PHOENIX – Miguel Vargas, the 23-year-old Los Angeles Dodgers rookie expected to take over second base, reached base in a third of his 15 spring training plate appearances. Well, okay, that .333 on-base percentage must have been well above average in last season’s regular season. It becomes more (or less?) impressive when you learn that Vargas didn’t and couldn’t swing in his first 11 plate appearances. And everyone knew it.
After he batted .300 or better in the last two minor-league campaigns and made the jump from High-A to the majors, the Dodgers aren’t really concerned about Vargas’ bat as he steps into an everyday role. . The bigger concern is the defense as they are asking him to move to second base after playing third base rising through the system. So when Vargas fractured his little finger early in the spring, the Dodgers decided he would play to gain experience in the field, but refrain from swinging until his finger had healed.
Meanwhile, Vargas said he made the physical decision otherwise in his mind. He looked for pitches in specific places at which he would or would not want to pull the trigger under normal circumstances. He still has plenty of opponents to learn from after accumulating just 50 plate appearances in his 2022 cup of coffee with the big-league team.
Vargas said, “I’m facing a lot of guys that I’m probably going to see in the regular season.” “Starting to face them during spring training is a great opportunity to learn what they do.”
Mentally cataloging breaking balls and pitcher instincts, he fired up the synapse that determined whether he would try to lace up a line drive into opposite field or turn the ball for power, just without firing up the muscles.
“When I go out there, I’m focused,” Vargas said Wednesday, recalling his statue-in-the-box days. “What’s my approach against this pitcher?”
When he finally took his first swing on Thursday, he connected while drilling a ground-rule double — his first hit and fifth time reaching base. Four times, pitchers walked Vargas (presumably) despite knowing he wasn’t swinging.,
It looks like a joke. and in many ways, it is, but it connects the adventures of New York Mets pitcher Robert Geiselman — also banned from swinging, though less publicly, back in 2016 — in a history of extreme examples that draw attention to an analytical open secret. One that, if acted upon, would fundamentally change how baseball looks: Maybe hitters will get better at swinging farther, much less than they currently do.
Hey, Batter Batter! Lo, batter batter!
Drew Haugen, an analyst with Down on the Farm, delved into the latest study on how hitters look at pitches. who set out to quantify swing decisions. Traditionally, plate discipline has been directly measured in comparison to the strike zone. Chase rate tells us that Juan Soto swings at only 19.9% of pitches he sees outside the zone, pitches that should be balls, the best (lowest) in MLB. Zone-swing rate tells us that Kyle Tucker, the Houston Astros star, hits pitches that strike an MLB-leading 84% of the time.
However, not all futures strikes are created equal. Many of them, in fact, are better off left alone. With more detailed information about those results becoming available, Haugen created the swing decision run value (SwRV) to quantify that fundamental decision. While it illuminated a lot of interesting things about MLB hitters, it also proved to be another big, blinking sign of how hitters — behind consecutive eight balls in the game’s recent evolution — can take back some power.
Haugen wrote, “Using the SwRV data, only 33% of pitches had a higher context-neutral expected run value on swing than Tech, while in fact, the league swing rate was much higher at 48%.” “Even in-zone pitches shouldn’t swing, because a called strike isn’t as damaging as a weakly hit ball. Only 64% of in-zone pitches take (again, context-neutral) Swing has a higher expected run value as compared to
“Even with a swing in the in-zone, your chances of hitting a well batted ball are very slim,” Haugen told Yahoo Sports.
His analysis showed that those in-zone pitches resulted in swings “17.8% of the time, foul balls 40.1% of the time, field outs 28.3% of the time, and base hits only 13.8% of the time.”
When you start thinking it through, it makes more and more sense. Those pitchers’ pitches can be really, really hard to damage, even if they’re in the zone. They can cause a pop-up (an automatic out) or a weak grounder (something close to that).
Context-neutral is an important bit here. Clearly, a walk doesn’t mean much when a man is on second and two outs in a tied game. And not swinging at strike 2-2 is not a good option. In the grand scheme of baseball strategy, though, the lessons in these numbers apply, and they are not new lessons.
Just last year, Eno Sarris took a deep dive into the matter, and Driveline Baseball’s Kyle Boddy expressed the sentiment more bluntly: “Hitters shouldn’t be swinging.”
Obviously, he didn’t mean the entirety. If a hitter truly commits himself to peace, he will be seen, and exploited. Kansas City Royals starter Zack Greinke, a future future Hall of Famer, came close to demolishing the Chameleon by pumping a fastball down the middle well below his typical velocity against Vargas.
In the past decade, only one qualified hitter has posted a swing rate of 33% or less, as Matt Carpenter in 2014. He managed to run a .375 on-base percentage despite minimal power. Only 11 other seasons have come in below 36%, with Juan Soto and Joe Mauer each doing so twice. To apply it on a wider scale, however, would require hitters with a less discerning eye and less inherent intimidation to intentionally set your bat on your shoulders.
It is difficult to say what will happen next. Hogan brought in Soto and Miles Straw, the lighting-hitting Cleveland Guardians center fielder, as case studies who show how difficult it is to paint with a broad brush. Both are extremely patient, but pitchers treat them differently. They avoid the zone against Soto even though he is likely to take balls and reach base because he is so dangerous when he swings. Straw, on the other hand, saw more pitches in the zone in 2022 than any other hitter in baseball.
“But if the league, as a whole, lowered its swing rate by about 3-4%,” Haugen said, “hitter production would increase,” even though pitchers hit the vast majority of their pitches in the strike zone. Have not started throwing. ,
The question is what that output will look like.
Optimizing to Win vs. Entertaining
While Vargas’ walk was entertaining as a novelty, a game with too few swings could get boring very quickly. maybe sleep with your trademark shuffle, will continue to entertain the audience without swinging. But in most cases, this will not be true.
Anyone who watches a game in 2023 will reckon with the inherent push-pull of best practices versus best TV product. MLB’s new rules — mostly pitch timers and infield shift limits — are responses to massive changes to the game that were smart for each team, but overall, a downgrade for the game.
As Sarris pointed out, it would be quite difficult to recreate a hypothetical migration away from swinging. It was one thing to put baseball on the clock; Deciding that it is no longer “One, two, three strikes, you’re out” There will probably be a bridge not far away. Fortunately, it remains very much in the realm of fantasy, despite numerous studies that suggest it may produce better results for hitters.
MLB batters in 2022 actually swing more times than in the previous 20 years. The last time hitters swung at pitches in the zone more often was in 2002, the first year FanGraphs has data on swings. Delving deeper into those trends, the logic at work becomes very clear. Faced with more and more diabolical offerings from an ever-advancing arsenal of pitchers, hitters have simply determined that they need more swing to actually hit.
Using Baseball Savant’s more granular classification of the “heart” of the zone — pitches down the middle — we can see that these, without a doubt, center-cut pitches attract more swings since pitch tracking began in 2008. Is doing.
However, they whisper more, despite their seemingly remote location.
This is the increased speed of modern pitch design at work. Yes, maybe a hitter would be better off taking a high fastball because a deep count could force the pitcher to throw a low one or provide him with another opportunity to make a mistake. But if you’re standing in the box with, say, Spencer Strider, how sure are you that you’re going to put a good wood on it, How sure are you that he’ll even pitch another fastball?
That psychological dance is still winning out over theoretically optimal passive-aggression. Maybe it always will be. But as Vargas learned this month, the same nasty stuff that keeps hitters busy in the box also drives pitchers on the razor’s edge, out of control and out of control.
“Baseball is tough,” Vargas said. “For hitters and also for pitchers.”