While watching the Marlins and Red Sox in some Grapefruit League action yesterday, I stumbled across something interesting. At least I found it interesting. I was trolling around on Brooks Baseball, which has tons of cool things for baseball nerds like myself.
I’ll try to keep this very short, so please observe the below heat-map. It shows how many pitches Joey Votto saw in each zone last year, as well as how often Votto swung at those pitches:
In regards to the stark difference between red and blue above, if you were able to look up the phrase “strike zone mastery” in a dictionary, this is likely what you’d see.
Check out the “high and tight” zone. Last year Votto saw 36 pitches in that zone, according to PITCHf/x. He swung at none of them. From past reading I’ve done, swinging at pitches up-and-in causes you to be much more likely to pop the ball up. Popping up is bad. It’s like striking out on one pitch since pop-ups have virtually no chance to turn into hits. Since Votto is good at avoiding swinging at these pitches, it would make sense that Votto is good at avoiding pop-ups, right? Well. This is a quantifiable, verifiable skill.
Perhaps even more interesting is that in Votto’s entire career, he’s only swung at 9 such pitches. Behold:
Being able to completely neutralize a low-reward ball-in-play type is a special skill. This is the kind of thing (among others) that allows certain players to somewhat defy the random nature of balls-in-play. Votto’s career BABIP is a testament to this thought.
Maybe I’m just a special kind of baseball dork, but the level of Votto’s precision when deciding when to swing and when not to swing is quite amazing to me. Perhaps this will spawn a full article later in the year. Regardless, I just wanted to share. Hope everyone had/is having a great weekend.