Blue Jays Looking For a Better Approach at the Plate
The big three acquisitions of this offseason for the Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin and Michael Saunders, have been lauded for their leadership, work ethic, durability and overall baseball skill. Each brings unique aspects to the team. Donaldson brings his superb fielding, Martin his pitch-framing and game-calling, Saunders his speed and range. One aspect, though, is common to all three players: an ability to get on base.
What drives their ability to get on base? A good eye and a patient approach at the plate. Interestingly, the players that the Jays parted with this offseason did not have a patient approach at the plate. Coincidence? I think not.
Let’s quantify this. O-swing is a stat that measures how often a batter swung at pitches outside the strike zone. It is simply the number of times swung at a pitch outside the zone divided by the total number of pitches outside the zone. An average O-swing is 30%. In 2014: Colby Rasmus 33%, Brett Lawrie 33%, Anthony Gose 31%, Adam Lind 30.5% Melky Cabrera 33.3%, Juan Francisco 35.2%—all gone. Everyone at or below 30% (with significant playing time) are still here. The Jays as a team had a 31.3% O-swing.
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Jose Reyes (33.6%) and Dioner Navarro (33.5%) both swing at out-of-the zone pitches more than average but their contact rates on pitches swung at outside the zone (77.3% and 74.3% respectively) are much higher than the average (which is 66% O-contact%). Colby Rasmus and Juan Francisco had O-contact rates far below average (49.7% and 56.5%) which made their free swinging ways so ineffective. Basically, impatience is fine as long as you make contact. This is where Dalton Pompey (albeit a small sample) and Kevin Pillar need to improve. Pillar had an O-swing of 43.7% (8th highest in the league) and his O-contact was 63.8%—not a good combo.
In contrast (O-swing): Saunders 22%, Martin 24.7%, Donaldson 24.7%. Add to that some of the less significant additions: Justin Smoak 27.8%, Daric Barton 16.5% (career number since he didn’t play much in 2014), Ramon Santiago 23%, Chris Dickerson 24.2%, Chris Colabello 28.4%. There are a few minor exceptions among the new arrivals but the trend is clear—the new philosophy is plate discipline.
Donaldson, Martin and Saunders just swing less in general as well: 43.6%, 41.3%, and 42.5% respectively (46% is average). Swinging less is general isn’t necessarily a positive as a hitter ought to be aggressive on “their” pitch. Being too patient will lead you to being down 0-2 an awful lot. But certainly, more patience in general than last year will benefit the Jays this year. In the words of Treebeard, “Don’t be hasty.”
It looks as though the 2015 Blue Jays are going to try and emulate Munenori Kawasaki by making hurlers be accurate, by raising pitch counts and by battling at the dish. More patience and keeping swings in the strike zone (with high-contact exceptions like Reyes). This new philosophy should lead to more walks, less strikeouts, better contact and more consistency. The Jays were 5th in the league in runs scored last year but from game to game, it seemed like the offensive was either feast or famine. Plate discipline should lead to a steadier offensive output. Ultimately, as is the main goal, this philosophy will hopefully lead to more wins.
(all stats via fangraphs)