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In The Zone: Twins Among Best At Avoiding Bad Pitches

When fans think back on the 2017 campaign, most are going to remember the breakout performances by young players like Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. Other position players like Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler also enjoyed solid seasons. All of these players were under the age of 25 with plenty of areas for improvement moving forward.

Even with this young core of talent, the Twins were one of the best teams in baseball at avoiding pitches out of the zone.
Image courtesy of Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
According to FanGraphs, O-Swing% is calculated by taking the number of times players swing at pitches outside the zone and dividing by the number of pitches outside of the zone. Last year in the American League, the Twins had the second lowest O-Swing% (28.6%) as they only trailed the Cleveland Indians. Minnesota finished with the fourth lowest O-Swing% when including teams from the National League.

So what players are helping to lead to Minnesota’s patience at the plate?

Robbie Grossman collected over 450 plate appearances during the 2017 campaign. He finished with the 13th best O-Swing% among AL batters with over 200 plate appearances. In fact, the Twins had three other players (Chis Gimenez, Joe Mauer, and Brian Dozier) who all ranked in the top-20. Jason Castro finished with a 25.1% O-Swing% which was good enough to be in the top-30.

Minnesota’s veteran bats were clearly leading the way at avoiding bad pitches. Of the Twins young core of players, who was able to lay off pitches out of the zone?

Jorge Polanco surprised a lot of people in 2017, especially with the way he was able to handle himself at the plate. His 26.3% O-Swing% ranked sixth on the team and placed him in the AL’s top-40. Miguel Sano and Max Kepler both swung at pitches out of the zone around 30% of the time. Eddie Rosario ranked worst on the team as he swung at pitches out of the zone almost 40% of the time.

Byron Buxton provides an interesting case from 2017. Buxton struggled through the first half by hitting .216/.288/.306 with 87 strikeouts in 83 games. There were times he looked lost at the plate and pitchers were able to attack the strike zone against him. Something clicked in the second half. He went for a .893 OPS with 24 extra-base hits in 57 games.

Even though he became an offensive force in the second half, Buxton still struggled with strikeouts. He averaged more than one strikeout per game and his O-Swing% shows that he was chasing pitches. In the first half when Buxton’s strikeouts were piling up, he posted a 30.6% O-Swing%. During his second half surge, his O-Swing% actually went up to 31.6%.

As mentioned earlier, pitchers could impose their will on Buxton in the first half. Most pitches could be around or near the zone and he wasn’t going to be able to do anything with it. In the second half, he was likely seeing better pitches and he was definitely putting together better at-bats. Buxton could still improve in this area and that has to be a scary proposition for opposing pitchers.

Minnesota’s veteran hitters are the reason the Twins ranked so well in 2017. Mauer and Dozier might not be part of this organization beyond the 2018 campaign. If Minnesota wants to stay at the top of the AL, some of the young core players are going to have to continue to lay off pitches out of the zone.

What player's numbers surprised you? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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14 Comments

Interesting.Regarding Rosario, I was curious how his 40% rate in 2017 compared with 2016?With 2015?

 

Considering he had a great year at the plate in terms of all the traditional numbers, we have to accept he is who he is.Personally, I'll take it!

    • glunn, mikelink45 and adorduan like this
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puckstopper1
Feb 05 2018 11:23 AM

I fully understand this stat, but I wonder if it has the same meaning for all the hitters.I can imagine that Puckett and Vlad G.'s O-Swing% was very high, but that was part of their strength.Not saying any of the current Twins have the same ability, but to me Rosario is the closest.There have been times when he has burned opposing pitchers by successfully hitting close, but out of the zone pitches.

    • glunn, mikelink45, Platoon and 1 other like this
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Nine of twelve
Feb 05 2018 12:52 PM
It would be informative to know a swing-and-miss percentage outside the zone and to know how batters fared when making contact with a pitch outside the zone.
    • glunn, mikelink45 and Platoon like this

I fully understand this stat, but I wonder if it has the same meaning for all the hitters.I can imagine that Puckett and Vlad G.'s O-Swing% was very high, but that was part of their strength.Not saying any of the current Twins have the same ability, but to me Rosario is the closest.There have been times when he has burned opposing pitchers by successfully hitting close, but out of the zone pitches.

I always refer to them as 'bad ball' hitters. My memory of Tony Oliva is he was one of the best of them. It's not necessarily a talent one would encourage, but some players do possess it.
    • glunn likes this

This is interesting, and I wouldn't want to see a high o-swing% from the Twins, but more context is required here.Generally, the Twins have a low o-swing%, because they have a low swing%.Grossman does a good job of watching balls go by, but also has a much higher tendency to watch strikes go by.The Twins had the second lowest z-swing% (61.6%) in the MLB, the percentage of strikes swung at.And, as a result, the Twins therefore had the highest Zone% (48.6%), the % of pitches thrown to them in the zone in the MLB.

 

I'd say the more important stat here is still an old-fashioned, BB/K, which the Twins did fairly well at 0.44 (7th in MLB). 

    • glunn, mikelink45 and Matthew Lenz like this
I liked the point on Grossman. True he walks, and it's basically the factor in his OBP, but there are stretches where he seems to think he is calling the balls and strikes. I know there are others, but I always wondered why pitchers nibble on guys like RG. There offensive abilities don't merit that respect. Why walk a guy who basically can't hurt you with his bat. Meaning if he gets to a three ball count, belt high fast balls until he proves he can really take advantage of them.
    • glunn, mikelink45 and Original Whizzinator like this

In the fifties and sixties I would watch Yogi Berra come in to town with the Yankees.He was always described as a bad ball hitter, but he was also described as MVP and HOF.He was my favorite Yankee.Now we have elected Vlad Guerrero and we have another bad ball HOF. 

 

In this article - https://www.cbssport...eball-in-2017/ - our own Brian Dozier is among the bad ball leaders. http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=yosted01

 

What I want to know is what happens when a player swings - Grossman needs to walk to have value. He was a poor version of Eddie Yost who used foul balls and a good eye to make a very good career - 

    • Respy likes this

 

This is interesting, and I wouldn't want to see a high o-swing% from the Twins, but more context is required here.Generally, the Twins have a low o-swing%, because they have a low swing%.Grossman does a good job of watching balls go by, but also has a much higher tendency to watch strikes go by.The Twins had the second lowest z-swing% (61.6%) in the MLB, the percentage of strikes swung at.And, as a result, the Twins therefore had the highest Zone% (48.6%), the % of pitches thrown to them in the zone in the MLB.

 

I'd say the more important stat here is still an old-fashioned, BB/K, which the Twins did fairly well at 0.44 (7th in MLB). 

Grossman is a good example of the entire issue of plated discipline, including shrinking your swing zone. Yes, he does let more strikes go by, along with balls outside the zone. The benefit for Grossman is a very high OBP. The benefit of having several disciplined hitters is that the opposing starter can't get off that easy throwing out-of-zone junk, which elevates pitch counts and tends to get more guys on first base. 

 

Grossman reveals that not swinging the bat is another way to apply pressure. It's also interesting that Rosario's way is not a disaster, either. Rosie pounds baseballs in all directions with power, driving in guys like Grossman. A good manager can play to the strengths of both approaches to produce runs. 

    • ashburyjohn, glunn, birdwatcher and 2 others like this

It's going to be fascinating to watch how Molitor tries to order bats this season, given the mix of disciplined and aggressive hitters in the lineup. Obviously you don't want Rosario leading off, but if you went

Buxton

Grossman

Rosario

Sano

That might work pretty well. Or,

Buck

Mauer

Grossman

Sano

Rosie

might work pretty well, too.

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birdwatcher
Feb 05 2018 07:01 PM

Why do I find myself hoping that Molitor's lineup construction is the product of rather forceful suggestions and not his intuition?

    • Platoon and Matthew Lenz like this

Out of zone pitches are not the same as bad ball pitches. The context that gives any of this meaning is the woba of o zone contact.

 

I always refer to them as 'bad ball' hitters. My memory of Tony Oliva is he was one of the best of them. It's not necessarily a talent one would encourage, but some players do possess it.

Call me nuts, but I've always liked those "ball ball" hitters like Vlad. If I'm a batter and see a pitch that I like, one that I think I can do some damage with, who cares if it's in the strike zone or not? Take a swing and let some magic happen!That said, I also admire the patient batters with a "good eye," the ones who know the strike zone and tend to draw more walks, thus getting on base more often. Why not embrace both "talents" ?

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Andrew Thares
Feb 06 2018 11:41 AM

 

Interesting.Regarding Rosario, I was curious how his 40% rate in 2017 compared with 2016?With 2015?

 

Considering he had a great year at the plate in terms of all the traditional numbers, we have to accept he is who he is.Personally, I'll take it!

Eddie Rosario O-Swing% by season:

 

2015: 45.6%

2016: 41.7%

2017: 37.6%

 

This a good sign that Rosario is improving on his plate discipline as he matures.

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Matthew Lenz
Feb 08 2018 07:58 AM

Situational hitting is so important in baseball. In general, seeing the Twins chase less pitches is a good thing.But I'd like to see the same stat broken down by inning, pitch count, and with runners on a particular base.These different scenarios should greatly affect how a batter approaches the plate.

 

I'd say the more important stat here is still an old-fashioned, BB/K, which the Twins did fairly well at 0.44 (7th in MLB). 

 

I agree with this as well. O-swing% is interesting to look at but, like all stats, we need more to tell the whole story.

 

Good write up!

 

    • birdwatcher likes this

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