More on Plate Discipline

Last year I did a two part series on plate discipline that delved into a few statistics that I thought better represented a batter’s actual plate discipline than your traditional metrics. The stats are in for the 2006 season, so I figured it’d be worth taking another look. Here’s a quick recap of last year’s findings:

Z% (Zone Percentage) – The percentage of pitches a batter sees inside the strike zone. Correlates with walk rate (BB%) and home runs per fly ball ( HR/FB). Batters with more power are pitched more cautiously resulting in a lower Z% and a higher BB%.

OSwing (Outside Swing Percentage) – The percentage of pitches a batter swings at that are outside the strike zone. Correlates with walk rate (BB%). This year, OSwing will be represented as OSwing above the MLB average.

Contact (Contact Percentage) – The percentage of times a batter makes contact with the ball when he swings the bat. Correlates with strikeout rate (K%) and home runs per fly ball (HR/FB). Batters who can’t make contact with the ball obviously strike out more often, and batters who swing “harder” often make less contact, resulting in higher HR/FB and more strikeouts.

So, with the recap out of the way, let’s look at some year to year correlations for all three for the first time.


They all correlate well from year to year, but Both OSwing and Contact correlate extremely well. I consider OSwing about the best measure of plate discipline since not swinging at pitches outside the strike zone is pretty much the definition of plate discipline.

Seeing that it correlates so well from year to year (at least in 2005 & 2006) suggests that players do not quickly develop plate discipline. Perhaps it’s a skill that can be learned over time, but there are few players who saw drastic changes in OSwing from 2005 to 2006. Less than 10% of all players with 300 at-bats in 2005 and 2006 saw more than a 5% change in OSwing from 2005 to 2006.

Name                Dif    Name                  Dif
Andruw Jones      8.09%    Jeromy Burnitz     -5.10%
Geoff Jenkins     7.13%    Dave Roberts       -5.34%
So Taguchi        6.97%    Mark Loretta       -5.38%
Willy Taveras     6.62%    Freddy Sanchez     -5.66%
Aaron Miles       6.16%    Vladimir Guerrero  -5.71%
Scott Hatteberg   6.08%    Jay Payton         -5.89%
Joe Crede         5.92%    Kevin Mench        -6.82%
Jorge Cantu       5.13%    A.J. Pierzynski    -7.50%
Eric Chavez       5.08%    Clint Barmes       -8.39%

Contact showed an even higher correlation from year to year than OSwing, also suggesting that players don’t really change their approach from year to year. In fact, there were only 10 players who had more than a 5% change in Contact from 2005 to 2006.

Name                Dif    Name                  Dif
Corey Patterson   5.10%    Brad Wilkerson     -8.87%
Mike Piazza       5.17%    Bill Hall          -7.41%
Adam Everett      5.51%    Nick Swisher       -7.02%
Reed Johnson      5.71%    Chris Shelton      -6.37%
Troy Glaus        6.71%    Craig Monroe       -5.21%

Finally, Z% showed the least amount of correlation from year to year, but it wasn’t a poor correlation by any means. The decreased correlation I suspect is due to this metric not being entirely within the batters control. While how a batter is pitched is indicative of his various skills (mainly power and overall plate discipline), it’s still up to the pitcher to decide how to proceed.

Between both Contact and OSwing there appears to be a sort of “sweet spot” for batters. Let’s apply some filters to OSwing and see what happens. Particularly, let’s look at power batters who have a HR/FB greater than 15%.

For the first list, let’s limit the batters to those who have “considerably better” plate discipline than the rest of the league. Let’s call “considerably better” an OSwing of 5% or more than league average.

Name                  Contact     HR      HR/FB
Jason Giambi           80.97%     37     20.00%
Morgan Ensberg         74.65%     23     16.43%
Barry Bonds            85.78%     26     16.56%
Nick Johnson           84.53%     23     15.97%
Pat Burrell            79.50%     29     18.13%
Jim Thome              71.92%     42     27.81%
Chipper Jones          82.27%     26     19.12%
Frank Thomas           86.58%     39     17.41%
Carlos Beltran         84.08%     41     21.13%
Adam Dunn              70.42%     40     22.22%
Troy Glaus             75.66%     38     18.72%
Jason Bay              75.26%     35     18.82%
Nick Swisher           71.07%     35     17.86%
Austin Kearns          74.11%     24     15.29%

If we move to the next list, which I’ll use the same criteria for, but instead of batters who are “considerably better”, this will just be batters who have “above average” plate discipline (OSwing between 0% and 5% above league average).

Name                  Contact    HR     HR/FB
Josh Willingham        79.31%    26    15.85%
David Ortiz            77.92%    54    26.09%
Albert Pujols          86.24%    49    22.48%
Casey Blake            82.82%    19    16.67%
Raul Ibanez            80.26%    33    16.50%
Jim Edmonds            73.31%    19    16.81%
Travis Hafner          72.73%    42    30.22%
Lance Berkman          79.24%    45    24.59%
Phil Nevin             72.79%    22    21.57%
Jermaine Dye           78.26%    44    25.43%
Bill Hall              71.97%    35    19.44%
Brad Hawpe             73.98%    22    16.18%
Paul Konerko           82.11%    35    17.50%
Moises Alou            85.24%    22    17.46%
Andruw Jones           72.94%    41    22.04%
Richie Sexson          69.40%    34    19.32%
Mark Teixeira          79.93%    33    15.94%
Alex Rodriguez         74.27%    35    20.23%
Mike Piazza            81.88%    22    17.05%
Ken Griffey Jr.        80.70%    27    18.00%
Manny Ramirez          78.46%    35    23.49%
Miguel Cabrera         80.65%    26    15.57%
Adrian Gonzalez        79.93%    24    15.69%

Next up are the batters who have “below average” plate discipline (OSwing between 0% and 5% below league average).

Name                  Contact     HR      HR/FB
Ray Durham             88.15%     26     15.95%
Adam LaRoche           76.81%     32     21.19%
Marcus Thames          73.19%     26     17.11%
Carlos Delgado         74.39%     38     22.89%
Ty Wigginton           76.38%     24     16.90%
Carlos Lee             86.49%     37     16.09%
Ryan Howard            67.49%     58     39.46%
Mike Cuddye            76.26%     24     15.69%
Aramis Ramirez         84.28%     38     15.14%
Juan Rivera            84.38%     23     17.69%
Mark Teahen            79.05%     18     16.51%
Craig Wilson           70.20%     17     15.74%
Craig Monroe           74.79%     28     15.14%
Matt Holliday          78.84%     34     20.00%
Prince Fielder         76.55%     28     15.82%
Vernon Wells           83.45%     32     15.02%
Torii Hunter           78.02%     31     18.34%
Wilson Betemit         76.67%     18     18.00%
Preston Wilson         76.26%     17     16.67%
Miguel Tejada          84.33%     24     15.48%

And finally, the batters who have “considerably worse” plate discipline (OSwing of 5% or more below average).

Name                  Contact    HR     HR/FB
Jeromy Burnitz         72.47%    16    16.00%
Ben Broussard          77.00%    21    15.56%
Justin Morneau         81.07%    34    16.43%
Rocco Baldelli         77.09%    16    16.00%
Jacque Jones           73.82%    27    25.47%
Alfonso Soriano        73.92%    46    18.25%
Jeff Francoeur         76.47%    29    15.26%
Vladimir Guerrero      83.15%    33    16.34%

Now that you’ve seen the lists, it seems clear to me at least, that it’s preferable to have above average plate discipline. Some of the guys in the below average list are borderline, but for the most part, it’s just not as prestigious a list.

The “considerably worse” list is fascinating, since some of these players actually get away with such an aggressive approach. Vladimir Guerrero, who swings at pretty much everything, is talented enough to get away with it. Justin Morneau got away with it last year, but it’s worth noting his plate discipline didn’t improve from 2005 to 2006 and his 2005 season was, fairly forgettable. For what it’s worth, his contact rate did rise by about 3%.

It looks like high contact rates may be able to counter poor plate discipline. It would seem to me that the truly “special” players (with exceptions like Vladimir Guerrero) have that rare combination of power, plate discipline, and contact rates. You see this in players like Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Frank Thomas, Carlos Beltran and of course Albert Pujols. Of course, this isn’t the be-all-end-all filter, since there are a few players who sneak in like Casey Blake, who I wouldn’t consider particularly special.

So far we’ve looked at players who had at least 300 at bats, but maybe it’s possible to identify some breakout players from batters who had less than desired playing time.

Here are the players in 2006 who had an OSwing greater than -2% below average and a HR/FB over 12%. I relaxed the HR/FB filter slightly since being able to hit for power might not be quite there yet in younger players.

Name                  Contact    HR     HR/FB
Hideki Matsui          87.70%     8    12.12%
Gabe Gross             76.60%     9    14.06%
Chris Snyder           80.31%     6    12.24%
David Dellucci         73.62%    13    14.44%
Greg Norton            76.61%    17    17.89%
J.J. Hardy             85.78%     5    13.89%
Derrek Lee             81.04%     8    15.09%
Corey Koskie           77.05%    12    17.14%
Damion Easley          83.13%     9    14.06%
Aaron Guiel            77.69%     7    17.07%
Luke Scott             78.83%    10    14.71%
Jason LaRue            71.65%     8    15.69%
Wes Helms              77.88%    10    14.71%
Freddie Bynum          72.73%     4    15.38%
Ben Johnson            72.95%     4    12.90%
Michael Napoli         68.34%    16    17.20%
Chris Duncan           77.25%    22    29.33%
Scott Spiezio          80.91%    13    13.83%
Corey Hart             75.84%     9    12.16%
Russell Branyan        63.90%    18    22.50%
Dave Ross              71.51%    21    23.86%
Yorvit Torrealba       78.96%     7    16.28%
Ryan Doumit            74.43%     6    14.63%
Marlon Anderson        81.94%    12    13.79%
Daryle Ward            77.90%     7    15.22%
Josh Bard              85.16%     9    15.79%
Carlos Quentin         74.38%     9    18.00%
Joe Borchard           70.60%    10    17.54%
Cody Ross              76.85%    13    14.77%
Adam Melhuse           73.71%     4    14.81%

This is by no means a “magic bullet” list, but I’d consider it one of many starting points for narrowing down possible breakout players. There are certainly a few players on this list such as Josh Bard, Chris Duncan, Luke Scott, and others that appear to be quite promising. It’s also a reminder that injured players shouldn’t be forgotten such as Derrek Lee, Hideki Matsui, and David Dellucci.

If you were to look at the same list last year, out of about 30 players, you’d have identified Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, J.D. Drew, Mark DeRosa, Milton Bradley, Matt Murton, Ty Wigginton, Nomar Garciaparra, Marcus Thames and Curtis Granderson. So, about one third of the players ended up being at least decent to excellent sleepers.

If you’re still with me, we’ll look at one last list of filters, which I’d consider a sort of potential breakout power hitter list with already established players. I’ll filter on players with an above average OSwing, a contact rate between 70% and 85%, a HR/FB greater than 7.5%, and players all under the age of 30.

Name                  Contact    HR    HR/FB
Ryan Langerhans        76.50%     7     8.54%
Jhonny Peralta         73.48%    13     9.22%
Bobby Crosby           77.88%     9     9.09%
Jonny Gomes            70.95%    20    13.33%
Rickie Weeks           73.58%     8     9.09%
Jose Bautista          77.72%    16    11.59%
Chris Shelton          73.46%    16    12.60%
Edwin Encarnacion      80.15%    15    12.10%
Curtis Granderson      70.84%    19    11.66%
Matt Murton            83.57%    13    13.54%
Jeremy Hermida         78.88%     5     6.17%

Last year, using the same filter, yielded a group of 15 batters who hit 190 home runs in 2005 and 266 home runs in 2006. The group included Carlos Beltran, Grady Sizemore, Mark Teahen, Nick Swisher, Brad Hawpe, and others.

The bottom line is, that since stats like OSwing and Contact do correlate so well from year to year, it would definitely make sense to include them in a projection system (instead of me boring you to death with random filters). I’d say Contact is arguably better than using strikeouts, and OSwing is really unlike any of the traditional statistics that would go into projections.

David Appelman is the creator of FanGraphs.

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17 years ago

Wow, how relieving is it to see OSwing%, and Contact% which such high year-to-year correlation. I was literally holding my breath.

I don’t know why i haven’t seen HR/FB yet, that seems like an awesome measure of power. That coupled with Contact% and FB/(FB+GB) should make for a pretty good HR projection system, right? Or does HR/FB not correlate well, year-to-year?

Finally, last question, it doesn’t seem that Contact% and OSwing% correlate very well with each other. Maybe that’s in the study you did last year (you should link to it in this story). Does that seem right?

These pitch-by-pitch studies are the most interesting right now, and i think your approach so far has been elegant. I’ve been waiting for this entry since last spring when you did the initial studies.

Thanks Dave!