Analyzing OBP: O’s Outfield
Brooks Baseball has some interesting tools on their site that allows you to determine how good of an eye a particular batter has against a given pitch. The way that Brooks does that is by comparing the percentage of pitches that a hitter swings at that are in the zone versus out of it. All of this data comes via the PITCHf/x database that Brooks’ uses for their lauded pitching analysis. This allows them to identify nuances in a hitter’s approach, with quantifiable observations on their tendencies.
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Brooks is also able to tell us how aggressive a particular batter against a certain pitch type, and whether or not they are likely to swing and miss at a particular pitch. Below we’ve listed these three data points for each player in the Oriole outfield, for each type of pitch (fastball, breaking ball, offspeed). We can start to see why the Orioles struggle when it comes to OBP by analyzing how the hitters approach plate appearances.
Nick Markakis not swinging and missing, something he does a lot (not swinging and missing that is. He whiffs very seldom in other words. Swinging strikes are uncommon and foreign to him). (April 5, 2014 – Source: Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)
Generally speaking, Orioles’ outfielders do not prove to be very patient at the plate, chasing pitches outside of the zone with regularity. Unfortunately, having batters swing at fewer pitches in the zone and more pitches out of the zone than league average results in low on base percentages. Taking strikes on hit-able pitches and giving strikes on balls makes taking walks more difficult and striking out easier. Keep that in mind as we discuss the three main hitters (Jones, Markakis, Cruz) and two complementary outfielders (Lough, Young) below.
Note: All data below is for 2014, so small sample size caveats apply.
Against fastballs Jones has a poor batting eye, as he swings at pitches outside the zone at a high rate (36%) along with a 71% swing rate at fastballs in the zone. On breaking balls, Jones has a higher swing rate (76% in zone, 48% out of zone) which actually comes out to be a league average batting eye. Offspeed pitches though get the best of Jones, as he swings at 100% of pitches in the zone, and 46% of pitches outside the zone which equates to an exceptionally poor eye compared to MLB average.
Jones’ approach at the plate is generally speaking very aggressive. His high swing rates against fastballs and breaking balls is exceptionally high. This is largely because he’s swinging at more than 35% or more of pitches outside of the zone for those types of pitches. Brooks lists Jones’ batting eye as being league average patient, but that’s largely because he’s swinging at an exceptionally high rate of change ups in the zone.
Swing & Miss:
Against fastballs Jones swings and misses at 25% of pitches, which puts him above league average at whiffing against fastballs. Breaking balls and offspeed pitches is more league average for Jones, as he whiffs on 33% of breaking balls and 36% of offspeed pitches.
Markakis was once a guy who O’s fans lauded for his good batting eye. So far in 2014 Markakis has shown a poor batting eye against fastballs given his 64% swing rate on pitches inside the zone compared to 32% outside the zone. His batting eye against breaking balls is even worse as he swings at 54% of breaking balls in the zone and 52% of pitches out of the zone. Markakis does fair better against change ups swinging at 73% of in zone offspeed pitches and only 30% of those out of the strikezone.
Markakis’ approach ranges from aggressive (breaking balls) to patient (offspeed pitches). He’s also steady against fastballs, though he tends to chase fastballs out of the zone a bit more than we’d prefer.
Swing & Miss:
The one thing Markakis does not do frequently is swing and miss. In fact, his 15% likelihood of whiffing against breakingballs is the highest among any pitch type. That 15% still equates to being well below league average, as do the 9% for fastballs and 5% for offspeed pitches. When Markakis swings, he generally makes contact one way or another.
Nelson Cruz is a lot like another outfielder the O’s have in Adam Jones. The biggest difference between the two is that Cruz is a bit more patient, but whiffs more than Jones.
Cruz has a league average eye against fastballs swinging at 68% of in zone pitches, and only 27% of out of zone pitches. He does however have a good eye against breaking balls, swinging at 68% of strikes and just 35% of balls. Finally his swing rates on out of zone offspeed pitches (20%) and in zone offspeed pitches (57%) pegs him as roughly league average against those pitches.
Cruz has a relatively high likelihood to whiff, but don’t confuse that with being overly aggressive at the plate. Cruz has a steady approach against fastballs and breaking balls, while showing more patience against change ups. Cruz generally doesn’t chase, but does go after pitches that will likely be called strikes with regularity.
Swing & Miss:
As mentioned previously, Cruz whiffs at a high rate, something that comes with the territory for a power hitter of his ilk. Against fastballs his 18% whiff rate is roughly league average, which really isn’t bad at all. However, he whiffs at 42% of breaking balls and 58% of offspeed pitches. Both of those figures are well above league average, and highlight Cruz’s inability to make contact on non-heaters.
Fastballs – Good eye (70% in zone, 25% out of zone)
Breaking Balls – Very poor eye (53% in zone, 38% out of zone)
Off-speed – Exceptionally poor eye (50% in zone, 45% out of zone)
Fastballs – Steady approach
Breaking Balls – Steady approach
Off-speed – Very patient approach
Swing & Miss:
Fastballs – Below average likelihood to swing and miss (10% whiffs)
Breaking Balls – Exceptionally low likelihood to swing and miss (17% whiffs)
Off-speed – Disastrously high likelihood to swing and miss (59% whiffs)
Fastballs – Exceptionally good eye (89% in zone, 38% out of zone)
Breaking Balls – League average eye (76% in zone, 49% out of zone)
Off-speed – Exceptionally poor eye (100% in zone, 333% out of zone)
Fastballs – Exceptionally aggressive approach
Breaking Balls – Exceptionally aggressive approach
Off-speed – Exceptionally patient approach
Swing & Miss:
Fastballs – Above average likelihood to swing and miss (22% whiffs)
Breaking Balls – High likelihood to swing and miss (43% whiffs)
Off-speed – Above average likelihood to swing and miss (49% whiffs)