Hacking And Fastballs

Another day, another scatter plot. This time, I’ve taken the hitters who have racked up enough at-bats to qualify over the last three years and put their percentage of fastballs seen on the x axis and their percentage of pitches swung at out of the zone on the y axis. Or, to put it in FanGraphs stats terms, you’ve got Fastball% and O-Swing% plotted here, as we look to see how strong the relationsihp is between hitters who have proven a willingness to chase pitches and pitchers willingness to throw those same hitters fastballs.

Here’s the chart.


This chart actually looks a bit like the FB% and ISO chart from last week, though the slope of the line isn’t as sharp. Indeed, the correlation here is -.34, quite a bit lower than the -.59 that we found between a player’s power and the willingness of pitchers to challenge him. However, there is definitely still a relationship in play here – the more a player shows that he’s willing to expand the zone, the less incentive a pitcher has to throw something straight and hard.

The most interesting group on the graph, to me, are the five points in the 35-40% O-Swing% range (right below Vladimir Guerrero). These guys are some of the most aggressive free swingers in baseball, all with a I-Can-Hit-Anything approach to hitting. Included in this group are Alfonso Soriano, Jeff Francoeur, Bengie Molina, Ivan Rodriguez, and A.J. Pierzynski. Despite similar willingness to swing at anything, Soriano and Francoeur see the fewest number of fastballs of that group. They also are the two most powerful hitters of the group. That’s probably not a coincidence – even when faced with a batter who is willing to go out of the zone to swing the bat, pitchers are still selecting which pitches to throw based on the potential damage that could be done if the batter connects. Even though Pierzynski is just as likely to chase a curveball in the dirt as Soriano, he gets more fastballs because he’s not going to punish the pitcher in the same way if he gets around on it.

We’ve heard a lot over the years about the value of working the count in order to make a pitcher throw you a fastball that you can hit, and while there’s certainly some truth to the value of that approach, hitters like David Ortiz, Adam Dunn, and Jim Thome aren’t actually seeing more fastballs than the hacking types who swing at anything. Pitchers are willing to walk hitters who scare them, and their pitch selection is certainly based more on fear of power than manipulation of the count by patient hitters. Brian Giles does a great job of taking pitches, but he gets a lot of fastballs because his power has evaporated, not because he’s forcing pitchers into 3-1 counts.

David Ortiz gets 54.5% fastballs despite hardly ever chasing pitches out of the zone. Alfonso Soriano gets 52.3% fastballs while swinging at pickoff throws to first.

A good approach to hitting is important, but if we’re looking for evidence that hitters can significantly increase the amount of fastballs they see by not chasing pitches out of the zone, we’re not really finding it.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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13 years ago

So the commonly known strategy of pitching around a power hitter seems to be common.

By the way, it is considered common for pitchers to throw fastballs to a player that hits in front of a big power hitter. So a primary way for a batter to see more fastballs is to bat in front of a big power hitter. Most teams put their best hitter in the 3 hole which is a major reason why 2nd batters see so many fastballs. I’ll bet you will find that 3rd batters see as many fastballs as 4th batters, but 4th batters more than 5th batters, 5th more than 6th, 6th more than 7th, 7th more than 8th, and 8th more than 9th.

Every NL team should bat their least patient batter in front of the pitcher to maximize the teams number of walks.

13 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

really, It would be cool to see some evidence that supports that being a myth. I know many sports journalist, players and managers believe otherwise. Logically protection makes sense to me through intentional walks. Teams seem like they would intentionally walk a player in front of Tony Pena before they would walk a guy in front of David Ortiz. Thus, they would pitch around the player in front of Tony Pena more than in front of David Ortiz. Thus, it would help a players walks to bat in front of Ortiz rather than Pena. So it would be cool to find out if that was not true. do know of anyplace to look.