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A look at Rays' plate discipline

April 25, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Carlos Pena (23) smiles against the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
April 25, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Carlos Pena (23) smiles against the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Two times over the last two days, Carlos Pena has come to the plate in the ninth inning with the bases loaded, and both times he's struck out without taking the bat off his shoulders. On Saturday I'm taking a look at Rays' team plate discipline over the last couple years, but I thought that today would be a good day to get a feel for the Rays' plate discipline as individuals.

I've made a sortable table with BIS plate discipline numbers (thanks, Fangraphs) from 2011 till the present (click on the column headers to sort). These stabilize pretty fast, so I've included all players with at least 100 PAs in the sample. The numbers are standardized, so "1" means one standard deviation above the mean, "-1" means one standard deviation below it.

Here are a few definitions:

Swing%: The percent of pitches a player swung at.

O-Swing%: The percent of pitches outside the zone that a player swung at.

Z-Swing%: The percent of pitches inside the zone that a player swung at.

Contact%: The percent of pitches that a player made contact on out of pitches that he swung at.

O-Contact%, Z-Contact%: Same as Contact%, but in and out of the zone.

Zone%: The percentage of pitches a player saw that were in the strike zone.

% of Swings in Zone: The number of times a player swung at a pitch in the strike zone, out of the number of times he swung total.

Isolated Eye: Something a little bit arbitrary that I made up some time ago as a way of measuring pitch recognition. It's just Z-Swing% minus Swing%. It actually gives you a different, more pleasing list than % of Swings in the Zone does. It gives you a list topped by people like Chipper Jones, Lance Berkman, and Magglio Ordonez, while % of swings in the zone skews to the passive side and gives you a list topped by Nick Punto, Daric Barton, and Scott Sizemore.

Swing%+ O-Swing%+ Z-Swing%+ Contact%+ O-Contact%+ Z-Contact%+ Zone%+ % of Swings in Zone+ Isolated Eye+
Carlos Pena -0.435 -0.808 0.971 -1.760 -1.649 -1.754 -1.517 0.226 2.321
Luke Scott -0.063 -1.184 0.989 0.522 0.072 0.353 0.614 1.780 1.810
Sean Rodriguez -0.125 0.031 -0.221 -1.021 -0.719 -1.155 -0.129 -0.225 -0.202
Reid Brignac 1.736 1.348 1.594 -0.677 -0.142 -1.051 -0.064 -0.518 0.248
Elliot Johnson -0.849 -0.927 -0.480 -0.759 -0.634 -1.010 0.097 0.711 0.399
Desmond Jennings -1.303 -1.287 -1.206 -0.118 -0.281 -0.308 0.840 1.169 -0.202
BJ Upton 0.309 -0.517 1.041 -0.627 -0.655 -0.866 0.259 0.958 1.360
Matt Joyce -0.208 -0.517 0.367 -0.463 0.061 -1.072 -0.290 0.414 0.939
Ben Zobrist -1.324 -0.893 -1.171 0.292 0.393 0.126 -0.516 0.014 -0.112
Casey Kotchman -1.117 -0.859 -0.791 1.130 1.109 0.993 -0.484 0.202 0.248
Johnny Damon 0.185 0.116 0.384 0.276 0.361 0.229 -0.419 -0.217 0.399
Will Rhymes -1.241 -0.585 -1.689 1.573 0.853 2.170 0.388 0.008 -1.133
Brandon Allen 0.185 0.989 -0.359 -1.728 -1.542 -0.742 -1.550 -1.965 -0.893
John Jaso -1.903 -1.252 -1.914 1.179 1.141 0.993 -0.161 0.291 -0.563
Jose Molina 1.301 1.520 0.332 -0.759 -0.323 -0.948 0.711 -0.667 -1.314
Chris Gimenez -0.538 -1.184 0.159 -0.266 -0.056 -0.845 0.582 1.478 1.060
Evan Longoria -0.745 -0.619 -0.376 -0.168 -0.291 -0.039 -0.549 0.086 0.429

A breakdown of each Ray below:

  • Despite his recent high leverage failures, Carlos Pena is really pretty good at pitch recognition. It might be one of his better skills. He's slightly passive over all, but he swings at an above average number of balls in the zone. His strikeout tendencies come from his poor contact rate, not from his approach at the plate. It's unsurprising, given his power, that Pena sees by far the least number of strikes of anyone on the Rays.
  • Brandon Allen checks in with a similar profile to Pena. He sees very few strikes on account of his power, and he also has trouble making contact. He doesn't however, show Pena's plate discipline, swinging at an above average number of balls and taking an above average number of pitches for strikes. He has one great tool, but with this profile his power will be hard to harness.
  • Luke Scott is the definition of the "professional hitter." He's great at laying off balls out of the zone, and well above average at swinging at balls in the zone. He makes contact on all types of pitches at an above average rate.
  • Johnny Damon was aggressive, swinging at balls both inside and outside of the zone, and making contact at an above average rate on all of them. This is a workable approach, but give me Luke Scott any day of the week.
  • The much maligned B.J. Upton is really pretty good at recognizing pitches, after all. His strikeouts come from whiffing on pitches inside the zone at a rate far above average.
  • I would call Ben Zobrist "passive." He's actually less apt, relative to the league, to swing at pitches inside the zone than he is to swing at pitches out of it. He makes good contact when he does swing, though, and his approach works because pitchers, afraid of his power, throw him more pitches out of the zone than in it.
  • Desmond Jennings, like Zobrist, is also passive. Unlike Zobrist, pitchers are pounding the zone against him. He needs to become a little bit more swing-happy.
  • Will Rhymes is passive as well. The difference with him is that he's also really small. The upside of him swinging is much lower than that from DJ swinging, so waiting for the perfect pitch and trying to wrangle a walk is probably correct in his case.
  • Kotchman was like a supersized Rhymes.
  • Jaso was even more passive (without showing great pitch recognition) than Rhymes. But he made a ton of contact. Counter to how many perceived Jaso's 2011, pitchers did not pound the zone against him.
  • Sean Rodriguez is not very good at choosing when to swing and when not to, but he's improved a lot from where he was when I last looked at these numbers. That's encouraging. Like Upton, he misses on a lot of pitches in the zone, moreso than he does on pitches outside of the zone.
  • Matt Joyce shows the same tendency to miss on strikes, but where S-Rod was below average making contact on balls, Joyce is actually above average there, and shows very good pitch recognition. I'm becoming intrigued by this trend. Why should some of these players be so much worse relative to league on the easier to hit pitches? Might it be that they swing much harder on them, and protect the plate on the other pitches? Other ideas?
  • Elliot Johnson shows the same contact tendency as Upton, S-Rod, and Joyce. He's passive in terms of the pitch decision, but not tremendously so.
  • Reid Brignac is a hacker, swinging at anything and everything.
  • Gimenez actually has shown some pretty good pitch recognition skills over the past two years. This has been paired with a drop in his power, but I'm happy to see more until better options are available.
  • Jose Molina is really good at framing pitches.