This morning, Jacob Peterson of Beyond the Box Score posted an interesting analysis piece; ‘Rating Hitters By Passiveness And Aggressiveness.’ In it, he listed separately the players who, this season, took the most pitches inside the strike zone, those who swung at the most pitches outside the zone, the players who took more strikes and swung at more balls combined, and those who had an easy time recognizing pitches–generally swinging at strikes and taking balls.
Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez both made the list of 15 players who had the most plate discipline (those who, for the most part, swung at strikes and took balls). Peterson noted that this list included the most impressive group of hitters out of all four; he also explained Ordonez’ inclusion, saying that he and Jack Cust (who both just barely broke 1,000 pitches seen, the mark necessary to be included in the sample) lacked the physical tools to take full advantage of their good plate approach.
The most interesting part of this analysis, though, from a Tigers perspective, was where Brennan Boesch and Delmon Young ranked among the most aggressive hitters of 2011. Vladimir Guerrero, unsurprisingly, led this list by swinging at 27.2% of pitches outside the strike zone while Boesch and Young came in at 6th and 7th respectively:
|Rank||Player||Pitches||Passive Takes||Aggressive Swings|
They weren’t among the worst hitters to make the list or the best, and neither of their inclusions on this list is particularly surprising. What struck me and inspired this piece was how this way of looking at plate approach and discipline demonstrated these two Tigers’ similarities.
Boesch had a much better season than Young. He walked in 7.4% of his plate appearances compared to 4.6% for Young. He hit 16 home runs, four more than Young, despite the fact that the latter came to the plate 31 more times and walked less. Boesch actually struck out more than Young, doing so in 17.6% of his plate appearances while Young struck out in 16.9%. Boesch’s on-base percentage and slugging percentage were both significantly better than Young’s, and those percentages combined (OPS) had Boesch at .799 and Young at .695.
So what did Boesch do better? Maybe part of his success could be attributed to luck; his batting average on balls in play was .315. Then again, Young’s BAbip of .302 wasn’t much worse, and that stat doesn’t even factor home runs.
Peterson wrote that in order to have an aggressive approach like Boesch and Young do and still have success at bat, a player has to be a “freakish” athlete “whose physical skills allow them to make solid contact on a much wider variety of pitches than most players.”
Upon closer examination of the evidence, it looks like Boesch is closer to being that freakish athlete; he has more bat control and an overall better physical ability to go out of the strike zone and hit pitches. His whiff rate on sliders and change-ups specifically show the biggest difference in his ability compared to that of Young. Young whiffed on 22.1% of sliders he saw this year compared to 14% for Boesch. Young’s change-up whiff rate was 20.9% compared to 11.8% for Boesch.
Will Young adjust his approach and become more patient? Will his skill-set blossom and allow him to make solid contact on more pitches out of the zone? Or will he remain a free-swinging strikeout machine? Only time will tell.