On Tuesday, Joel Sherman reported that some teams are wary of signing Johnny Damon because of how close he is to 3,000 hits. Three executives told Sherman that they were concerned Damon’s quest for the milestone has made him less patient at the plate, trading walks for chances to get a hit — an idea that was first observed by JC Mitchell at DRaysBay back in July. Sherman even cited FanGraphs data to show that in 2011 Damon swung at more pitches out of the zone than any other year for which we have the data. His walk rate took a hit, dropping to 7.9% — his lowest since 2005 and second-lowest since 1996.
The Pitchf/x data show an increase in out-of-zone swings, but not quite as drastic as the BIS data. Although, if I use the left-handed batter-specific zone reported by John Walsh, I see a jump from 26% O-swing from 2007-2010 to 29% O-swing in 2011. I think the best thing to do is look at exactly where the extra swings are coming from. Here are swing-rate contours for Damon comparing 2007-2010 to 2011. Inside the 50% contour he was more likely than not to swing at a pitch, outside of it less likely than not. Pitches inside the 60% contour he swung at over 60% of the time.