Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Invisible Man

With the powerful voice of Frank Robinson and his larger than life spectre, there's not a lot of room to hear from his lieutenants. When's the last time you heard a quote from Randy St. Claire? Have you heard anything about how Davey Lopes has helped the baserunning? Me neither. Yet, when I was looking at the stats the other day, there's one coach who's speaking loudly, Mitchell Page.

Page, you'll recall, came over from the Cardinals juggernaut. He is an alcoholic, and the Cardinals fired him when he couldn't get it under control. Jim Bowden, always with an eye on hitting talent and hard-luck cases, offered him a job as the roving minor-league hitting instructor. By all accounts, he succeeded, and his work with Marlon Byrd last year, after which Marlon tore the seams off the ball, is held up as the model of his success. Byrd certainly succeeded last year. This year, not so much.

But the strength of Page isn't found in the individual, it's in the aggregate. First, what's Page's philosophy? Well, it's hard to figure out because he doesn't really talk. But Phil Rogers helpfully wrote about it for ESPN a few years back. He wants his hitters to have good ABs, to look for pitches they can drive, emphasizing their strengths as batters. Don't swing at the pitchers pitches. Go after yours. And when you're behind in the count, ease up on the swing and concentrate on getting the ball in play.

It's not quite the A's Moneyballish philosophy of taking and raking, but it's close. Be aggressive when necessary. If your pitch is the first one, great. If not, don't chase, but let the pitcher come to you.

Well, they're not having a ton of success with two strikes. Overall, the team is batting .188. That sounds terrible, until you realize that the entire NL is only batting .190 in that situation. They're slugging .295, but that's 3 points higher than the NL average. I don't have data from last year, and I can't seem to find it anywhere. If you know of a source, I'd love to see it, but it certainly seems like they'd be doing better here, if only because the offense was so uniformly terrible last year.

Strikeout-wise, they're not really doing all that much better. They currently rank 8th in the league with 683. Last season they finished in seventh. In both seasons, there are four or five teams bunched up closely, and the numbers are practically interchangeable.

So it doesn't seem like he's helped much with the Ks, even as there's slight evidence that they're better with two strikes.

But where Page seems to have made the most difference is with the other aspect of plate discipline, bases on balls. The team is walking a TON more. Last season, they finished 11th in the league with 491. This year they're up to third with 362 already. That's a HUGE improvement. That's a lot of extra baserunners.

I wanted to break that down further, to see which players are contributing. Here are the players on the team listed with their walk rates, simply the percentage of walks they have per plate appearance. (for all Nats with 80+ ABs) I've subtracted out intentional walks.
            2005   2006
Soriano 4.4 6.9
Zimmerman 9.4 7.6
Vidro 8.1 8.1
Johnson 13.4 14.9
Clayton 6.6 4.8
Schneider 5.5 7.4
Guillen 4.1 4.2
Byrd 6.9 9.3
Anderson 6.9 5.9
Jackson 9.3 7.8
Ward 6.1 11.5

Wow. Other than Zimmerman (and he only had 60 or so PAs last year), Anderson and Jackson, everybody increased their rate or stayed about the same.

Soriano's improvement is striking, as is Nick Johnson's. Even players who aren't making good contact, like Schneider and Byrd, made great strides in their discipline. If they're making outs, it's not because they're swinging at slop.

Their power, too, is up. And it's not all Soriano. Last year, they were dead last in homers with a pathetic 117. This season, they already have 108. Doubles are up, too, from fourth to second.

They're hitting for more power. They're walking more. What more could you want? The runs aren't really there yet, thanks to some unlucky situational hitting (especially with the bases loaded), but that should even out.

What matters is that their approach is different, and that their component stats are there. The runs will come.

If Brian Schneider hits what he's capable of doing, and with a full season from Lopez and Kearns, the offense is not going to be a problem next year, even without Alfonso Soriano. Though it'd be nice to have him!

So, thanks, Mitchell Page. We never hear a word from you, but the results speak loudly enough.

3 Comments:

  • I want to believe you, I really do, but 5 improve, 2 stay the same and 4 get worse isn't really a telling stat. (Of course I could break out a matched-pair Wilcoxon test to see, or better yet a matched pair T-test. Tell me is your data Gaussian?)

    Anyway what happens to the 05 to 06 comparison if you remove these items from the walks and power surge:
    1) Nick plays more games
    2) Zimmerman replaces Castilla
    3) The bench is not the worstest bench in the world

    I also think that less playing time for Guillen helps the walk rate, and no playing time for guzman is bound to help the power.

    I'm not saying you won't see improvement but I don't think it's a "wow" situation

    By Blogger El Gran Color Naranja, at 7/28/2006 12:41 AM  

  • It's not just the five who improve, it's by how much they're improving.

    Soriano, Johnson, Schneider, Byrd and Ward all see substantial improvements in their non-IBB walk rates. Sure, it could just be a fluke, but when combined with the power increase (Johnson and Soriano both are slugging more than they ever have in their careers), I think that there's something there.

    Of the guys who got worse, Zimmerman's the one that seems funky, but, like I said, the small number of PAs last year don't give an accurate baseline for evaluation.

    But the general trend is that the core of the team is showing increased patience and more power.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 7/28/2006 8:38 AM  

  • Well I think Johnson's stats are not that out of line, and Schneider had an unusually low walk rate last year, but I see your point. If you ask me what a good hitting coach can do - I'd say make a team marginally more patient and marginally better at driving the ball, which the Nats are doing. Kudos, Mitchell Page.

    By Blogger El Gran Color Naranja, at 7/28/2006 9:33 AM  

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