Thursday, April 17, 2008

For the Want of a Ball, the Kingdom Was Lost

To the non-scout eye, it certainly seems like Ryan Zimmerman's pressing. His first swing against Joe Smith last night, when he hacked at a slider three feet outside the zone -- up there with Soriano's most embarrassing swings -- is emblematic of the difficulties he's had all year. I used to think that last year's aggressiveness was because he felt that he had to carry the team, but with the deeper lineup -- even if it's slumping -- he hasn't relaxed any, and he's still swinging early and often. Bad approach? Poor pitch recognition? Probably a bit of both. FIRE LENNY!!!

Anyway, Manny Acta says he's not concerned. Zimmerman says he's not slumping. Fine, I guess. I just know what my lyin' eyes are telling me.

And I can see what the lyin' stats are sayin' too.

There's a section on his BBREF profile that says "Pitch Data Summary". Clicking on that brings up a wealth of stats -- plenty meaningless -- that show some of those aggressiveness problems.

He's seeing about .5 a pitch less per plate appearance than last season. That doesn't sound like much, but it's a huge total. (The difference between Zimmerman last year and Nick Johnson's career is only about .2, and we drool over NJ's approach)

He's seeing far fewer balls thrown against him, down about 4%. That could be pitchers pitching around him, but given who's batting behind him -- our one effective bat -- that seems less likely to me.

He's dramatically improved his contact rate. When he swings the bat, he makes contact 85% of the time, up from the 80-81% range for his career. Consequently, the number of swinging strikes he's had has dropped. Now making contact isn't a bad thing in and of itself. But it entirely depends on the type of contact that's being made.

His line-drive percentage has dropped for the third straight season (though it's essentially unchanged from last year). The biggest change is that he's hitting a lot more flyballs than in the past. (45% versus 37% for his career) Worse, a great number of those are the dreaded infield flyballs -- popups. An ungodly high 17% of the time he puts the ball in play, he's hitting a fly to the infield. Not good.

He's making more contact, but it's poor contact. (Duh, huh? Anyone can tell that!)

Few other interesting nuggets:

He's swinging at about 10% more first pitches this year than last year, almost a third of the time he comes to the plate, he's hacking at that first pitch.

He's had just one 3-0 count all year. He had 38 and 44 for the last two years, and we're about a tenth of the way into the season.

This one's even more stunning. He's not even getting to 2-0 counts. He's had just three all year, about 5% of his plate appearances, down from 15% and 18% the last two seasons. After a 2-0 count, the league feasts, hitting an .295/ .520/ .501. If you get in a position where the pitcher HAS to throw you a strike, the advantage swings to the batter, big time! But he's not letting the pitcher fall behind, and he's playing into their hands.

Same thing with 3-1 counts. He's had one. ONE! NJ has already had 7!

Swinging at the first pitch isn't a bad thing in and of itself, especially when it's a get-me-over fastball. But too often, as he did against Joe Smith last night, he's swinging because, oh, it feel sooooo good. Well, he needs to knock it off! Don't worry about making contact or missing the occasional pitch.

He needs to wait for the pitches he likes in the zones he likes 'em. When he gets it, swing from the heels. Your #3 batter should not be concerned with productive outs. Drive the runners in with a double! He's done it in the past, and he CAN do it again. He just needs to get this "be aggressive, go the other way, and get the ball in play" crap out of his mind. That's not his strength, and it's not what one of the team's biggest offensive threats should be doing.

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