Examining the Mets’ Full-Count Aggression

Sitting on the desk of nearly every manager in baseball before any given game are several large packets of information, compiled by that team’s analytics department about that day’s opponent. The packets are thick, and the front pages typically contain images with which you’re likely familiar simply from reading FanGraphs every day. Red and blue heat maps, sometimes varying by handedness, pitch type or count. Spray charts, usually with lines as the visual component rather than dots, and almost always split up by ground balls, fly balls and line drives. The middle and back pages, presumably, get more and more detailed, and the most interesting thing I’ve seen is command data for each opposing pitcher, split up by pitch type.

Condensed versions of these packets are placed in players’ lockers several hours before first pitch, met with varying levels of reception. Some can be seen rigorously studying them, others will give them one quick glance over before crumpling them up and throwing them in the trash.

Information is a good thing, but sports are still physical and reactionary by nature, and for some players, information overload certainly exists as a con. In all reality, for a middle-of-the-season noon game against the Phillies on getaway day, it probably doesn’t matter too much. We’re past that point in the season, now. The scouting reports are to be read. The packets are to be studied.

Over the next week, one American League team will be learning everything there is to know about the New York Metropolitans. Their unique individual tendencies, strategies, weaknesses and strengths. Where they hit the ball, where they pitch the ball, where they stand in the field, how they react to different situations and more. In the grand scheme of things, the advantages to be gained from this information are small, sure, but every little advantage in the World Series is an advantage in the World Series.

Somewhere in the middle of that packet in the manager’s office may exist a page about a team’s tendencies, at the plate, by count. It’s a page that might be skipped over in July. It’s not a page that gets skipped in October. No pages get skipped in October.

When American League Manager X reads that page about the Mets, something might stand out. Something stood out to me, at least, in my own self-made digital version of that page in the packet. My page has out-of-zone swing rate in full counts, and it looks like this:

Out-of-Zone Swing Rates in 3-2 counts
Name OOZ_Pitches OOZ_Swings OOZ_Swing%
1 Nolan Arenado 38 31 82%
2 Victor Martinez 53 42 79%
3 Jean Segura 43 34 79%
4 Daniel Murphy 38 30 79%
5 Juan Lagares 37 29 78%
6 Wilmer Flores 45 34 76%
7 Gregory Polanco 69 51 74%
8 Erick Aybar 41 30 73%
9 Jose Altuve 37 27 73%
10 Yoenis Cespedes 61 44 72%
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

There are 180 players in my spreadsheet, and the Mets’ starting second baseman had the fourth-highest rate of chasing pitches out of the strike zone in a 3-2 count. The Mets’ fourth outfielder ranked fifth. The Mets’ starting shorstop ranked sixth. The Mets’ starting center fielder ranked 10th.

Interestingly enough, the Mets aren’t an overly aggressive offense. For the season, they had a below-average swing rate, and a well below-average out-of-zone swing rate. When the count runs full, though, the Mets become aggressive. Part of this is the nature of the players. Part of this, probably, is the philosophy of hitting coach Kevin Long.

Despite having four of the top 10 players in this category, the Mets, as a team, rank eighth. Travis d’Arnaud is supremely disciplined in full counts; Curtis Granderson and Lucas Duda post relatively low chase rates as well. But the Mets didn’t have Cespedes in their lineup all year, and he’s aggressive. They didn’t have Wilmer Flores playing every day, and he’s aggressive. The season-team numbers can be a bit misleading, because the Mets now aren’t what the Mets used to be, and more of their plate appearances are being given to players with extremely aggressive full-count approaches.

It should be noted, this isn’t necessarily a bad quality inherent to select Mets hitters. You’ll notice that the top hitter on the leaderboard above is a very good hitter. The second hitter is one who’s famous for his approach, though the results didn’t follow this year. Altuve is a great hitter. Cespedes, great hitter. Pitches out of the zone can still be hittable pitches, and plenty of hitters can still do damage on them.

It’s just, this is something that, with prior knowledge, feels somewhat exploitable. It’s exploitable on a very small scale, but even a small scale on the biggest stage seems important. Yoenis Cespedes is an important out. Daniel Murphy, apparently, is now an important out. Having this information shouldn’t alter a pitcher’s approach radically, and he’s already not in a great spot having worked himself into a full count, but maybe now he’s a little more willing to throw Cespedes that slider he likes to chase in a full count to get out of a jam, rather than give him the fastball he’s geared up for. Maybe that up-and-away pitch that Murphy struggles with, a pitcher can confidently tuck it just a little more up and away, knowing Murphy would rather swing than take.

A 3-2 pitch can be the difference between an out and a run. An out and a run can be the difference between a win and a loss. A win and a loss, at this point in the season, can mean the difference between a World Championship and the same thing the other 29 teams got. With no room for left for error, no extra information is inconsequential.

August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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8 years ago

What’s the league average rate? Given the low number of pitches, each swing has about a 2.5-3% impact for a lot of these guys. If Murphy swung at 4 fewer pitches, he’s no longer on the list at 68%. Although if he’s near the top year after year, then it’s more likely to be a legit trend.

With the low number of pitches, it can be influenced by the caliber of pitches. A pitch just off the outside corner is worth swinging at, even though it’s out of the zone. If you can foul it off or drive it to the opposite field, that’s better than chancing a called third strike. A pitch in the dirt is unacceptable to swing at with a full count. If we’re looking at 2,000 pitches that a batter faces all year, those can wash out. When we’re looking at 40 pitches, the caliber of pitches can be much different from one batter to the next.

On a separate note, do managers and players only get this information about the opposition, or do they see a packet about themselves as well? In the Mets/Dodgers series, the broadcasters said over and over that Granderson hardly ever swung at the first pitch in an at bat. But during the series, he did it a lot. I’d have to assume that he knew the Dodgers would try to exploit that, and he took advantage of it.