271, 18 from Garver in 183, and 15 from Kepler in 231.

    • wabene and Melissa like this
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JoshDungan1
Feb 28 2020 03:48 PM

Not having Schoop anymore=having WAY more patience with offspeed stuff down and away.


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