30 April 2013

Chris Davis's Improved Plate Discipline

Right now, Chris Davis has a slash line of .349/.438/.756 with a wOBA of .485 (which is third in baseball behind Bryce Harper and Carlos Santana). Since the Orioles are only 25 games into the season and Davis only has 105 plate appearances (PA), it's too early to suggest that he's going to continue mashing at this prodigious rate (or something close to it).

However, there are things about Davis's hot start to the season that go a bit beyond the "small sample size" qualifier. Per FanGraphs, some offensive statistics don't take a full season -- or longer -- to become more reliable. Some of the relevant improvements for Davis -- swing percentage (50 PA) and contact rate (100 PA) -- can be explored now, though we haven't quite reached the point of examining strikeout rate (150 PA) or walk rate (200 PA) just yet (two areas in which Davis has shown tremendous improvement).

So let's take a look at Davis's progress in the plate discipline department from 2011 (when he joined the Orioles) to now.


(O-Swing% = percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the zone; Swing% = total percentage of pitches a batter swings at; and Contact% = total percentage of contact made when swinging at all pitches.)

Those are terrifying numbers for opposing pitchers. Davis has always had immense power, but previously he chased too many pitches outside the strikezone while not making enough contact. Now, he's chasing fewer pitches, swinging less overall, but making more contact and doing a ton of damage when he makes contact.

His plate discipline probably won't continue to be this good, but there's no reason it won't still be better than last season. And improved pitch selectivity and knowledge of the strikezone should mean better walk and strikeout rates, which can be examined further along in the season.

I don't think even the most optimistic of Orioles fans thought Davis would be this good. But he's a much better hitter than he was in 2011, and it's a whole lot of fun to watch him hit right now.

29 April 2013

Strikezone Analysis for April 25 - 28: Orioles at Athletics

April 28, 2013: Orioles - 8, Athletics - 9

Umpire Real % of
% of
Typical % of
% of
Correct Calls 133 85.81% 132 85.16%
Incorrect Calls 22 14.19% 23 14.84%
Balls Called Balls 92 59.35% 86.79% 77 49.68% 100.00%
Strikes Called Strikes 41 26.45% 83.67% 55 35.48% 70.51%
Strikes Called Balls 8 5.16% 16.33% 23 14.84% 29.49%
Balls Called Strikes 14 9.03% 13.21% 0 0.00% 0.00%
Borderline - Balls 19 12.26% 43.18%
Borderline - Strikes 25 16.13% 56.82%

Collegiate Diamonds in the Rough: Review of 2011

As mentioned before, I will occasionally make an appearance here with my non-Orioles related work (my Orioles writing is found at Baltimore Sports and Life).  In this instance, it will be about the simple, somewhat arbitrary criteria I created to look at college amateurs in the 2011 and 2012 drafts.  This will be a multi-part series with today's article focusing on how well the identified players have performed from the 2011 draft.  In future pieces, I will also review the 2012 targets and write a bit about the 2013 draft.

I created a system that could uses collegiate performance to identify players who would be useful in the minors.  I scanned over batting lines and employed strength of schedule adjustments of players in the college ranks using College Baseball Splits.  The devised system was designed to identify a subset of useful talent, not all useful talent.  The criteria:

Plate discipline - I measure plate discipline by the walk rate and the ratio of walks to strikeouts.  I have arbitrarily set these lines as a walk rate >15% and a >1.5 BB:K ratio.  The thought behind this is to target players who have a good understanding of hittable pitches and their ability to work for a walk.

Contact rate - I also look for batting averages greater than .300.  From an anecdotal perspective, players with good plate discipline AND poor contact rates in college have trouble progressing through the minors.  As they face a greater number of pitchers with more command of their pitches, the opportunities for walks will decrease.  Pitchers are more likely to pitch in the zone and for a player to make contact.  Collegiate players who do not have good contact rates tend to get eaten up by pro-quality offerings.

Power - Good contact rate and plate discipline are a great foundation for a hitting skill set.  However, slapping the ball in professional leagues with players who field better is not as useful.  There are just not many Ichiro Suzukis out there.  In the pro game, there needs to be some power to go along with these skills.  Otherwise, pitchers will go at hitters and give them pitches to hit, knowing that there is unlikely to be much damage.  For this criteria, I set an ISO of .180.

In 2011, eight players were identified as fitting this criteria at the time of my assessment.  Those players were Anthony Rendon, Kolten Wong, Joe Panik, Rob Kral, Matt Duffy, Taylor Dugas, Matt Skole, and Dan Gamache.

Anthony Rendon, 3B
23 years old, R/R
Drafted 1:6 (2011, Nationals)
Selected After: Bubba Starling
Selected Before: Archie Bradley
Baseball America (19th, 2012; 30th, 2013)
MLB.com (27th, 2012; 28th, 2013)

2012224 TeamsAA-A+-A--Rk16084602329.233.363.489
2 Seasons
AA (2 seasons)AA14771502525.216.374.422
Rk (1 season)Rk14102033.364.5001.000
A- (1 season)A-32201046.259.375.444
A+ (1 season)A+32230054.333.438.630
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/28/2013.

Rendon was not a difficult selection to make for this system as he was Baseball America's number one prospect entering the 2011 draft.  He fell to the Nationals at 6 due to injury concerns that have continued to haunt him and left him with only 160 minor league plate appearances and now a handful in the Majors.  He looks like a potential star.  That said, the criteria worked no better than how evaluators viewed him.

Kolten Wong, 2B
22 years old, L/R
Drafted 1:22 (2011, Cardinals)
Drafted After: Tyler Beede
Drafted Before: Alex Meyer
Baseball America (93rd, 2012; 84th, 2013)
MLB.com (83rd, 2013)

201120Quad CitiesA222152592124.335.401.510
3 Seasons
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/28/2013.
Wong was also not an interesting hit with the criteria as he was also well identified through qualitative measures as a late first round selection.  He has been making a good year to year progression through the minors.  Wong is showing good plate discipline, defense, and gap power.  He will likely appear in the Majors sometime this year or next.  He profiles as an above average second baseman.  That is certainly better value than what the Jays got as Tyler Beede did not sign.  The Nationals taking Alex Meyer has been turned into Denard Span.  Meyer's potential as a top of the rotation arm is higher than Wong's ceiling, but Wong's success, I think, is more of a sure thing.

I would also call this a hit, but one that is only slightly more impressive than Rendon.

Joe Panik, 2B
22 years old, L/R
Drafted 1:29 (2011, Giants)
Drafted After: Sean Gilmartin
Drafted Before: Levi Michael

201221San JoseA+6052747105854.297.368.402
3 Seasons
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/28/2013.

Panik was rated as a late first round to supplemental selection and that is where he went.  The knock on him was that he really was not a shortstop and that his bat would become more important with a switch off that position.  Two years later, he is now a second baseman in AA ball.  He has shown a strong contact rate, good plate discipline, and an inkling of power.  He too profiles as an average 2B at this point.  Levi Michael, the SS taken behind Panik, was expected to have a better shot at sticking, but has not begun his move over to second as well.  He is currently repeating HiA.  At this point, Panik looks like the better selection.

I would call this a hit as well and one that is beginning to look more impressive with the major split in opinion on him when he was drafted.

Matt Skole, 1B/3B
23 years old, L/R
Drafted 5:6 (2011, Nationals)
Drafted After: Patrick Leonard
Drafted Before: Will Roberts

2012222 TeamsA-A+524281271199133.291.426.559
3 Seasons
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/28/2013.

What we are seeing again and again is this: players who excel in competitive college environments with respect to contact, discipline, and power tend to also perform well in the low minors.  Baseball America may not have Skole as a top 100 prospect, but they called him the 4th best prospect in the Nationals' system.  He looks to be an average 1B or better if he can actually stick at third.

This could be contrived as a hit.

Dan Gamache, 2B
22 years old, L/R
Drafted 6:1 (2011, Pirates)
Drafted After: Mitch Walding
Drafted Before: James Zamarripa

201120State CollegeA-722111513.231.292.338
201221West VirginiaA502405574195.285.350.430
3 Seasons
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/28/2013.

Gamache played in the Auburn band box, which was a concern in that many thought it was inflating his numbers and encouraging an approach that would not work as a professional.  In 2012, he showed in low A ball that he had a sufficient bat with decent contact rates, plate discipline, and doubles power.  He is a long shot at being a MLB quality 2B.  He is more of an organizational type.

This selection seems about average as sixth round picks go.

Rob Kral, C/DH
24 years old, L/R
Drafted 10:22 (2011, Padres)
Drafted After: Cody Koback
Drafted Before: Joe Maloney

201223Lake ElsinoreA+6850301113.315.426.574
201223San AntonioAA36100098.160.371.200
201324Lake ElsinoreA+51314067.356.431.733
3 Seasons
A+ (2 seasons)A+11981701720.333.429.646
AA (1 season)AA36100098.160.371.200
Rk (1 season)Rk5411101310.275.463.425
AAA (1 season)AAA18100051.385.556.462
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/28/2013.

Kral has not been a wonder behind the plate, which was expected.  However, he has been solid at the plate in the low minors.  At 24, he is a bit old to be in HiA, but a slash of 333/429/1075 in HiA is pretty solid for a 10th round pick.  If things break right for him (the hill is pretty steep to climb), he may be able to find himself in the Majors in 2015.  You really cannot be too upset over finding a guy who has decent power, good plate discipline, and good contact.  The Rangers' Joe Maloney is a decent person to compare Kral to as he too is a catcher who likely will not be a catcher.  Similar to Kral, Maloney is also doing his best at killing the ball.  This takes the shine off of Kral a little bit, but both guys would be solid gets for a team in the tenth.

The jury is still out on this selection.

Matt Duffy, 3B/1B
24 years old, R/R
Drafted 20:9 (2011, Astros)
Drafted After: Ben Klafcynski
Drafted Before: Brandon Williamson

3 Seasons
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/28/2013.

In round 20, you find dreams of players and organizational filler.  Duffy did not make the top 100 rankings for anyone after he completed his age 23 season in A ball, but it was a pretty solid year with him slashing 280/387/447.  Good contact, good plate discipline, and a smack of power.  This is the kind of hit that makes me think maybe there is something to this approach.  He is still off of many people's radar and probably for good reasons, but if you need filler in the minors for your star prospects to play around...this is probably the kind of filler you want.

I would call this a somewhat non-consequential hit.  He provides usefulness in the system, but nothing beyond that.

Taylor Dugas, OF
23 years old, L/L
Drafted 8:29 (2012, Yankees)
Drafted After: Cody Kendall
Drafted Before: Josh Ludy

201222Staten IslandA-27691155135.306.465.373
2 Seasons
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/28/2013.

Dugas was actually drafted in the 8th round by the Cubs, but they could not agree on a price.  He went back to school and then wound up with the Yankees.  As a professional, he has not been recognized as a valuable prospect, but he has performed well.  He has shown excellent contact and plate discipline though nothing else.  As he advances up the ladder, the lack of power or speed will likely become issues.

This could be contrived as a hit in terms of providing an organizational type.

Conclusions So Far

I am not sure this system has done a great job of finding true prospects, but it certainly has done a solid job at finding players who are able to hold their own in the low minors.  This is not much of a surprise given their experience in competitive conferences.  The performance of this criteria may indicate that if a team is simply looking for solid contributions of low minors players in the organization that a tool like this might work.  We should take this all rather suspiciously as there really is not a great deal of information backing this data set up.

In the next article, I will review the targets identified in 2012: James Ramsay, Kevin Plawecki, Christian Walker, and Devon Travis.