Magglio Ordonez is having a great year for the Tigers; his .402 wOBA sits just outside the top ten in baseball. Ordonez has always been able to maintain a relatively low strikeout rate for a hitter with his power and walks, and this year it is even better with a career low strikeout rate (9.5%), a career high walk rate (11.7%) and solid power (ISO of .185). The great BB:K numbers are caused by his best O-Contact%, Z-Contact%, and Contact% in the FanGrapgs Era (since 2002). His 91% contact rate is ninth best in the bigs and of those players better than him only Dustin Pedroia and Victor Martinez have anywhere near his power.
Here I will quickly look at where that extra contact is coming from. I use the contact contours that I introduced in this post. These contours are estimates of Ordonez’s contact rate. A swung-at pitch inside the solid line is contacted over 92.5% of the time. A pitch around the solid line that Ordonez swings at (92.5% contour) is contacted 92.5% of the time. A swung-at pitch between the solid and dotted is contacted between 92.5% and 87.5% of the time. And so on. I compare his contact rate for 2010 to his contact rate on pitches between 2007 and 2009 (those in the pitchf/x data set) and the image is from the catcher’s persepctive.
Because Ordonez hasn’t swung at many pitches outside of the zone, inside the curves are unresovled there, but throughout the strike zone he has a much higher conatct rate. His 92.5% contour covers much of the zone in 2010 compared to perviously where it was just a small part middle-in. He is also making contact at a higher rate on pitches up-and-away. Previously, he made contact on those pitches less than 87.5% of the time, but he is making contact at a high rate (higher than 92.5%) on these pitches.
That extra contact has led to fewer strikeouts and is partially responsible for Ordonez’s success so far. On the face of it, this success may partially vindicate the Tigers’ decision to allow Ordonez’s option to vest (he has already been worth nearly 11 million dollars, and more if you think wins are more valuable than average to the Tigers who have a shot at the AL Central). Still, decisions need to be evaluated based on the information that was available when they were made. And even the Tigers could not have predicted a .400 wOBA first half from Ordonez.