This week we’re going to kickoff a new series that looks at how some of the expected 2019 Cincinnati Reds hitters perform against the strikezone. The series will look at the performance of players on pitches that are located in the strikezone versus pitches that are not in the strikezone. If you’ve ever been on the internet, or listened to sports talk radio you’ve almost certainly heard from someone that “Joey Votto needs to swing the bat more” or some version of that – implying that he needs to expand the strikezone to try and hit more pitches and “quit trying to walk”. We’re going to dive into the numbers to see just how that idea would seem to play out throughout the lineup. But we aren’t going to start off with Joseph Daniel Votto. Today the series will kick off with the Reds best hitter in 2018, Eugenio Suarez.

During the 2018 season Eugenio Suarez had his best season of his career. After signing an extension at the end of spring training, he went off at the plate during the year. The Reds third baseman hit .283/.366/.526 with 22 doubles, 2 triples, and 34 home runs. His .892 OPS was a big jump from the 2017 season that saw him post an .828 OPS. That was a 100 point jump up from the 2016 season.

Eugenio Suarez, throughout his career, has never chased pitches out of the zone much. For his career his outside-the-zone swing rate is just 26%. In 2018 he posted his best rate of his career – 24.7%. That was a slight improvement over 2017 when he expanded the zone 25.3% of the time. The league average rate in 2018 was 30.9%. But two things happened that helped take his numbers at the plate to the next level. He swung at more pitches in the strikezone than ever before. And he made less contact on pitches out of the strikezone than ever before.

In the 2017 season Eugenio Suarez swung at pitches in the strikezone 61.3% of the time. That jumped up to 66.6% of the time in 2018. That was close to the league average, which was 67.3% last year. Outside of zone he swung less than ever, and also saw his contact rate when he did swing drop to an all-time low of 50.6%, too (57.4% was his previous low rate of contact on non-strikes). The league made contact outside of the zone on 62.8% of pitches in 2018. More contact on good pitches, and less contact on bad pitches is a good way to do more damage overall. And that’s exactly how it played out for the infielder.

During the year Eugenio Suarez hit just .186 on non-strikes when he made contact. On those same pitches out of the strikezone he slugged just .325. Now, while this is the first in the series and you guys haven’t seen the numbers on anyone else yet, I’ll just share with you now – the isolated power (slugging minus average) of .139 is very high. Still, when it comes to hitting non-strikes, the numbers are ugly. This, of course, shouldn’t be surprising. It’s called the strikezone because those are the pitchers you are supposed to be able to strike. Probably.

Speaking of the strikezone, how did Eugenio Suarez do against pitches within it? Well, he did pretty good. On strikes he hit .340 when he made contact. He also showed off plenty of power when he made contact in the zone, too – slugging .645. His isolated power in the zone of .305 was best among the Cincinnati Reds players in 2018 by a decent margin. Like the numbers out of the zone, the ones in the zone aren’t terribly surprising, either. When good hitters get pitches to hit in the zone, they tend to do damage on them. Eugenio Suarez did what you would expect him to do.

In the shocker of the century, Eugenio Suarez was much better in the zone than out of the zone. His average and slugging was nearly double on pitches in the zone than it was out of the zone. For the Reds third baseman, more contact in the zone and less contact out of the zone led to the best season he’s ever had.

Data on average and slugging percentage in and out of the strikezone is from Brooks Baseball. The data was manually tabulated based on their raw numbers provided.

28 Responses

  1. Michael Smith

    Shocking data Doug. You mean to tell me hitting the ball in the strike zone is going to lead to better results??? Who knew… definately not swing at more bad pitches guy.

  2. Bill

    Another bum who would rather take a walk than get an RBI. He probably never hits when it counts either.

    • Colorado Red

      Dude, look at what he did.
      Taking a walk is better then striking out, or a pop out to first.

      • sanantonefan

        I am going to take a shot in the dark and say that Bill was being very sarcastic…

    • Phil

      Bill, some people just don’t get it.

  3. CFD3000

    File the outcomes data under “least surprising news”, but the real question is “How do you improve strike zone recognition.” When hitters swing only at strikes and ignore balls, they get better outcomes. So how do you cultivate that skill? Joey Votto is excellent at it. Eugenio Suarez is getting better at it, and his results reflect that. Jesse Winker seems innately good at it, and I expect a strong year from him if he stays healthy. I’m also interested to see Peraza’s data and whether or not his improved results are a reflection of better command of the strike zone. But the team that figures out how to teach this skill will be dominant on offense. More, better hits. More walks and runners on base. More pitches thrown by opposing pitchers. More wins. So how do you teach that skill?

    • Doug Gray

      It’s something that I ask as many scouts and coaches as I can. The answer is usually something along the lines of “experience and seeing more pitches”. It’s no coincidence that catchers almost always have a strong strikeout-to-walk ratio. They see more pitches than anyone because of the catching aspect. I’m sure there are some things that have to do with eyesight that make some guys a tiny bit better than others in this area. And of course, there’s the mental side of things with your approach of simply understanding what you should and shouldn’t swing at – just because you can put the bat on it doesn’t mean you should. But by and large, it’s probably an eyesight thing, which is why no one has really figured out how to teach it to the masses.

  4. LWBlogger2

    I think for Suarez, and likely for most Reds players, the data shows that swinging at more strikes is a good thing. When we hear all the people screaming for Votto to swing the bat more, I don’t think people are saying to swing at balls. Well, I’ve actually heard a few people say that but most seem to want him to swing at more pitches IN the zone. Of course Votto does swing at most pitches in the zone. I’ll let Doug provide the full numbers in a future piece in this series but here’s a small spoiler. According to FanGraphs Votto swung at 62.4% of pitches in the zone. That’s much lower than 66.6% of those pitches he swung at in 2017…. Of course those same people were screaming that Joey should swing more in 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014 …

  5. jreis

    it is funny, there are not that many “bad pitch” good hitters anymore. players are trained today to take more pitches and work the count I guess. I remember Dave Parker hitting balls into the gap on a bounce. lol .”situational” hitting seems to be a thing of the past too.
    1985- man on 2nd with nobody out and and a righty at bat. first pitch is a pitch a foot outside. the player then is likely to swing at it and ground it to second base to move the runner over. now you have a guy on third with on third with one out.

    2018- the same batter takes the pitch and tries to get a walk. now you have a guy on 1st and 2nd with no outs but with the double play as a good possibility now.

    • Doug Gray

      It’s a lot tougher to hit “bad pitches” when pitchers don’t throw 85 MPH with their fastball.

      • LWBlogger2

        And it’s actually pretty tough to hit an 85 MPH fastball that isn’t at least real close to the zone. Of course for most people 85 right down broadway is a challenge. Hitting baseballs is hard.

  6. Bill J

    When you talk about strike zone recognition I remember an umpire saying, when Pete was playing, that if a pitch was close and Pete look back at him he would call it a ball. That’s how good Pete was.

  7. LWBlogger2

    Off-topic but still Reds related in a way…

    Looks like the Nats have signed Anibal Sanchez. He will be taking Roark’s place in the rotation. His deal is 2 years and a guaranteed $19-million. That gives him an AAV of about what Roark’s was going to be and an extra year. It’s pretty clear that the Nats feel he’s a better bet for their rotation than Roark would be.

    It will be interesting to watch Sanchez and Roark and see which organization was right. As Sanchez was a free-agent, it stands to reason that the Reds could have signed him instead of picking up Roark or after the fact as they were rumored to be looking at. This obviously assuming that Sanchez would have played in Cincy for the same $$/years.

  8. Steve Schoenbaechler

    One thing I will say, though, also, is one needs to compare as to just what the player is hired for, is paid for. For instance, when Choo was here, the same reason why I believe Winker will be hitting high in the order, is we need people to get on base. It doesn’t make a difference if it’s via the walk, single, double, or HR, we need people on base.

    Then, others are paid to drive runs in. The proverbial clean-up hitter, more likely to drive a run in with a hit or even a sacrifice (swinging) than a walk (or strikeout, or not swinging).

    That’s one reason why we were hoping Hamilton was going to work out. If he could have just gotten on base at a 330 clip, he would have possibly been hitting leadoff every game instead of last every game. We knew he wasn’t going to be much of a HR hitter.

    Or, like Votto and the reason why a couple of years ago people were talking about how he should swing more. His power numbers were way off. And, teams were starting to learn him. Go ahead and throw two strikes early; he will let him go. Then, just go for the corners. As a result, he let a lot of good pitches by early, and rarely was getting good pitches to power anywhere. Sort of the reason why people at this time were also talking about Votto hitting leadoff as well, since he was still getting on base but wasn’t powering anything at the time.

    For instance, I don’t want a 3-4-5 hitter who might be able to get walks but is a groundball-type of hitter. If he can’t hit HR’s, drive the ball, etc., he needs to be placed elsewhere in the lineup. Then, if we have a HR batting leadoff with the “walker” batting 3-4-5, those should probably switch positions in the batting order.

    A stat that might be good to look at is not how often they make contact when they swing at a pitch in the zone (or out of the zone). How about how often they swing at pitches in the zone, whether they make contact or not? Similar with swinging at pitches outside the zone.

    • LWBlogger2

      Ask and you shall receive… From Fangraphs:

      Throughout his career, Votto has swung at 68.7% of pitches in the strikezone. I don’t see where league average is calculated over a player’s career but the league averages for each year during Votto’s career have run from a low of 64.4% in 2010 to as high as 67.3% in 2018. Votto generally swings at more pitches inside the zone than players in MLB do on average.

      • Steve Schoenbaechler

        For LWBlogger, this can come from how Votto fouls off so many pitches, which would come from the pitchers hitting the corners of the zones. What about Votto’s %swinging at, for example, pitches #1 and #2 when they are in the zone?

        Don’t get me wrong, I still believe Votto is one of the best hitters in BB. But, that is how you pitch to him. Throw the first couple straight down the middle, for I believe Votto is more likely not to swing at them; everyone knows his norm is taking the first several pitches, working the pitch count, etc. Not because they are in the zone or not, but because they are the first and second pitches. Pitchers are doing that, throwing them down the middle to get 2 strikes on him as early as possible; Votto will seemingly make it easy for them to do that. Then, they try to get Votto chasing one on the corners or just outside. As a result, Votto is trying to swing at the worst of the pitches instead of what many would consider the easiest of pitches.

      • Old-school

        Joey Votto is a .300/.410/.490 season away from being the best hitter of the 2010 -19 decade. I can’t wait to watch him hit with a healthy elite offensive lineup surrounding him. I’d like to see him in the 2 hole with Suarez 3.

      • LWBlogger2

        Maybe Steve, but I don’t have that data so can’t really check.

        All I have in regards to that is Votto, not the league averages.

        For his career, Votto has put in play (or been hit by) the 1st pitch in 835 PA. His line for those appearances is .411/.418/.742 … That’s amazing. He’s smashed 61 HR in those plate appearances.

        He’s had 6764 total plate appearances. So, he’s put in play 12.3% of 1st pitches in his plate appearances. I imagine he’s swung at some more and missed them. I don’t know how that compares to the league though. If I get time, I’ll look at 0-1 and 1-0 counts too, as those would represent the 2nd pitch of a plate appearance.

      • Steve Schoenbaechler

        Sort of amazing why he wouldn’t swing at more first pitches, then, isn’t it?

    • Bill

      I disagree. They are paid to not get out.

      A HR is more desirable than a walk, but a walk is far more valuable than an out. An out is much more likely swinging at pitches outside the zone. If you take walks it forces the pitcher to throw strikes, which is what you want players to swing at. The whole idea of you are paid to drive in runs because you bat 3-5 is ridiculous. I want guys who drive up pitch counts and turn the lineup over. Data shows the third time through the lineup is where the batter has the advantage and high pitch counts force the starter out.

      • SteveLV

        Actually, I think OPS is the real driving stat – you really get paid when you can do both.

      • Steve Schoenbaechler

        Not ridiculous at all. Can you imagine Lorenzo Cain batting 3-4-5? Cesar Hernandez? High OBP, but poor SLG.

      • Bill

        Why couldn’t they hit in the 3-5 spot? What guarantee is there that anyone is even on base ahead of them to “drive in”? You could lead off the inning on every at bat except the 1st in any of those positions or have no one on. Guys with high OBP should hit at the top of the order, not because it is their job to get a walk, but because they are the most likely to get on and the top of the order gets more at bats. If OBP is close between Hamilton and Stanton of course you want Hamilton in front of Stanton in the order, but as we have seen Winker a high OBP guy have a lot of success batting 6th by simply not making an out.

    • Michael Smith

      Fun fact Joey Votto is 51st all time in slugging percentage

  9. Old-school

    A big factor is to not fear striking out. Jose Peraza’s early career impossible walk rates seemed to be a product of his fear of deep counts and striking out.
    There are worse things than striking out.

    Paul Daugherty is repeating Fancred that the Yankees and Reds continue to talk on Sonny Gray but the Yankees want just below elite AA/AAA pitching prospects. That’s Santillan and Gutierrez. If the Yankees want them too and the Reds don’t want to give them up, that’s good news for 2020.
    I’d go with Mahle as a #5. Give him 15 starts.

    • Hanawi

      I wouldn’t give them either one, much less both, for Gray.

    • doofus

      If the Yanks include Michael King with Gray I would consider Santillan and Gutierrez in the deal.