Know your Rays: ridiculously small sample size edition

What have you been up to, Derek? - Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Have you noticed any different approaches this season?

It's far too early in the season to begin making definative pronouncements on how players have altered their approach. It's not too early, though, for us fans to begin to think we're seeing patterns. And whenever I think that I see a pattern, I head on over to my favorite tool, Jeff Zimmerman's Baseball Heat Maps. The below graphs are all swing/take heat maps for a Rays player. They compare his swing percentages in each zone so far in 2013 to his swing percentages in the same zone in 2012. So a dark burgundy would mean that in that particular zone, the player has swung at a pitch 40% more often to start out the season than he did last year. A purple patch means he's swung 40% less often.

I've used 10% regression in these graphs in an attempt to not overload the small sample size with league average. Still, some of what you see will be extreme tendencies being mitigated by my (Zimmerman's) regression. It's a necessary evil with heat maps. The point is to not put any stock whatsoever in apparent small changes, only large ones.

Can you guess which player is which? Hint: they're all batters with regular playing time. Also, the team has seen a good bit more righties than they have lefties.

Player A

Against right-handed pitchers:

3536o15urtl80fdcgc8m67bap4446334rwm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

Against left-handed pitchers:

3536o15urtl80fdcgc8m67bap4446334lwm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

Player B

Against right-handed pitchers:

3536o15urtl80fdcgc8m67bap4450314rwm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

Against left-handed pitchers:

3536o15urtl80fdcgc8m67bap4450314lwm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

Player C

Against right-handed pitchers:

3536o15urtl80fdcgc8m67bap4457775rwm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

Against left-handed pitchers:

3536o15urtl80fdcgc8m67bap4457775lwm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

Answers a bit down the page.

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Player A: Evan Longoria

I thought I'd seen Longo leaning out over the plate, reaching for pitches, and then taking them the other way. It sure looks like that was a true observation, especially against right-handed pitching. And this isn't Evan turning into a slap hitter, either. He sports a .308 ISO against righties. If it's real, I like this change in approach. It may help him cut down that 20% K rate he's sported against same-handed pitching. It will be interesting to see if pitchers start busting him inside, and with what effect. He has very fast, strong hands. "Give Longoria something he can turn on" doesn't sound like a winning game plan.

Player B: Ben Zobrist

I don't see anything here. Zobrist is Zobrist. That down and in hot zone when batting right handed is too small and not extreme enough for me to think much of it. So far this season, his power production is down, but his walk and strikeout numbers are the same. His plate discipline numbers and contact percentage are the same. Nothing to see here. Zorilla is one of the more consistent players in the game.

Player C: Desmond Jennings

Well, that looks like a player taking his role as leadoff hitter seriously. Good to be serious and all, but I don't like it for Jennings. He's got a good bat. Against righties, he's swinging more at the pitches he can turn on (in, and up and in), but against lefties, he's taking a lot of pitches. Probably it's nothing. It's only 33 PAs, and my eyes hadn't old me he was being passive, but it's something to keep track of with him. For this lineup to be at it's best against left-handed pitchers, Desmond Jennings needs to be dangerous, and being dangerous means swinging at pitches over the heart of the zone.

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