Monday, April 21, 2008

Take It Outside

The other day, we looked at Ryan Zimmerman's patience. The conclusion was that he's swinging at a lot more pitches, and making less solid contact. The numbers back up what the eyes are seeing.

But what else can we see in the numbers?

After looking at a few different sets of Zimmerman's 2008 stats and pitch-by-pitch results, it's pretty clear that what our eyes are seeing is right: he's going fishing, and has become far too opposite-field happy.

Let's start with where he makes good contact:

% of line drives to the opposite field:
54% -- 2008
29% -- 2007
22% -- 2006

But he's also having plenty of ABs where he's not making contact. Here's his total on all balls in play to the right side:
38% -- 2008
26% -- 2007
23% -- 2006

It's pretty clear from there that he's making an effort to go the other way. It's fine when he's hitting line drives, but he's basically hit the same number of grounders to right as he's pulled -- and grounders to the opposite field usually hop about thirty times. In '07, for example, he had about 100 more pulled grounders than opposite field ones. In '06, it was about 90 more. You can't consistently hit hard grounders to the opposite field, and it's a lot tougher to sneak them through. He needs to pull 'em, and he hasn't been as he did in previous years.

So why's he making such poor contact?

First, he's swinging at more pitches, 46% of the ones he sees vice 42% and 43% from the last two seasons. And of those, he's putting a greater percentage of balls he swings at in play, 50% versus 44% each of the last two years.

In some ways, that's not necessarily bad. Hitting the ball instead of missing it isn't really a bad thing, but if the quality of the contact is low -- as those opposite-field grounders are, then there's an indication that he's swinging too much.

But that's mostly stuff we saw last week. What's new, though, is that we can see how many would-be balls he's swinging at. Just 67% of the pitches he swings at are in the strike zone, down from 74% in his terrific '06 season.

Further, the location of the balls he's swinging at has changed. 17% of his swings are at balls outside, away from him. Last year, he swung at just 7% in those situations. In '06, it was just 5%.

He's swinging at 2-3 times as many pitches outside the zone this year than last. And, as we're seeing, it's leading to poor contact and lots of opposite field grounders.

His weakness over the last two seasons was the low pitch. He swung at 12% of the low balls out of the zone he saw in each of those two seasons. He's dropped that a bit this year, which is good, but it's pretty clear he's changed his approach at the plate, whether consciously or unconsciously.

The one thing we DO know, though, is that whatever change, it's been for the worse.

  • I spot-checked Kearns. 27% of his grounders this year have been to the other side. 14% of his grounders went to the opposite field last year and 11% in '06, although he's basically fishing away at about the same rate as his career... so who knows?

  • Nationals Journal takes a different approach. Favorite factoid: He's starting out with a first-pitch strike about 2/3 of the time.

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