For every pitch, a batter has to make two decisions:

  1. Is the pitch a strike?
  2. Should I swing at the pitch?

(If the hitter has two strikes on them, it simplifies the equation).

Yet pitchers want hitters to swing at balls outside the strike zone and not swing at balls inside the strike zone. Taken together, the relationship between the pitcher and batter is a little bit like a shell game.

I feel like I’m writing a lot about the Reds starting pitching, so we will use the bullpen to look at pitcher swing percentages.

Here is the first interesting aspect of the pitcher-hitter relationship: hitters will swing at about 46% of all pitches thrown (league-wide stat, 2014). Here is how our bullpen compares to the league wide swing rate:

Name Swing%
Aroldis Chapman 47.90%
Manny Parra 48.20%
J.J. Hoover 48.90%
Sean Marshall 45.40%
Trevor Bell 41.70%
Jeff Francis 46.50%
Logan Ondrusek 48.20%
Jonathan Broxton 47.00%
Nick Christiani 48.20%
Sam LeCure 37.80%
Curtis Partch 36.80%

 

With the exception of Same LeCure and Partch, our bullpen is all hanging around the 46% mark.

Yet some pitchers can get hitters to offer at balls outside the strike zone or make hitters whiff at balls thrown inside the zone. Here is a breakdown of how often our relievers can get hitters to offer at pitches outside the zone (called O-Swing%):

Name O-Swing%
Aroldis Chapman 38.40%
Manny Parra 33.30%
J.J. Hoover 32.90%
Sean Marshall 32.30%
Trevor Bell 30.00%
Jeff Francis 29.40%
Logan Ondrusek 28.30%
Jonathan Broxton 26.50%
Nick Christiani 26.30%
Sam LeCure 21.50%
Curtis Partch 19.50%

 

Predictably, these numbers are lower than the overall swing percentage. What is a little surprising is how low Sam LeCure’s number is here: since he is not able to get hitters to offer at pitches outside of the zone, it hints at a possible regression in his pitching line later in the year. His BABIP (.278 vs .297 career) also indicates there could be a bit of a regression as the season moves on.

Also not surprisingly, pitchers who have powerful breaking pitchers (Chapman, Marshall) have higher O-Swing% than the other pitchers on the list.

Next, here is how often hitters swing at pitches inside the strike zone:

Name Z-Swing%
Aroldis Chapman 61.00%
Manny Parra 64.30%
J.J. Hoover 70.40%
Sean Marshall 61.20%
Trevor Bell 56.30%
Jeff Francis 62.20%
Logan Ondrusek 72.40%
Jonathan Broxton 66.90%
Nick Christiani 66.00%
Sam LeCure 57.40%
Curtis Partch 57.10%

 

From this list, it’s easy to see that Major League hitters can diagnose balls in the strike zone with amazing consistency. Ondrusek and Hoover, when they throw the ball over the dish, are not fooling anyone. Sam LeCure, on the other hand, seems to be able to confuse hitters when he wants to sneak a pitch over the plate.

So that tells if pitchers have the ability to get hitters to swing at pitches outside of the zone (or misjudge pitches inside the zone), but what happens when the hitter swings at these pitches? Here is the contact rate (hits, outs, or foul balls) for pitches thrown outside the strike zone (O-Contact%):

Name O-Contact%
Aroldis Chapman 44.20%
Manny Parra 40.40%
J.J. Hoover 67.40%
Sean Marshall 57.70%
Trevor Bell 100.00%
Jeff Francis 50.00%
Logan Ondrusek 66.10%
Jonathan Broxton 65.70%
Nick Christiani 75.00%
Sam LeCure 60.80%
Curtis Partch 62.50%

Yikes, Trevor Bell. Thankfully that’s an artifact of a small sample size. Some of our pitchers are very effective at inducing a whiff when hitters offer outside the zone (Chapman, Parra) while others are going to end up with some sort of contact (Christiani, Hoover). This is not always bad because contact outside the zone is much less likely to result in a hit than an out.

What about for balls inside the zone (Z-Contact%)?

Name Z-Contact%
Aroldis Chapman 60.00%
Manny Parra 83.20%
J.J. Hoover 82.80%
Sean Marshall 85.40%
Trevor Bell 88.90%
Jeff Francis 95.70%
Logan Ondrusek 80.50%
Jonathan Broxton 83.50%
Nick Christiani 91.90%
Sam LeCure 86.70%
Curtis Partch 90.00%

In the back of your mind, you might have had the feeling that pitchers need to go outside the strike zone in order get a hitter out. Major league hitters, on average, are extremely good at making contact with pitches that are thrown over the plate, but the contest shifts dramatically in favor of the pitcher if the pitch is thrown outside of the zone.One of these things is not like the other things. But we already knew that.

From this list you can see how incredibly hard it is to get a hitter to swing and miss on pitches inside the strike zone. Remember this chart next time you hear someone say that pitchers need to “pound the strike zone.”

Join the conversation! 5 Comments

  1. Interesting stuff, Mike. Thanks.

    You left LeCure’s Z-contact % off the table. I don’t know what it will tell us, but overall I’m impressed with how LeCure is learning to pitch with diminished stuff but terrified that the league is going to catch up with him shortly. Yesterday was another good example of how Price is really working to limit his exposure, and is hamstrung because of it.

    • updated — sorry about the LeCure omission.

      If this were a longer post I would have included line drive, ground ball, and fly ball percentages. That would have rounded out the contact numbers.

  2. Which of these numbers correlate most closely with success? Fooling guys into swinging at balls outside the zone, or fooling them into taking more strikes in the zone? Or sneaking strikes past the hitter?

    I know you did this for our relievers, but is there anything in these numbers that explains something I just posted at the bottom of the recap thread: given his stuff, why doesn’t Simon strike out more batters?

  3. Excellent reading. Well done, sir. Boy, LeCure sure is the outlier among our relievers. I think the numbers speak to the amount of deception he creates with his 2 seam fastball. He freezes a lot of batters when the pitch tails back over the plate.

  4. Thanks! I literally just yesterday asked two questions during the game that heavily relate to this: What percentage of 0 – 2 pitches thrown by the Reds are thrown for strikes (hopefully not meatballs). It seems that 99.7% of the pitches thrown on that count are outside the zone and, sadly to my eyes, not really close. Free ball for the batter. The other question was, as a batter, which is the worse offense: Striking out by taking strike three and swinging and missing at ball four? Would love to see all those numbers. I have no idea where you pull your stats from. Impressive and interesting.

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2014 Reds